Bipolar Disorder and School

Bipolar disorder and school is always an issue for my families.

My kids is fine in school! Can they really have bipolar disorder?

Many kids work so hard to keep it together at school, only to completely fall apart when they get home. I have heard professionals and families use that information as evidence that a child is not really bipolar. In my experience, most symptoms are first noticed by the primary caregiver; in fact they may be isolated to the primary caregiver. Often, later the symptoms of bipolar disorder are more noticed by the non primary parent, relatives and friends. Eventually the symptoms start spilling over into school. Symptoms of bipolar disorder and school don’t always follow this pattern but it is frequently the case.

If a child is doing well at school, and poorly at home it does not mean:

1) That he does not have bipolar disorder

2) That you are a bad parent

3) That he is in control of his behavior

Please understand that if your child is bipolar you don’t “just have problems as a parent”. Also, your child is not choosing to misbehave when they are around you because you are a bad parent. If anything your child trusts you enough to demonstrate that they are struggling.

Children exhibit challenges when the stress in their environment outweighs the skills they have. This is true across all diagnoses. So what does this mean?

Often children use all their energy up in school and have nothing left when they come home. Like all of us , they feel more comfortable to be themselves around those they are closest to. It's important to tap into gratitude that your child is doing well in school. Instead many parents use this as an opportunity to blame themselves.

Other children do not have the same success at school that they do at home. In these cases, the tips below should help.

Bipolar Disorder and School. How can I deal with a difficult teacher?

If your child has bipolar disorder, the teacher is extremely important.

Things to do:

  • Do not let a teacher talk disparagingly of your child.
  • Educate your child's teacher about the disorder. Most teachers do not understand bipolar disorder
  • If your child states that the teacher hates him or wants to get him in trouble , make an appointment to talk with your teacher about how your child is perceiving their actions. Often the willingness of a teacher to make small changes can dramatically positively impact your child’s chance of success.

Bipolar Disorder and School. How can I get the school to cooperate?

Everyone is an expert on your child, aren't they? You've already heard from your friends and family of all the things you are doing wrong! You don't need a teacher to tell you too. I have trouble working with schools, because I lose my temper at the ignorant things they teachers and administrators say. A teacher has no right making comments about a child’s medication regimen, or diagnosis because they are not qualified mental health professionals.

Things to do:

  • Get current on the IEP laws in your state
  • Do NOT let the school intimidate you
  • Educate the school about your child
  • Involve mental health experts
  • Participate in the IEP process fully
  • Get an advocate if necessary
  • Please feel free to clearly articulate this to school officials in a respectful way. Often they forget their role.

Bipolar Disorder and School-What can I do when dealing with a difficult school?

Remaining patient open and respectful when communicating with school officials is important.Your only focus should be on creating an environment within which your child can be the most successful.

Things to do:

  • Keep in mind the schools opinion of you doesn't matter. Whether or not you are a good parent is not for them to decide. Often times schools will interject their judgement and undermine a parents confidence.
  • Remember, the teacher, and very often the school counselor, don't have the skills to diagnosis children. Do not allow them to make comments that undermine your child's medication regimen or diagnosis.
  • Take nothing personally. School personnel are overworked. They also are often ill equipped to do their jobs especially when it comes to meeting the needs of children who need accommodations. They need to be educated and held accountable.
  • Focus on solutions. Each step in the right direction for your child is also a step in the right direction for other children.
  • Practice recognizing when you are defensive and angry. These states will undermine the process of working with the school. Being friendly and cordial can go a long way. It doesn't have to indicate weakness.
  • Be dogged in following up and communicating with the teachers and school personnel and ensuring they are following your child's plan.

Bipolar Disorder and School- How do I help my child?

Let your child know:

You believe their perceptions are true, and address them accordingly.

It's not their fault they struggle with an illness, but they are still accountable to communicate with you about their thoughts and feelings. Understanding what you child is thinking and feeling is often the key finding the solution to specific school problems.

Help your child to understand:

  • why they have accomodations
  • what the purpose of the accommodations are
  • they have a legal right to them. No one is doing them a favor. They have an illness and they are entitled to an equal education.

Bipolar disorder and school: What kind of accommodations?

Often accommodations for a bipolar child may consist of :

  • a safety plan in the case of emotional overwhelm
  • open ended homework assignments ( flexiblity with due date)
  • flexibility in attendance policy
  • flexibility in school day start times
  • smaller class size
  • the use of recording devices to take notes
  • teacher forms to fill out regarding classwork and homework assignments
  • special quiet environment for taking tests or completing assignments
  • teacher prompts to help with transtion

Also keep in mind the homeschooling option. Especially, if school has become a source of great stress adding to the depression or mood swings your child is experiencing. This can in some cases be an effective way to help your bipolar child learn. Homeschooling can help bipolar kids, who are often incredibly creative, to realize their full potential in a safe and sheltered environment.

Click here to learn about Bipolar and CBT treatment

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Curious about how creative your bipolar child is? Click here to learn more

Wondering about the diet and health of your bipolar child? Click here.

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Medical information obtained from our website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.