Bipolar Toddler Symptoms

Bipolar toddler symptoms are more difficult to distinguish than in older children.

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Not much research at all has been done on younger children. Recognizing depression and mania in younger children is difficult because the symptoms are different. Young children also have a limited ability to verbalize their experiences. Bipolar symptoms could in toddlers could also be symptoms of many other conditions.

Why is it important to determine whether what you see are bipolar toddler symptoms?

While it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to diagnose bipolar disorder in a toddler, it is important to explore this possibility because a delay in diagnosis will mean a delay in treatment. If your toddler has bipolar disorder, any delay in treatment could exacerbate the condition.

Bipolar Toddler Symptoms

Toddlers are much more likely to exhibit their moods through their behaviors because they are unable to verbally communicate their emotions. Toddlers who come for therapy must receive play therapy, as they have not yet mastered the tools to communicate in any other way.

Toddlers may appear extremely hyperactive, have difficulty paying attention, act inattentive, or fidgety. Unfortunately many children with bipolar disorder have been misdiagnosed as having ADHD and also medicated with stimulants which make the bipolar disorder significantly worse.

Bipolar Toddlers are also easily frustrated and likely to have long drawn out temper tantrums. These tantrums can be prompted by a transition or a parent’s refusal to meet a request of the toddler. Often these tantrums are and expression of anger and rage. Parents have described the child as appearing possessed, having a glazed look in their eyes or seeming like a wild animal.

In a situation where your child is presenting with anger it is also important to understand what the other causes might be. If this is a concern for you, please read this page on the causes of anger.

Toddlers with Bipolar disorder can also be quite destructive. I have worked with toddlers who have cut curtains and bed sheets or broke toys or parent’s valuables. Toddlers with bipolar disorder are often diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. They will refuse to follow parents directions are willful and bossy and overbearing. They often have extreme difficulty shifting from one activity to another or making transitions.

If you have a family history of bipolar disorder, depression suicide, or substance abuse , it is important to consider the possibility that your child may have a mood disorder.

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What can you do if you suspect you are seeing bipolar toddler symptoms?

  • If you suspect your child has bipolar disorder you should keep them on a fixed routine and schedule. Sleep and meal times should occur at the same time every day. The predictability of a routine will help them to feel safe, and is even more important than it would be for most healthy toddlers.
  • Nighttime may be a source of tremendous anxiety for bipolar toddlers. Many bipolar children begin to have night terrors at an early age. Parents should monitor the anxiety level of their children and put systems in place to help them feel safer.
  • Transitions and change will be especially hard for bipolar children. It is important to anticipate when such changes are going to occur and explore ways to help make the transition as easy as possible for the child. Separation anxiety is also very often and issue with toddlers who have mood disorders
  • It is important maintain a healthy diet for your bipolar child. Excess sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine should be avoided.
  • Bipolar toddler symptoms might include social problems. You should monitor their interactions with peers to determine if they are having difficulty interacting socially with children of the same age.
  • More so than when interacting with a normal toddler, you should take time to discuss feelings with your toddler and assist them in expressing their feelings.
  • If your child has a mood disorder or is at risk for a mood disorder, it will be important to learn how to assist them in identifying and regulating their feelings. If your child appears grouchy or upset, you should explain to the child that they appear this way and talk with the child about the reason for these feelings.
  • You may consider consulting with a child psychiatrist and therapist for additional options.

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