Children of bipolar parents may have an advantage in therapy.
In therapy, I often spend months educating parents about mania, depression, bipolar medication, and the brain. From my perspective, educating a bipolar child about their disease is the most important step in teaching them to accept and manage their illness. If their parents are stable and have been in treatment, they have a better understanding of bipolar disorder and can teach their child more easily how to understand their illness.
Parents with Bipolar Disorder have a Unique Understanding of Their Child's Mood States
It is also challenging and time consuming to teach parents in therapy is how to differentiate between what is a mood state and what is bad behavior. In my experience, children of bipolar parents can be the recipients of more compassion and understanding. Parents who have bipolar disorder themselves are often tuned in to a child’s mood state in a way that no one else can understand. This may enable them to quickly decipher whether their child is behaving badly, or overwhelmed and incapacitated by a mood state. This makes a big difference in how behavior is consequence. Punishing a child for a behavior that is out of their control can be devastating to their well being.
Children of Bipolar Parents can have Very Powerful Role Models.
Parents who suffer from bipolar disorder have the capability to teach their child through direct example that they can be successful despite their illness. A parent who successfully manages their own bipolar disorder is an incredible asset to their bipolar child. What does “successfully manage” mean? Actively working to handle interpersonal and occupational stress, problem solve, take care of their health, and take their medications. A child can learn from their bipolar parent that their disorder, with effort, does not have to prevent them from being happy and successful.
Parents who have Bipolar Disorder have Great Advocacy Skills
Often, the time I spend teaching parents that their bipolar child has a BRAIN DISORDER AND IS NOT BAD, can be exhaustive to me. Parents with the disease know this instinctively because they have experienced it. They understand how difficult it is for their child to get through their school day, have friends, and behave with adults. They understand the terror, hopelessness, and confusion a bipolar child feels daily. They have incredible empathy for their child the struggles that they face now, and the struggles that are ahead of them.
For this reason, parents with bipolar disorder make great advocates for their child. This is important because bipolar children are misunderstood and discriminated against in practically every setting they encounter. This is an invaluable skill that comes more naturally to parents who have an intimate understanding of the disease.
More Information about Children of Bipolar Parents
Many of the points above are most true if you are stable and receiving help yourself, but you still have a unique ability to help your child even if you haven’t taken good care of yourself. If you are a bipolar parent please take care of yourself and manage your illness so you can be a better parent to your child. Remember you are your child’s role model. No one in the world has more influence on your child than you.
Although this webpage discusses the most positive case scenario, parents aren't always stable and well. Additionally you may be interested in the research about heritability of bipolar disorder. We know that over half of children who have a bipolar parent have a bipolar child. It is highly genetic. For more information about these issues, please click here.