Situational Bipolar?

by Christy
(Paris, KY USA)

I have 3 boys, 9, 4, & 2. My 4 year old has mood swings that are equivalent to a light switch. I can ask him/tell him to do something one day and he does it happily. I can ask him/tell him to do the same exact thing later that do or the next day and he will go into a raging fit. During these he hits his brother, throws things, screams, kicks, punches things (ex. couch, wall, floor) and has even head butted things (ex. couch, wall, floor). He will have anywhere from 1-4 of these "episodes" at night after we get home from school around 5:00 pm. His bedtime is 8:30 pm. His teacher have no trouble w/ him at all and can't believe that he acts this way at him (considering they have had him through headstart & preschool and have never seen it).


When he is in the middle of one of this outburst, it is as though he can't hear you when you are trying to talk to him. When you do talk to him he screams louder. I have been told it is just a phase, but my understanding is that phases don't last for 3 years. He has been acting this way, to some degree, from the time he could vocally/physically express himself and I was told it was just a phase.

He has gotten worse w/ age. I afraid he is going to hurt himself (or his younger brother) when he is punching and kicking things or his brother. Does my child sound bipolar (I know there is no way for you to know for certain w/out him being a patient and being evaluated)? Can a bipolar child go all day without acting out and bottle it up until he gets home at after school?

Thanks!
Worried Mom

Dear Worried Mom:

The aggressive behavior of screaming, punching ,and kicking things, as well as head butting is extremely concerning. I can tell you with certainty that it sounds like your child has difficulty with emotional regulation and aggression. The issue is where is that coming from? There are many things that can cause a child to behave this way. Certainly these are behaviors that we see in children who have mood disorders, but, also children who have autism, or ODD, or variations ofADHD, and children who have been abused or exposed to violence. Without question, if this is has lasted for three years it is not a phase. You need to get a careful analysis done by a skilled child psychologist.

In regards to your question about can a child have these behaviors at home and not at school , the answer is yes. The argument is not valid that there is nothing wrong with your child if teachers don't observe it. Many children I work with initially can hold it together at school only to come home and explode because they are exhausted from trying to comply with rules and requirements that are challenging for them. In fact, this is one of the things that makes me the most irritated.

Firstly, teachers are not mental health professionals. They are not trained to offer an opinion here , and secondly they have no right to judge you as a parent. If your instinct tells you the feedback and advice you are getting is not right, then keep looking until you get some relief for your child.

Good Luck.

Sincerely

Kristen McClure

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