Parenting Bipolar Children


Parenting bipolar children requires special skills. Most of the notions we have about good parenting don’t apply to parenting a child with bipolar disorder. This part of my website provides information for parents who have children with bipolar disorder.

On these pages are some tips I’ve compiled from my experience and training working with bipolar children. On this page is a specific parenting philosophy that will be helpful for you regardless of your child’s age.

Looking for help with anger and rage? Click here for some information.

Currently, my favorite approach to parenting  bipolar children is modeled after the RAINBOW program. This is a program developed by Mani Pavuluri out of the pediatric mood disorders clinic at UIC. RAINBOW is an acronym for tips for parenting a bipolar child. I like to think of RAINBOW as a philosophy for parenting a bipolar child. I encourage parents to post this on their refrigerator to assist them in remembering what the basic parenting philosophy needs to be.



Parenting bipolar children requires you to always pay attention to the importance of routine. Meals, activates and bedtimes should occur at approximately the same time every day. This helps children know what to expect and helps regulate their minds and bodies. Obviously, sometimes this is difficult to accomplish, parents need to just do the to the best they can.


Affect (Emotional) Regulation

Essentially this means every day children parent's need to monitor and predict their child’s mood. Hopefully parents can also teach their child how to learn to do this for his or herself. When a parent knows their child is excited or agitated, they can focus on balancing that with a calm tone of voice and approach to the situation. When a child become agitated, it is crucial that the parent stay calm.


“ I Can Do It”

Children need to feel they have the opportunity to be successful. Parenting a child how is bipolar requires that a parent convey to their child that they have faith that together they will get control of this disorder. Parents need to overdo positive reinforcement. Children need to feel motivated and positive about their ability to solve problems and handle difficult situations. Children need to understand that they may feel less able to handle difficult situations when they are depressed, but that is part of their mood disorder.


“No Negative Thoughts”

When parenting  bipolar children  it is important for parents not to dwell on incidents after they have happened. Instead the focus is on reconnecting with their child. Process your feelings with them about an incident and allow them to process feelings with you. Focus on positive thinking and facing a new day.


“Be a Good Friend”

Essentially this means it is very important to foster peer relationships for your children and to help them learn the skills necessary for building and maintaining friendships. Bipolar disorder parenting should emphasize this priority.


"Oh , How can We Solve This?"

Parents need to have a positive optimistic attitude that conveys to a child that there is a solution. Problem solving should always occur during calm phases, children are unable to solve problems when they are raging or otherwise in an agitated state. This step in the parenting philosophy can often best be implemented through pep talks or role plays.


"Ways to get Support"

Children need to be reminded that they are loved and cared for by many people. A parent can help them to understand who cares for them and who they can go to support for in the different settings they may be in.

Other strategies that are important to keep in mind when parenting bipolar children are listed below. 

Here are some other important tips for parenting bipolar children. 

  • Choices really  matter with these kids. Explore Ross Greene's  brilliant website lives in the balance  and his collaborative problem solving model. 
  • Ask yourself for every behavior, is my kid stable? Is he able to do what I am asking? Is there an alternative explanation for his behavior than that he is bad?
  • Don't use punishment, monitor your anger level. 
  • Watch your tone and expression at all times
  • You never need to make immediate choices on how to handle difficult situations. You can always take time to process how to handle them
  • Sleep and rest always come first. Don't pick schedules that will compromise their sleep. If they aren't able to get up in the morning, get  a flex schedule at school ( think IEP).
  • Tone and expression and body language are things to master in regulating your household
  • Don't apply the same standards to parenting bipolar children that you do to neurotypical  children. He or she may not graduate on time, have the same amount of friends, and may be delayed in leaving home and meeting milestones. Set reasonable standards for your child. 
  • Don't listen to what others say about consequences. If a consequence is not going to be effective in helping your child to learn or change a behavior, because they do not have cause and effect thinking, or it is going to worsen the situation, because it will cause too much anger or shame for your child to manage, don't use it. 

Parenting Bipolar Children: Diet and Mood

Parenting bipolar children requires you to regulate the food that your children eat. Healthy eating habits are shaped at an early age. Meal time can also be a peaceful time to communicate and de-stress, and doesn't have to be done on the run.

Unfortunately life can be hectic and it is hard to make a commitment to a healthy eating style, but especially worth it with children who have mood disorders. Also, it can be especially challenging. Carb and sugar cravings during mood swings make it hard to resist giving in to their demands, and sometimes you have to pat yourself on the back for not letting them have  an entire bag of cookies for breakfast.

Sugar, Caffeine, and The Crash

When children become teens they adopt any unhealthy eating habits they have been taught from an early age and take it to the extreme.

My bipolar teens do not seem to understand the connection between a healthy diet and their mood stability. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them if they want to manage their illness, then they need to eat healthy foods, at regular intervals, on a schedule. I always think this will motivate them because they feel so powerless and communicate to me constantly how they wish they had more control.

Instead of following this advice, they do everything they can to abuse their bodies. It is not uncommon for some of these kids to ingest massive amounts of caffeine, sugar and unrefined carbohydrates. Many of my young adults or teens with bipolar disorder drink those energy drinks which are loaded with sugar and caffeine. Caffeine and sugar both cause you to crash and that will exacerbate mood swings.

At a minimum the bipolar diet should consist of :

  • Healthy food at regular intervals on a schedule
  • Limited caffeine
  • Limited sugar
  • Limited unrefined carbohydrates.
  • Carbohydrate Cravings

    Unfortunately one of the things that exacerbate mood swings in EVERYONE are cravings for carbohydrates and sugar. Indulging in these cravings, as any dieter can tell you, will result in an addictive pattern.

    Parenting bipolar children requires you to understand that they  have a certain brain chemistry that causes them to crave carbohydrates and sugar. If a child is unstable then a parent can be on shaky ground when they deny a child a food they are craving. I have known families that have indulged their child in any craving they have had at any time of day for fear of the child escalating into an uncontrollable rage.

    The best advice to parents is to limit the amount of carbohydrates you child has access to. If this is impossible because your child is unstable and dangerous, do the best you can. Determining whether your child is stable enough to handle" no", and then beginning to build on their ability to abstain from what they want at any given moment is important in their long term emotional growth and ability to manage their illness. You don’t, however, want to risk a suicide attempt or trip to the hospital in developing this skill.

    Learn to use your good judgment when limiting food by reading the signs of your child’s illness.

    Food Allergies

    Parenting bipolar children requires you to understand that anything that makes  a child who is bipolar uncomfortable, physically or emotionally has the potential to affect their mood and in turn their energy attention and ability to function. Statistics say 5- 8 percent of kids have food allergies and certainly food allergies could cause symptoms of discomfort. Although I don’t know of any researched evidence of this, I know several families I work with have sworn that by altering their child’s on the basis of common food allergies, such as gluten or red dye, their bipolar kids have improved dramatically. If you are interested in learning if your child has food allergies, just ask your doctor to check your child .

    Parenting Bipolar Children: Develop Compassion for yourself and your child

    Parenting bipolar children is challenging. Your neighbors, friends, and family don’t seem to understand what you are up against. Often mental health professionals and teachers, those very people we look to for guidance and expertise , don’t have the knowledge they need to help you either.

    People don’t understand mental health issues in children in general and childhood bipolar disorder is a complex and controversial diagnosis. Did you know that for many years, people didn’t believe children could have depression or anxiety? It’s easier and more common for adults to believe that all issues in children are a result of behavior. Unfortunately this belief makes it hard for you to feel supported as the parent of a bipolar child.

    As a parent of a bipolar child, your identity as a good and competent parent is difficult to maintain. Helping your child to feel safe and loved , something most parents are able to do with minimal skills, is often impossible. The world is hostile to their illness and sometimes, you can be too.

    You don’t know what the future holds and from minute to minute your life is essentially controlled by this illness. It is likely that you feel fear, anxiety and a terrible sense of loss . And, people are judging you for it. 

    These are experiences most parents of bipolar kids have. Unfortunately, your bipolar child must be protected from your experiences and challenges to some degree. No good can come from your child hearing your question your parenting skills, or his or her future.

    Parenting bipolar children requires you  to regulate your emotions for them to feel regulated. 

    In order to have any peace and happiness, you need to cultivate the ability to live with complete uncertainty. You must have a remarkable amount of faith that things can be okay even in the face of what appears to be hopeless. If you are unable to actually summon up that faith ,you need to be able to pretend for the sake of your child.

    It would be nice if you could get some support from the people around you, but the truth is it is unlikely that it will happen. Often you need to learn how to arm yourself to defend your child and your parenting. You will be required to be a tireless advocate.

    The good news is, once you accept these things you are well on your way to getting through this experience and helping your child to be the best that they.  

    Being a parent of a bipolar child is challenging. Your neighbors friends and family don’t seem to understand what you are up against. Often mental health professionals and teachers, those very people we look to for guidance and expertise , don’t have the knowledge they need to help you either.

    I hope throughout this website to  give you the tools you need to care for yourself better, to react to your child better, and to deal with other people in your life who don’t understand this illness from a wiser place.

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    Medical information obtained from this 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.