Your child can lead a healthy, productive life with bipolar disorder. Here’s how to start the conversation:
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#1 Check in with yourself first
Explore your own feelings about bipolar disorder or the term manic depression. Are there any issues present, biases or prejudices? Perhaps there’s someone from our past that we associate negatively. Sometimes, until we stop and think about it, we don’t realize we may have negative feelings toward a psychiatric disorder. The point is to have everything clear in your mind first so you don’t subconsciously pass any negative feelings onto your child.
#2 Learn the facts
As much as possible, try to be completely prepared before having the conversation with your son or daughter. You can try to anticipate the questions and the fears he or she will have so you can be prepared with the answers, trying to be as positive and optimistic as possible. Your child will pick up your attitude and behavior.
#3 Explain the brain
In as much as your child can understand, try and explain the physiological definition of bipolar as a brain-based disorder – a brain that is physically structured differently from “the norm.” Also, you may want to pay attention to your terminology and focus on the fact that your child has a ‘brain-based disorder’ and is not ‘mentally ill’, which has negative stigma surrounding it.
#4 Make a plan together
Explain that bipolar disorder is a lifelong diagnosis, and that you will need to have a management plan for the present and for the foreseeable future. It makes sense to include your child on this strategy – making him feel part of the solution. While you can guide the conversation, know that if he feels he has a say in some of the management plan, he is more apt to follow through with the lifestyle changes and medicine adherence etc..
#5 Talk about what it all means
Just as it’s important to communicate the physical and emotional parts of the disorder and the management plan, you will need to discuss the social aspects with your child as well. Explain the types of stigma that still surround bipolar, but let her know that it’s getting better. Perhaps you can talk about positive role models she recognizes in popular culture that are speaking in public about it. You can even help with suitable statements or answers as rebuttals to questions from friends.
#6 More than their diagnosis
Kids may need to hear that bipolar doesn’t define who they are and that it shouldn’t control your lives. One idea is to make a list of all the amazing attributes your child has because he has bipolar. Whether it’s increased creativity, a larger emotional capacity, being passionate about life or getting things done at certain times. Yes, you’ll need to talk about the not-so positive side as well, but you’ll have a plan for handling those things.
#7 Movie night
When it’s time, find an appropriate-aged movie that depicts bipolar disorder in a way that is both honest and positive. Watch together so you can talk about everything out in the open. Making an “information” night also an entertaining one strengthens your honest relationship with your child.
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