Depending on the extent of a child’s mood swings and how well they’re managed, there are various ways bipolar disorder can impact the whole family:
Generally speaking, a rigid schedule must be followed so the child with bipolar can manage her symptoms. This includes the same time each day for meals, study time, bedtime, and rising. In many cases, it also means that the rest of the family end up having to adhere to the same routine, like it or not, in order to keep mood episodes at bay.
Family outings may be few
One great way to alleviate the emotional stress at home is to take family vacations—new surroundings, fresh air, a relaxing and fun new experience. However, this can sometimes be challenging. While many families can make vacations work—following a strict routine that mimics homelife, and minimizing disruptions—there are those families with a child whose symptoms are more severe that family outings can be rare. However, some families may opt for a “staycation” and bring the fun times at home without the stress of traveling.
There is a different type of challenge for a sibling of a child or teen who lives with bipolar. Siblings may experience jealousy since it’s only natural that more attention will be given to the child with mental health challenges and this may result in feelings of resentment. Depending on the home situation, and the strictness of routines, some siblings may have to forego extra recreation activities to lessen the disruption of being ferrying back and forth to dance class or a basketball game. As they get older, some brothers or sisters may also have to take on the role of caretaker if the parents are not available.
Having to deal with a younger member of the family with mood challenges can be emotionally stressful for everyone. It’s very difficult to watch a brother or son experience deep depression, or rage or manic symptoms. It may also require that the rest of the family may need to change their behavior i.e. try extra hard to keep calm, voices soft as to de-escalate any conflict. It’s important for parents to watch for the emotional toll, and respond appropriately, such as seeking outside support.
If a child has extreme sensitivities to noise or any emotional provocation, such as others yelling or any criticism directed toward him, it could be a trigger for a mood episode. The onus can rest on the family to be on their best behavior, ensuring the television isn’t too loud, or their phone calls are quiet or they curtail disturbances in order to prevent any emotional chaos. Some may refer to it as “walking on eggshells,” having to act a certain way—an emotional pressure which can be stressful over time.
Bad parenting stigma
Many children can seem fine at school or at a friend’s house, or out in public and keep their emotions in check; however, as soon as they are in the safe comfort of their own homes, their emotions could break loose. This inconsistency can prompt others to blame the parents for the child’s difficult behavior. The stigma and perception could be that the parents are simply not able to control their child and that their parenting skills are lacking, which isn’t the case. This is obviously frustrating for loving parents who are doing everything they can to help their child.
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