It’s not going to be easy, but bipolar kids need the extra supervision, and the feeling that their parents are going to be there for them no matter what. They need to know that they are more important to you than a swank wardrobe, new cars, or a larger house. Your love and your time are really the only thing that can give your child the inner feeling of security that eludes so many people with bipolar disorders.
Some older teens, especially those who are finished with high school but not yet ready for adulthood, can access drop-in centers for the mentally ill. These can combine access to therapists, peer support groups, and socialization help. Well-run drop-in centers have esteem-building activities, opportunities to learn new job skills, and an atmosphere of camaraderie. They may also be able to place regulars in supportive housing and work.
Liberty Place Clubhouse Downtown in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, for example, provides hang-out space for people with mental illness. They meet their peers in a structured, supervised environment, and can gradually reintegrate into society. The staff (most of whom are also clients) provides transitional employment leads, housing help, and personal advice.
Don’t call it therapy
Everyday life with a bipolar disorder is stressful, and yet it’s in everyday life that children have the experiences that form their adult personalities. Parents can help build affirmative, life-enhancing, joyful and, yes, therapeutic experiences into the rhythms of our children’s daily experiences. When we do so, we become their protectors, guides, and friends as they journey toward adulthood.
Here are just a few activities that build important skills and self-esteem. Whatever you do, don’t call these activities therapy (even though they are):
- Keeping a personal journal or diary
- Taking personal time to play or listen to music, read, or work out for stress reduction
- Playing card games and board games
- Enjoying swimming or sports
- Playing on the playground, at the park, or in your yard
- Playing less-competitive group games like London Bridge and freeze tag
- Using costumes and props for imaginative play
- Starting and maintaining collections of rocks, stamps, cards, or toys
- Turning off the television and video games in favor of relating to one another
- Gaining mastery of lifelong activities like cooking, mechanical work, or the arts
- Caring for a pet or a garden
- Helping others in need, whether it’s by participating in a charity marathon, volunteering in a homeless center, or choosing an important cause to which you will donate money
Finally, while therapy, medical appointments, and taking pills are going to be part of your child’s life for a long time, maybe even forever, they shouldn’t be the totality of it. Therapies are intended to enhance life, not turn it into an endless grind of appointments and to-do lists. Make time for relaxation, play, hugs, Saturday morning cartoons, and just watching the clouds go by. Treasure the times when your child is well, and store up energy then to deal with the inevitability of future problem episodes. Find therapeutic professionals whose work can buttress what you can accomplish at home, and then take it one day at a time.