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Bipolar Disorder and School 


Bipolar disorder and school is always an issue for my families with children or teens with bipolar disorder. 

I

The teacher says my child's behavior is only at home, so it must be my parenting.

If my kid is fine in school, can they have bipolar disorder?

Many kids work so hard to keep it together at school, only to completely fall apart when they get home. I have heard professionals and families use that information as evidence that a child could not have bipolar disorder. In my experience, most symptoms are first noticed by the primary caregiver; in fact they may be isolated to the primary caregiver. Often, later in the progression of the disease the symptoms become more noticeable to the non primary parent, relatives and friends. Eventually the symptoms start spilling over into school. Symptoms of bipolar disorder and school don’t always follow this pattern but it is frequently the case.

If a child is doing well at school, and poorly at home it does not mean:

1) That he does not have bipolar disorder

2) That you are a bad parent

3) That he is in control of his behavior

Please understand that if your child has bipolar disorder or a mood disorder  you don’t “just have problems as a parent”. Also, your child is not choosing to misbehave when they are around you because you are a bad parent. If anything your child trusts you enough to demonstrate that they are struggling.

Children exhibit challenges when the stress in their environment outweighs the skills they have. This is true across all diagnoses. So what does this mean?

Often children use all their energy up in school and have nothing left when they come home. Like all of us , they feel more comfortable to be themselves around those they are closest to. It's important to tap into gratitude that your child is doing well in school. Instead many parents use this as an opportunity to blame themselves.

Other children do not have the same success at school that they do at home. In these cases, the tips below should help.

Bipolar Disorder and School: How can I deal with a difficult teacher?

If your child has bipolar disorder, the teacher is extremely important.

Things to do:

  • Do not let a teacher talk disparagingly of your child.
  • Educate your child's teacher about the disorder. Most teachers do not understand bipolar disorder
  • If your child states that the teacher hates him or wants to get him in trouble , make an appointment to talk with your teacher about how your child is perceiving their actions. Often the willingness of a teacher to make small changes can dramatically positively impact your child’s chance of success.

Bipolar Disorder and School:Dealing with  a difficult school

Remaining patient, open, and respectful when communicating with school officials is important.Your only focus should be on creating an environment within which your child can be the most successful.

Things to do:

  • Keep in mind the schools opinion of you doesn't matter. Whether or not you are a good parent is not for them to decide. Often schools will interject their judgement and undermine a parents confidence.
  • Remember, the teacher, and very often the school counselor, don't have the skills to diagnosis children. Do not allow them to make comments that undermine your child's medication regimen or diagnosis.
  • Take nothing personally. School personnel are overworked. They also are often ill equipped to do their jobs especially when it comes to meeting the needs of children who need accommodations. They need to be educated and held accountable.
  • Focus on solutions. Each step in the right direction for your child is also a step in the right direction for other children. 
  • Practice recognizing when you are defensive and angry. These states will undermine the process of working with the school. Being friendly and cordial can go a long way. It doesn't have to indicate weakness.
  • Be dogged in following up and communicating with the teachers and school personnel and ensuring they are following your child's plan.

Getting the School to Cooperate

Everyone is an expert on your child, aren't they? You've already heard from your friends and family everything you are doing wrong! You don't need a teacher to tell you too. I have trouble working with schools, because I lose my temper at the ignorant things they teachers and administrators say. A teacher has no right making comments about a child’s medication regimen, or diagnosis because they are not qualified mental health professionals.

Things to do:

  • Get current on the IEP laws in your state
  • Do NOT let the school intimidate you
  • Educate the school about your child
  • Involve mental health experts
  • Participate in the IEP process fully
  • Get an advocate if necessary
  • Please feel free to clearly articulate this to school officials in a respectful way. Often they forget their role.

Accommodations

Often accommodations for a bipolar child may consist of :

  • a safety plan in the case of emotional overwhelm
  • open ended homework assignments ( flexibility with due date)
  • flexibility in attendance policy
  • flexibility in school day start times
  • smaller class size
  • the use of recording devices to take notes
  • teacher forms to fill out regarding classwork and homework assignments
  • special quiet environment for taking tests or completing assignments
  • teacher prompts to help with transition

Bipolar disorder and the School: Homeschooling

Homeschooling a bipolar child can be a good decision. One of the biggest challenges in my work with bipolar children is working with the public school system. I have had many failed attempts to work with school personnel to help them understand the issues bipolar children face.

Some of the key reasons for homeschooling children with bipolar disorder are:

Self Esteem

Self esteem is a positive sense of self. Kids cannot develop a positive self concept unless they have success. Bipolar children and adolescents often struggle with simple tasks like getting out of bed to go to school. They struggle with learning, peer interactions, and teachers. Getting through a school day takes every ounce of energy they have. These children already know they are different from other kids. They know they take medicine, cannot control their emotions, and that their parents fight because of their behavior. Difficulties at school may add to their sense of failure. I have bipolar adolescent clients who still talk about how traumatizing kindergarten was. Because the symptoms of their diagnosis are often attributed to bad behavior, they are treated like bad kids, and you are treated as a bad parent! Homeschooling can build self esteem and protect them from harmful experiences. If a child is unstable a school setting can exacerbate their illness.

Flexibility

Schools can be completely inflexible with children who have bipolar disorder. Bipolar children may need modifications in their school day that the school is unwilling to make. Technically the school is required to make them, but can be a long fight, and sometimes it’s not worth it. Homeschooling allows you to start and stop whenever you want, to coach your child through difficult times, and to abandon teaching methods that don’t work. A regular classroom setting does not usually make these accommodations.

Creativity

Bipolar children are that they are often very creative and talented. This is one of the reasons I love working with them. Traditional school settings do not always foster creativity. Most of these kids have incredible musical, writing or artistic talent. This needs to be fostered. Homeschooling a bipolar child makes it possible to capitalize on their strengths.

Food Issues

Homeschooling a bipolar child enables you to monitor your child’s nutrition intake. Bipolar children usually have food issues and sugar, caffeine and carbohydrate intake need to be monitored. Medications can side effects that make children ravenous. Feeding kids healthy food at regular intervals helps to stabilize their moods.

Mood States

If your child is having rapid mood swings, homeschooling will allow you to monitor your child’s moods hourly, and adjust the demands on their attention concentration and energy level based on the patterns you discover.

When is Homeschooling a Bipolar Child not a Good Idea?

  • If your child is experiencing a great deal of academic or social success in the school setting it may not be a good idea to homeschool them.
  • If your child is aggressive or violent towards you, and the parent- child relationship is a greater source of tension than those in school, it may be better not to homeschool.
  • If you have a household structure that would allow for you to homeschool your child, but doubt your own ability, please don’t! A loving, safe, flexible environment is a much better place to learn then one that the child perceives as hostile. Not one parent I know who has made the decision to homeschool regrets it. In fact most, wish they made the decision to do it earlier. Homeschooling a bipolar child can create a sense of safety and stability that is necessary not only for learning but for healing from their illness.

 How do I help my child understand ?


Let your child know:You believe their perceptions are true, and address them accordingly.It's not their fault they struggle with an illness, but they are still accountable to communicate with you about their thoughts and feelings. Understanding what you child is thinking and feeling is often the key finding the solution to specific school problems.Help your child to understand:

  • why they have accommodations,
  • what the purpose of the accommodations are, 
  • that they  have a legal right to them.

No one is doing them a favor. They have an illness and they are entitled to an equal education.

Check out our online facebook support community for parents of kids with mood disorders 

Thanks for visiting! Feel free to email me at kristenlynnmcclure@gmail.com

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