When your kid’s bad mood is something more serious.
by Babble Editors
October 9, 2009
What are three most common mistakes parents make when parenting a child with a mood disorder?
Expert: Charrie Hazard, journalist and author of Falling into the Sun, a novel about her journey to help her troubled young son conquer his mood disorder to live a normal life. Visit her at charriehazard.com.
1. Failing to recognize and treat your child’s mood disorder.
“All kids have bad moods sometimes. That’s nothing to worry about. A mood disorder, however, deals with clinical depression and bipolar disorder, which is depressive manic behavior caused by chemical imbalances in the brain. Many parents are in denial that their child might have a mood disorder. They don’t want anything to be wrong with your child so they chalk up bad behavior to an artistic temperament or oh, they’re just very curious and creative. The 1999 Surgeon General’s report found that 75-80% of children in need of mental health services don’t get it because of the stigma. Also, many mom and dads would rather believe they’re bad parents than admit their child might struggle, because that’s something they can fix. They can’t necessarily fix their child’s mood disorder.
Some mood disorder symptoms to look out for: lethargy, no interest or sudden change of interest in activities, low-self esteem, defiant/manipulative/destructive/irritable behavior, extreme separation anxiety, explosive temper tantrums that last longer than thirty minutes, lack of impulse control, and major mood changes multiple times a day. If you think your child may have a mood disorder, seek professional help beyond a pediatrician – a psychologist, and if necessary a psychiatrist. I also found these two books to be very helpful: The Bipolar Child: The Definitive and Reassuring Guide to Childhood’s Most Misunderstood Disorder and The Defiant Child: A Parent’s Guide to Oppositional Defiant Disorder.”
2. Clinging to traditional parenting techniques
“Traditional parenting will tell you that when a child misbehaves, the consequence should be immediate. That’s really good advice . . . for most children. But for kids with mood disorders, that’s bad advice. If a child with a mood disorder is misbehaving, that means they’re dangerously close to a meltdown. And if you try to levy disciplinary action at that point, it’s only going to escalate the meltdown. The best thing to do is delay the consequences, and not engage in the fight. For instance, you can say to your child, ‘That was a bad choice and I’m not going to argue with you, but there will be consequences later for your disobedience and I will tell you what they are this evening.’ Then, when it’s calm, sit down with your child and explain the repercussions.”
3. Neglecting to get counseling for yourself.
“Having a child with a mood disorder puts incredible stress on your family, your marriage, your other children, and especially on you, the parent. You’re constantly living in an unpredictable atmosphere and walking on eggshells, because you never know what’s going to set your child off. You need a place where you can go a regular basis and talk about how you’re feeling. Will my child hurt himself? Will they be able to function as an adult? Will they live a full life? Have I done the right thing? Emotions like fear, anxiety, despair, hopelessness, and second-guessing yourself are all very common, especially when it may feel like everyone around you is judging your parenting style. It’s really important for both parents to talk to someone who is compassionate and non-judgmental and who provides a safe place to talk honestly and openly, even when you’re feeling like you absolutely can’t stand this child you love so dearly.”
– As told to Andrea Zimmerman