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How to Create a Calm Environment for a Child With Bipolar Disorder

One of the biggest challenges of having a child with bipolar disorder is keeping our household calm. In an instant, Sam can take a room from zero to 100 and leave no one behind in a rampage of mania.

What does a manic child look like? For Sam, it is usually a mix of nonstop intense talking or yelling, language that is vulgar or does not make sense, large movements that can potentially hurt someone and lots of other irrational behaviors. Sounds like a party, doesn’t it? Not exactly. Sometimes, there is absolutely nothing I or anyone else can do to prevent Sam from going into a manic state, but there are things we can do to help create calm for him and our family.

1. Keep voices soft.

This is a hard one for me, especially if I am being screamed at about something that makes no sense at all. However, the more you can demonstrate calm, the more likely you are to achieve calm.

2. Do not engage or argue.

Again, a hard one, but this is one is critical. You will never “win” with someone who is manic and the situation will only escalate if you try. Just listen.

3. Acknowledge feelings.

It is important to acknowledge your child is having feelings, even if they are irrational. I use words like, “I understand you think I am the worst person in the world,” or, “I can see you really think your brother is doing everything possible to make your life miserable.” Make the acknowledging statement and then leave it at that.

4. When trying to redirect, only offer one or two options.

Redirection with someone who is manic can be next to impossible. Their brains are not able to acknowledge or understand rational thought. If anything, I generally say something like, “You can continue to be upset, but you need to do it in another area of the house,” or, “Would you like me to help you get your body and voice in control?” Just saying “stop” or “you are being ridiculous” doesn’t connect to someone in this state. Most times, you just have to ride out the storm.

In order to be proactive, I try to keep overall household stimulation low, loud or overwhelming activities to a minimum and create a positive environment. However, like all other things in life, it does not always work and sometimes you have to go with the flow. Live with grace, if you will.

Parents of children with mental illness: do you have any tricks or ideas for keeping your child and household calm? I’d love to hear them!

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Getty Images photo via SomeMeans