THE BIPOLAR CHILD AND SCHOOL
Let’s first make something abundantly clear, the bipolar child in general will not like school!
I mean, what’s the point anyway? Teachers are pretty stupid, and who needs to learn these things in the first place? Honestly, it’s a drag, pointless and they can probably do a better job than their teachers can in any case. Of course they attend the WORST school that has ever been invented, and the kids there are so MEAN!
Going to school is an uphill battle daily, doing homework is worse, and please…do not even mention a project, or a deadline. All of this exhausts and irks the bipolar child, resulting in tears, distress, inability to function and feelings of inadequacy.
Brain imaging studies show biological differences in children with bipolar disorder. The disorder affects learning through lack of sleep, low energy levels, concentration, the mere thought of attending school, and excessive school absence. The bipolar child will have severe stomach cramps, frequent headaches, not have slept a wink, you name it, any excuse under the sun to get out of going to school. They battle to pay attention, recall information, think critically or logically, organise their work, employ problem solving skills and quickly co-ordinate eye-hand movements- so who can blame them for not wanting to go in the first place.
Besides all of that, bipolar disorder can cause a child to also be too impulsive, talkative, distractible, unmotivated, withdrawn and difficult to engage. Medication can make the school situation worse, because it may cause cognitive dulling, sleepiness, slurring of speech, memory recall difficulty and physical discomfort such as nausea and excessive thirst. So you think you're going to win???? Even if you don’t, you have to try. Your child is obliged to go to school by law, and that is that. Finding a school suitable for the bipolar child is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. They're going to hate it anyway!!!!
The good news is that despite all of this, the bipolar child can succeed in the classroom. All you have to do is convince the teacher to change the entire teaching method he/she uses to teach your child in particular. Easy isn’t it???
Well any teacher who would like to know how to deal best with a bipolar child can read on, and also PLEASE let us know of their own experiences with children suffering from severe ADHD, or diagnosed bipolar disorder, in their classrooms.
Teachers will need:
FLEXIBILITY-to adapt projects, assignments, and presentation style as needed to suit the BP child.
PATIENCE- to ignore minor negative behaviours, encourage positive behaviours, and provide positive behavioural choices. Most important, is the teacher’s ability to stay calm and be a model of desired behaviour.
GOOD CONFLICT MANAGEMENT SKILLS- to resolve conflicts in a non confrontational manner, and to make the child feel safe and positive.
RECEPTIVITY- to change and to work with the child’s parents, doctors, and other professionals to best meet the needs of the child.
THE ABILITY TO LAUGH- at oneself and at situations. Teachers who can laugh at their own mistakes, and bring fun and humour into the classroom reduce the level of stress that students feel.
UNDERSTANDING-of the bipolar child's emotional instability and fears.
Very sadly, we don’t get many teachers who have the time, energy or patience to do this, and despite their willingness to help, they can also become overwhelmed by the bipolar child. So as a parent, where to from here?
All we can say is FORGE FORWARD, AND CREATE A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER. IF THE TEACHER IS COMPLETELY NON RECEPTIVE TO HELPING YOU HELP YOUR CHILD, ASK FOR A CHANGE OF TEACHER. At the same time, of course, understanding the situation of the teacher and the school environment.
There is so much that can be done to help the bipolar child at school, and amongst them is seating where they have very few distractions, shortened projects, or no deadline projects (deadlines render the bipolar child helpless with anxiety). Homework that concentrates on quality as opposed to quantity. Allowance for medication related tiredness, thirstiness and hunger, need for the bathroom.
Bipolar children struggle to get through a school day as they feel an enormous amount of pressure with things other children can do in their stride. Their neurologically based mood disorder affects their emotions, behaviour, social interaction and memory, even their cognitive skills. They are extremely vulnerable to stress that can easily overwhelm their coping skills. Because the bipolar child will never reveal his/her true feelings at school, for fear of being shamed and thought to be inadequate, they are largely allowed to slip through the cracks, whilst the turmoil bubbles and boils inside of them.
One of the biggest challenges, perhaps, in teaching the bipolar child, has to be that even tried and true strategies will not always work, as their moods are shifting constantly. Being prepared with a variety of approaches will help the teacher’s odds of dealing successfully with the child and his/her challenges.
It is of paramount importance that the teacher works hand in hand with the parent of the child. Even perhaps, in this day and age of technology, mailing the parent with details of projects, upcoming exams, sports days etc. This will help to alleviate the pressure on the child, and help the parent assist their child to be prepared for whatever is due and upcoming. The bipolar child cannot function well under pressure, or with a “SURPRISE” test or event at school.
Teachers can also assist the bipolar child by recognising the manic phase, when they should engage the child in any activity that requires movement. Like washing the board, collecting work from other students, sending them on an errand etc. This helps the child’s already low self esteem as well as giving them something positive to do so they do not cause havoc in the classroom.
Any talk of suicide, threats to harm self or others, must be reported to the teacher by the parent, and in the same way if it occurs at school, the teacher must advise the parent immediately.
If the teacher recognises the depressed phase in a bipolar child, they could perhaps shorten the child’s work for the day, and contact the parent, who will ensure the work is completed at home at a more leisurely pace. The teacher can also let the child know that they are aware that the child is not feeling too good, and ask if there is anything they can do to help. The response would in all probability be no, but the child will feel more secure and less isolated.
At the same time, teachers have the task of having to ignore inappropriate attention-seeking behaviours. Try turning the child’s “bossiness” to everyone’s advantage by making them class leader for the day. Invite them to come up and teach the class for that period. Let them feel what it is to "be in charge"
In a nutshell, bipolar children need adults around them who are positive, calm, firm, patient, loving and consistent. Praise and appreciation for small deeds carried out elicits a positive response from the child, whilst negativity and punishment helps the bipolar child spin out of control.
Try and find a “SAFE” person for your child at school. Someone they are comfortable with and who they can go and speak to if they are feeling overwhelmed. Their safe place should be a private location where they can go to regain their composure or collect their thoughts, away from other children and teachers.
PLEASE VISIT OUR FORUM, WE WOULD LIKE TO HEAR FROM YOU, ON YOUR AND YOUR CHILD’S EXPERIENCES AT SCHOOL, BOTH NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE. IF YOU ARE A TEACHER, YOUR COMMENTS WILL BE APPRECIATED TOO. BUT PLEASE KEEP IN MIND, THIS IS NOT A FORUM TO ATTACK EACH OTHER. THE INTENTION IS TO ASSIST THE BIPOLAR CHILD LIVE AN EASIER LIFE.