One of the most concerning aspects for parents of children with Bipolar Disorder is their inability to maintain friendships over the long haul. Aspects of the disease make social interaction difficult at times for others to understand and overlook when those behaviors affect them personally. In the two years since my teenager daughter’s diagnosis, I have seen many of her friends come and go. While most were sympathetic at the onset, when her negative behavior became directed towards them instead of outsiders, a very different tune was suddenly being sung. While it is certainly possible for Bipolar children of all ages to enjoy healthy relationships with their peers, guidance and positive influence from the adults around them can be invaluable in attaining that goal.
Set a Good Example
Always demonstrate the type of behavior that you wish your child to emulate. Speak kindly, be compassionate and take responsibility when your own actions cause a friend to feel pain or anger. Don’t exhibit behavior that you would not accept from another. Children and teenagers with Bipolar Disorder often act in ways towards others that would set off extreme anger and frustration if the tables were turned. It appears as though they live by a code that allows them to behave a certain way but would be completely unacceptable if others treated them in the same fashion. A great way to counteract that is to be a living example of what it means to be a good friend. While I have always considered myself to be a good friend to others, since my child’s diagnosis, I have become every more vigilant in always setting the example I wish her to follow.
Encourage New Friendships
Young people with Bipolar Disorder often have very poor self esteem during depressive periods. Conflicts with existing friends can add to those feelings of low self worth. Always encourage your son or daughter to seek out relationships with peers they seem to click with. A wider circle of friends can promote more positive behavior overall. Though I have seen old friends go and new friends come and go even faster, I always take pleasure in my daughter’s enthusiasm over making a new friend. Each friendship comes with it’s own learning curve and something positive always emerges with each new relationship.
Practice Social Scenarios
:Long term friendships are based on mutual respect and loyalty. Engage in role playing with your son or daughter where you take on the role of a friend who is hurt, acting unkindly or has received upsetting news. If your child responds inappropriately, correct the behavior and give examples of what a better choice of words or actions should be. Keep in mind that many Bipolar children respond in inappropriate ways while interacting socially because of the difference in the way they process the experiences of others. There can be a disconnect with others’ emotions if they don’t actually feel it themselves. Learning and practicing how to be more compassionate and empathetic towards their peer group can be quite beneficial towards the goal of maintaining friendships. My child will often come to me with her frustations about a converation with a friend that somehow went off into the ditch. She frequently expresses confusion on how her reactions to certain scenarios are taken badly by a peer. I then reeanact the conversation with her and give her pointers on how better she can handle the situation the next time. I have seen firsthand her growth in that area. Though she still struggles with the emotional aspects behind the scenes, she has made great strides in expressing more socially acceptable responses.
Friends come and go at an early age. The complexity of Bipolar Disorder and the behavior it can cause adds an extra layer of difficulty. Ultimately, that is an issue that the person with the disease will have to accept and work through. While you should do all that you are able to help your child navigate this tricky area, it may be a life long issue that you truly have little control over.