Q: This is such a long story, but ill summarize it up. my husband may be
getting custody of his 7year old boy. The little boy has had a bumpy road. He
was took away from his mother 2 times because of neglect and abuse. I know the
little fellow has been through alot. His grandparents had legal gaurdianship of
him, but now he is in a treatment center and has been diagnosed with bipolar and
adhd. my husband never knew he exsisted until he was 4 and could never contact
him because his mother had him on the go. The child had been in 5 different
schools in 1 year.
Anyway, my husband may be getting custody of him. We are gradually getting to
know him, and he has a brother, our child, that he has never met. If he does
join our family, how can we make him feel at home? how can we let him understand
that we love him and he would never have to go through what he has been through?
Establish and maintain an open relationship with the grandparents in
the event one does not already exist. Contact the treatment center,
for example, through the social services department and set up
meetings to ease the transition as often as appropriate prior to the
child moving into your home. The treatment team can provide you an
advantage in that they are already familiar with the child's needs,
strengths and weaknesses. Take advantage of the professionals and
family who know then child best in order that you can have a plan in
place in your home, for example, with regard to your ability to stay
calm and be a model of desired behavior, providing positive
behavioral choices, good conflict management skills, the ability to
laugh at your own mistakes, etc.
The child's treatment team should have developed a 'behavior
intervention plan'. When the child is stable, you need to build the
child's skills that lead to approriate reactions and behavior,
including emotional labeling, empathy, anger management, social
rules, nonverbal communication, and making amends. You will also
benefit from training by members of the treatment team in nonviolent
crisis prevention, focusing on verbal deescalation techniques to
In addition to assisting you to manage challenging behavior, the
treatment team of professionals should be able to assist you with
recommendations dealing with modifying the physical environment, side
effects of medication, events that trigger acting out, symptoms
suggesting a call to the psychiatrist. You will also need assistance
setting up a transition from the treatment center to a new learning
environment whether it is within a school or a psychiatric day
program with a learning component.
Ask the treatment team for recommendations regarding community
resources that include a psychiatrist and psychologist or therapist
with whom you feel you can and will communicate openly about all your
child's behaviors and symptoms. Your son may have had a very rough
existence for a considerable period of time but do not feel guilty
about his past. You cannot change it but you can learn from it and
begin to provide the stability, love and treatment that he has needed
for those earlier years. Keep him on his treatment. It takes great
patience to get the correct medications and dosages and once there is
improvement, your child should continue taking his medication for the
rest of his life. Bipolar disorder is a chronic disease. Like
diabetes, it requires constant treatment and re-evaluation.
Children with bipolar disorder need adults around them who are
positive, calm, firm, patient, consistent, loving and who encourage
them to behave appropriately. Praise elicits positive behaviors
while negativity helps the child spin out of control.
Children with bipolar disorder are similar in many ways to their "normal"
counterparts. Sit down with your husband and discuss what your needs are
in your relationship as well as with the new member of the family. Set
clear boundaries about what you will and will not tolerate within the
guidelines of the treatment plan and stick to what you agree upon. Try to
share equal responsibility for providing both praise with structure and
discipline or at least demonstrate to your son that you are both on the
same page. Consider joining a support group of parents who have children
with bipolar disorder. Good luck in your venture. Some excellent
resources are listed at the bottom of this response.
CHILD AND ADOLESCENT BIPOLAR FOUNDATION
NATIONAL MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION ON MENTAL ILLNESS
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PSYCHIATRY
David Schafer, M.Ed.
Published April, 2006