One of the most difficult areas to walk through in parenting a child with bipolar disorder is the challenge of discipline. It combines several other theoretical things into one practical challenge. You have to deal with reasonable standards of behavior, realistic expectations for your child, and underlying it all — God’s ultimate standards.
Every parent raising a child in today’s culture is faced with discipline challenges. Popular culture speaks to our children in a constant barrage of “Me-ism” that is mind-boggling. Media saturation adds to the barrage and parents are left trying to teach old fashioned values completely against the tide. This is nothing new but many would agree it seems to be getting worse.
Add to these normal challenges a child who frustrates easily, tolerates stress poorly and controls his emotions almost-not-at-all and you have a perfect storm.
Our goal in discipline is always to teach basic Biblical principles of relationship: appropriate response to authority, considering others more important than ourselves, etc. Again, difficult concepts to teach a child with bipolar disorder. But still, this is our challenge.
Louise’s post yesterday was a picture of our lives. We too have the constant challenge of dealing with the daily stress of homework completion. I never would have thought this could be so hard but it is a real nightmare! If I ask what is on his plate for the evening I get the barrage of emotional reaction about too much and too stressful and too hopeless…. How do you respond to that? Do you correct the emotional barrage? Do you give structure to reduce stress? Do you provide encouragement to alleviate the hopeless feelings?
So what we have decided lately, given his age, is to give more freedom to manage his homework as he sees fit. Sometimes that means it doesn’t all get done. Sometimes that means it gets done but not to the level we would normally expect. Sometimes, when things are really bad, we watch a funny movie as a family and forget it all. All in all, he is doing pretty well. His grades are good.
The reality is that one of the most important things we can help our son learn is to live in balance. Stress management is important for us all but it is critical for those living with bipolar disorder. Failing to deal with stress appropriately can create a negative spiral that is hard to correct. Prevention is the best medicine.
So practically speaking, he needs to do his work or approach his teachers if he needs extra time or some other accommodation. Early in his schooling I took on more of these issues but as he approaches launch I am teaching him how to manage this himself. We won’t be going to college with him so he needs to have established patterns that work for him.
So the discipline challenge is two-fold — the external discipline we need to provide and the internal discipline we need to engender — both are critical for his health and well being.
For today, we are still working on both.