Category Archives: Experts

Mood River: Highs and Lows of Mood Disorders in Children

The murky waters of mood disorder

The murky waters of mood disorder

Recently I asked “Ashley” to share advice on my blog. Ashley is a colleague and parent to an 11-year-old girl diagnosed with Mood Disorder

I have learned a lot about mood disorders and was blown away by her candor.

Please note that this post was originally published in 2013.

1) Can you describe “mood disorder” and its symptoms?

Last spring, my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and we put her on a stimulant. She began having rages, getting verbally aggressive (threatening to kill people) and physically aggressive (biting, hitting, kicking) family members to the point that she left bruises and other marks. We took her off the medication and the rages decreased for a while, but returned along with ADHD symptoms that interfered with school.

We tried another stimulant and the rages increased. Her paediatrician suggested that because she was raging on stimulants that he highly suspected that she had a mood disorder.  At his suggestion, I read the book The Bipolar Child and cried because the symptoms described in the book were almost a verbatim description of my daughter. 

2) Why were you surprised by this revelation?

I was surprised that the way that bipolar presents in children is very different from the way it looks in adults. Some of the symptoms that resonated with me:

  • severe irritability
  • night terrors
  • raging
  • oppositional behaviour
  • rapid cycling (going from giddy to irritated very quickly and back again)
  • sensory issues
  • carb cravings (my daughter would binge on sweets and bread)
  • hyper-sexuality

Another trait exhibited by my daughter was that she didn’t show her rages and violence to anyone outside the family and I was her main target.

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt

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3) Please provide some insight into the relationship between ADHD and mood disorders and how they’re sometimes confused.

According to the book The Bipolar Child, one-third of the children diagnosed with ADHD actually have early onset bipolar. Many symptoms of bipolar overlap with ADHD, such as being impulsive, emotionally volatile, hyperactive and distracted. When I was reading Bipolar Child for the first time, the description in temper tantrums between children with ADHD and children with mood disorders was what finally convinced me that my daughter was bipolar.

Bipolar temper tantrums can often last for hours, can involve destruction or violence and are typically triggered by not getting what they want. The book described that ADHD tantrums typically last 20-30 minutes and are caused by sensory or emotional stimulation. I thought about the previous evening and how my daughter had spent over two hours hitting us, screaming and chasing after us and realized that my daughter was bipolar.

4) What advice can you offer parents?

My biggest advice is to find support. I found the forums and support groups at The Balanced Mind to provide me great information on both the medical side and the coping side.

At first I was really scared to tell anyone about my daughter’s diagnosis and even more about her repeatedly hurting me. I would wear long sleeves to cover the bite marks and bruises and worry that someone would see. But then I shared with trusted friends what we were going through and was very surprised that instead of judgement, I received love and support.

My other advice is to find the right team of doctors and therapists. It took several tries to find the right fit for our family and my daughter’s situation, but we finally found a neuropsychiatric that has been lifesaving for us. We also began working with a behavioural therapist to help our whole family learn strategies to deal with the bipolar symptoms.

medication pills isolated on yellow background

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5) How do you and your family (and your child) best cope with this mental illness?

When she is raging, we try to remind ourselves that this is the bipolar talking, not our daughter. We also make sure that every member of our family gets time to enjoy the things that make them happy and get a break from my daughter. We also all meet with a therapist to talk about our feelings of living with the disease in our family.

6) Anything else you’d like to add?

If you suspect that your child has a mood disorder, get him or her evaluated as soon as possible. Life has gotten dramatically better once we found the right medication and have begun learning to understand the disease.

Does any of this resonate with you? I thought republishing this post might help a parent or friend who has a child with a mood disorder.

Yours,

Lisa

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Big Mouth Strikes Again…

I’m listening to The Smiths right now who are one of my all-time favourite bands. While “Bigmouth Strikes Again” is a cool and iconic song (take a listen if you’re not familiar), it reminded me that, so far, my new year’s resolutions are going well. One of my major family goals is to drastically reduce – or better yet, eliminate completely – yelling.

animal bear big blur

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Believe me, I know that yelling isn’t terribly effective or good for anyone. But shouting at kids is different than shouting at another adult.  Obviously no one yells for fun or to get their kicks – it’s generally out of exasperation, overwhelm or frustration. It’s learning to stay calm when we’re stressed and not resort to yelling that’s the tricky part.

I’m reminded of an interview I did with Erin Flynn Jay about mothers’ work during economic downturns. Through her research, she discovered that child abuse increases during economically difficult times. Children might sense a parent’s stress and then act out, causing the parent to feel the need to yell or strike back. It’s unfortunately a vicious circle.

white and blue crew neck t shirt

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Now, none of this is meant to stress anyone (including me) out. But it is a good reminder that our actions and reactions to things do impact our kids – even if we don’t realize it or it doesn’t seem obvious immediately.

One of my other new year’s resolutions is to “think small.” I know that sounds like an oxymoron but, really, it’s meant to celebrate the little things in life. When it comes to parenting,  in my view, we need to pat ourselves on the back more and acknowledge that even small successes are still successes – especially when it comes to our or our children’s positive mental health.

If you made any, how are your new year’s resolutions coming along? I’d love to hear about ’em.

Peace,

Lisa

Educational Options for Your Child, Part 2: Homeschooling Continued

Good morning! I apologize for the delay in posting – I was on a much-needed vacation last week. I also apologize for the font changes in this current post: I tried to do some adjustments behind the scenes but it looks like two different font styles still appear.

A few weeks ago, a fellow blogging associate, Heidi, kindly provided info on how and why parents might decide to homeschool . Until recently, this was an area of parenting/teaching/education that I had known about for some time but didn’t fully understand. Homeschooling is chosen by families for a variety of reasons. For this blog, we discuss it from a mental health/learning disabilities perspective.

woman reading book to toddler

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Another fellow blogger, a successful business owner, parent and home-schooling expert, also agreed to answer some burning questions that may help you decide if homeschooling is right for you and your kids.

Dana is the owner of Train Up a Child Publishing.  The information on Dana’s site/blog is extremely helpful and may assist you in understanding the ins and outs of homeschooling as well as the various methods and philosophies involved.

Here are a few of her answers. I will add a second part to this post soon – she provided such important and detailed information that I can’t fit everything into one post!

Question 1: From your perspective, what’s the criteria for homeschooling? For instance, do you feel it’s best in all cases for both parent and/or child?  

There are many circumstances and possible criteria for homeschooling. I don’t feel like homeschooling is best in all cases. Regardless of the criteria, if parents aren’t committed, willing to invest time and money in curriculum/supplies/and possibly tutors, and willing to make homeschooling a priority in their lives, it’s probably not a good choice.   
 
From the parent perspective, they might feel homeschooling would be better for their child because: 
  • They disagree philosophically/religiously with some of the content of what is taught. For example, the school policy changes you may have heard about in California that have literature that talks about many genders. Many parents that this area should remain within the realm of what parents would teach in the home, rather than in their first grader’s classroom.  
  • Their children may have been diagnosed with epilepsy, or other medical condition that require closer medication management/health care than may be possible in the public/private school system
  • Their child(ren) may have been diagnosed with ADHD or are on the Autism spectrum and have or have had difficulty coping with a typical public or private classroom. Parents who homeschool these children can provide them an environment that better suits their needs:
    • a less distracting room for homeschooling, without every inch of wall space covered with colorful things, like many elementary classrooms, particularly
    • the opportunity to give children their own quiet space to learn and focus, complete with a bouncy ball or other soothing/tactile objects
    • hands-on and other customized lessons that appeal to their student
    • customized therapies and methods that parents have found to work for their child at home because their school systems aren’t able (or perhaps willing) to implement them in a classroom situation
    • more frequent opportunities for breaks, more easily incorporate movement into studies
    • can take the time and provide mentorship in teaching their child relational behaviour — one to one. I’m sure this would be impossible for most teachers because of the teacher to student ratios, even in special ed classes
  • They feel as though their child would be safer at home from bullying, school violence, etc.
man wearing black crew neck shirt reading book

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Question 2) What would you say to a parent who is considering homeschooling due to their child’s anxiety, depression, bullying, etc.?
 
I would tell them what it’s like to homeschool and give them places to research it further in their state/country. I’d suggest they visit and get plugged into a local homeschool support group, ask lots of questions and maybe shadow a homeschooling family or go on a field trip or park day with a homeschooling group. If parents are strongly considering homeschooling, it would be good to bring their child into the discussion. 
 

I’d let the parents know to look for a support group that met together regularly with activities for parents and for kids, went on field trips, provided a co-op or group classes, etc. (With ours, we had yearly school pictures, a yearbook, a prom, lots of field trips and small classes in many academic and enrichment areas, from writing classes to Taekwondo.)  

Question 3) What are some characteristics of successful homeschooling parents/teachers? What are two or three things that must be in place? 

Homeschooling parents must be committed to homeschooling at the start. That doesn’t mean they have to do it forever, but they need to be committed to at least a year at a time.
They have to be willing to spend money as necessary for their child’s curriculum and activities, and they have to be willing to make homeschooling a daily priority for at least one parent. That doesn’t mean the homeschooling parent can’t work parttime, but homeschooling has to happen daily in spite of the job. Sometimes homeschooling happens on the weekend or at night — it doesn’t have to look the same in all families and nor does it have to look like public school. 
 
It works best if parents have taken the time to train their children to [listen] when they were small.  Mutual respect between parents and children makes it a ton easier. And it’s easier to start with that in place, although it’s never too late to develop.
 
As I said, at least one parent has to assume the responsibility for homeschooling and make it a priority in their life.  Also, most homeschooling parents have to be willing to take the time to learn along with the child. They have to commit to at least weekly planning time, they have to be able to grade papers or get help from someone who can do this if they need help.  Sometimes moms change kids — one who did well in math might teach math to her child and mine, and maybe I teach writing to my child and hers, for example.  
accomplishment ceremony education graduation

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Thank you so much, Dana, for your insightful views. Again, please visit Train Up a Child Publishing to learn more.

I was doing some further research on supports for homeschoolers: If you are in Ontario, Canada, the Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents looks to be an amazing resource. I am very impressed with their site and how user-friendly it is to access.

Let me know if you find this information useful and if you have other advice or resources to share. I’d love to hear from you.

Lisa