8 Signs Your Child Might Have Bipolar Disorder

Last Updated: 8 Jan 2021

An evaluation by a child/adolescent psychiatrist is the first step to a bipolar diagnosis. Here are eight symptoms that could warrant a visit to a mental health professional.

bipolar in children

#1 Manic Episodes

Some signs your child may be experiencing mania, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP): Unrealistic highs in self-esteem, such as feelings of having special superhero powers; increases in energy and decreased need for sleep, or being able to go with little sleep for days without feeling tired; rapid thinking and talking; and repeated high risk-taking behavior, such as sexual promiscuity, reckless driving, or abusing alcohol and drugs.

#2 Depressive Episodes

The AACAP describes this abnormal state for children or teens as having low energy, fatigue, poor concentration, and decreased enjoyment in favorite activities; decreased appetite or major change in eating habits; complaints of physical illnesses, such as stomach aches and headaches; and thoughts of death.

#3 Anger and Rage

All children get angry periodically, but children and adolescents with bipolar disorder tend to feel anger at a very intense level. This can manifest into violence, possibly attacking others or destroying their toys. Because children with bipolar anger usually are not able to control their outbursts, these emotions turn into severe rage that can last for hours.

#4 Severe Fluctuations in Mood

Bipolar children are more likely to have rapid cycling, moving back and forth between a depressed mood and a manic mood over a shorter period of time or even within the same day. It’s common to see a pattern of severe fluctuations in mood, energy, and daily routines, which lead to difficulty in functioning in school, with friends, or at home, says Helena Verdeli, PhD, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University.

#5 Flights of Fancy

Although less common than symptoms of rage and anger, children and teens do experience elation, grandiosity, or mania, and this could be a key signal in an initial assessment, says bipolar research expert Eric Youngstrom, PhD. He asks parents if their child is being overly giddy and goofy at unexpected times, like bedtime and first thing in the morning, and whether “the elation is happening too often, too intensely, or lasting too long.”

#6 Family Connection

“Most of the kids have a family history of mood disorder or bipolarity,” according to child psychiatrist Dr. Rosalie Greenberg. The chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder. But the role of genetics is not absolute and a child from a family with a history of bipolar disorder may never develop the disorder.

#7 Changes at School

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms in teens point to school issues. They may experience a drop in grades, quit sports teams or other activities, be suspended from school or arrested for fighting or drug use, engage in risky sexual behavior, or talk about death or even taking their own lives. Talk with your child’s teacher or guidance counselor to determine if they are seeing similar behaviors at school as what you’re seeing at home.

#8 Differences in Similar Illnesses

Mental health professionals may need to sift out bipolar disorder from other look-alike symptoms of illnesses. “For example, if a child with ADD has insomnia, they will be tired the next day; a child with bipolar [who didn’t sleep] won’t feel a need for sleep,” explains Benjamin Goldstein, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto. Hypersexuality is another bipolar marker, as it is a symptom of mania but not characteristic of ADD.

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About the author
Tanya Hvilivitzky has spent almost 30 years in the communications field—a career that has included stints as an investigative journalist, magazine managing editor, corporate communications director, and researcher/writer. She has been with bp Magazine and esperanza Magazine since 2016, serving in roles such as interim editor and, currently, the features editor. She also writes for the bpBUZZ section of bphope.com, where she synthesizes complex information into a format that both inspires and informs. As an award-winning writer/editor, she received the Beyond Borders Media Award for her 2012 investigative exposé about human trafficking. Her work on this important topic also earned the Media Freedom Award “Honouring Canada’s Heroes” from the Joy Smith Foundation to Stop Human Trafficking.
  1. Thanks for this article, I’ve definitely noticed that my son sometimes experiences extreme bouts of anger and sadness. He often gets into fights with his playmates over the smallest things and it’s started to make socializing much more difficult for him. It seems to me that he may have bipolar disorder, but I don’t want to make an uninformed diagnosis. I’ll take him to a psychiatrist as soon as I can and hopefully, they can help me tell for sure.

  2. I do not know ware to go to talk about this iam worried that my little girl have bipolar she showed some classic sines .like you can be talk to her about some thing an be for you konw it she have a malt down iam talk about yelling an crying an throw things pulling at her hair an so angry that you can’t talk to her it just makes it 10 times worse I have set her down an try to some berth ing excise to get her to clam down. Then thar are times you could be talk to her an she sweet as pie .she told me that she doesn’t have any friends an don’t need them thar all lie ers and know body love her my heart is broken could I have passed bipolar to my sweet baby girl .iam asking because I have bipolar2 disorder I feel like I damage her in some way . I have try talk to my Dr about her an I have try to find a Dr that would see her an test her to see but I can’t get any ware an iam feeling so bad very about this is thar anyone on this page that could help me please .

    1. Hi Christian, I do not know how much I can really help but I want you to know that you are doing such a wonderful thing as a parent. Teaching her breathing exercises is a great idea! Teaching her the skills that you have learned to use to manage your own bipolar is going to help her deal with her own bipolar, if that is what she has, until you can find qualified help for her. I was a bipolar child and my mom just got frustrated and angry with me calling me “the Devil’s child” which hurts to this day. She did not know that I was bipolar but such behaviour toward your child is inexcusable. You are to be commended for your patience, love, and understanding. Keep trying to get her help. If you have a psychiatrist talk to her/him about your daughter and ask for help and a referral to a child psychiatrist. Just keep trying and do not give up. “Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:8

  3. Ok.

    Probably have Bipolar I according to a therapist/counselor I just saw yesterday. Am 49 now. I should have gotten help for various mental health issues: perceptual/cognitive, mood/emotional, behavioral, personality even by the age of 5, but when I first ran across a psychologist who gave us the impression that I had such issues he was vindictive, punitive, and frightening which turned me off. This was back in 1976. I may have been given an iq test. The iq around that time was found to be at least 146 but a top/ceiling was never found. So he was asking questions. Then I started asking him questions as a lot of kids — especially boys — will do that in mimicry/imitation. Well, he got irritated. He probably found me to be disruptive, intrusive, and insubordinate so he asked me to go and punch some pillows in his office.

    At first I refused because I knew he was setting me up to take a hit. Then, after a little while I relented because I wanted to do so. Then he turns to my dad and says this is the worst kid I have ever seen and suggests putting me away. My dad said to my mother I think we had better do this/what he says. (My dad tended to be deferential to outsiders, professionals, even inimical strangers and acquaintances. He was brought up that way.) My mother said no. He is just irritated. I finally, just a couple of years ago, asked my dad for how long I would have been put away and he said just 3 weeks or so. Well, that would have been no big deal. I was afraid of being put away for life, held in some sort of mental hospital/psychiatric prison/insane asylum, confined indefinitely, away from home, family, opportunity, fun, schools etc. So I had that fear from the time I was 5 to at least the time I was 18. I felt that the schools, parents, and psychologists formed some sort of big wall of enmity against me.

    Both of my parents and my son are dead now. My mother died first of cancer in 2012. My dad died in 2019 of liver cancer. My son died of a fentanyl overdose in March 2020. My parents were not empathetic in terms of how I felt. My dad, although he knew the social conventions, oftentimes did not intuit people’s intentions and motivations. My mother was better with that but was frightening as her irritation became rage. She tended to terrorize, insult, and coerce me. I think my mother, son, and I all had bipolar disorder, among other things. My son must have had it the worst…. He got deep into drugs as well. He passed away taking a fentanyl counterfeit pill while his gf was out shopping for groceries. I mention all this because in the fentanyl era, the experimenting with drugs, not just opioids, but xanax, speed, cocaine, etc, can be absolutely lethal. It is 50 times stronger than heroin, and 100 times stronger than morphine and oxycodone. Less than 1 mg can be lethal.

  4. My stepson is 6 going to be 7 and he was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 4 he is now having sever mood swings, explosive behavior, swearing, refusing to go to bed, he is so hyper and he breaks everything and having tantrums constantly multiple times a day , when he was five he started defecating in his pants after being toilet trained at the age of 3, he kicks, punches and bites people, he doesn’t listen at all. when he is in his room going to bed he talks to himself or something when no one else is around. I am just looking for peoples opinions on what i should do i ran out of options.

    1. I think it could be bipolar. A lot is yet to be learned regarding bipolar in children and young adults. I also think it can present it self in different ways to different people. Most importantly is journal the child’s behavior and keep looking for a professional who will listen to you and help your step son. Be patient, compassionate and kind. This child is truly struggling. He will need support as he grows and to learn to process and cope with his mental issues. Teach him it’s ok to not be ok but he needs to learn to help himself w/therapy, meds etc to feel his best. Let family and friends know he needs support not ridicule. You’re an Angel to be looking after him. Also get help for yourself and support to help on his journey. Help stop
      The stigma and advocate for him at school. He will needs lots of help. Good luck and never give up!

    2. I disagree, it sounds like early in set bipolar to me

    3. That sounds more like oppositional/defiant than bipolar. Bipolar tends to not show up until late puberty, and even when it does show up, what you’re describing doesn’t sound like bipolar. I do think he needs an evaluation by a psychiatrist. ADHD might explain some of that, but not all of it.

  5. I have been bipolar since the age of 3, and hearing impaired, just like my paternal grandmother and other members of my family. I also rapid cycle, sometimes 40-50 times per day which I understand is extremely rare, but I have learned to live with the moods, I receive therapy, and I take medication, primarily Toprol for high blood pressure and off-label use, as well as Klonopin. I can remember cycling as a small child, from mania to depression, but in a milder form, often within 1/2 hour cycles or less. Luckily, my parents had me diagnosed at an early age, first with severe/profound hearing impairment and then bipolar disorder. I am thankful for that because I do not drink, use drugs, etc. Instead, I learned to read and talk on my own before age 3, and never had hearing aids until I was 4. I am lucky. others I know with bipolar disorder drink and have never coped well with their disorder. Early diagnosis and treatment are key. As a result, I managed to graduate from high school and a top University.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Jon. My momma heart needed that encouragement for my 9 y/o son who’s newly diagnosed. I am bipolar, my dad is too and my sister likely is and an addict. I’m terrified he will seek reckless behavior as he gets older but your comment is very reassuring and encouraging. His care and treatment will be my top priority.

      1. hi my name is chloe

        i would just like to say firstly im a twelve year old girl that is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. i am already struggling as it is as i am also a foster kid. my mother has recently told me how my behavior has been getting more violent and i am continuously having disruptive and erratic mood swings that have started effecting my home situation and my schooling. im honestly just searching the internet for my symptoms and so far bipolar disorder is the closest thing to my symptoms and explaining a whole lot so. thank u cause this info has been so helpful.

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