Learning To Discipline A Child With Mental Illness Through Positive Reinforcement

lWhen your child faces a mental illness you may struggle to balance the many responsibilities. I have parents ask if discipline should be different when you child faces a mental health diagnosis. The answer is that many children learn through positive reinforcement.

I was helping a mother whose child has a very severe case of bipolar disorder. In the summer, his manic state leads to extremely aggressive and unruly behavior. He refuses to listen to his parents and often throws fits. The mom says she feels hopeless and doesn’t know if his illness is the reason for his outbursts.

We began a process of finding a way to teach him about making changes. Whenever he would listen to his mom he was given a reward. He began to want the rewards more often because they include new colorful markers, water balloons, pencils and a frisbee.

The young boy started to accept that if he would stay calm, his mom would be happier. It took some effort but he began to slowly curtail his negative outbursts. His mother found that teaching him to act in a healthier way was a wonderful learning experience for both of them. They became closer and it allowed her son to feel appreciated and loved.

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