Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder in Children

What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Bipolar Disorder

Moody child
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You may be wondering if it's possible for your child to have bipolar disorder, and, if so, what the symptoms are. The answer is that it is, indeed, possible, though it's more often diagnosed in older children and teens. However, kids of any age can have bipolar disorder.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which people experience severe mood swings that may consist of episodes of mania/hypomania and depression.

Children and adolescents with bipolar disorder experience severe mood and behavior changes that are extreme and represent a major change from their typical mood and behavior. It might be difficult to know when the symptoms are severe enough to warrant evaluation and, potentially, diagnosis, so consider these three basic rules of thumb: functioning, feeling, and family.


Here are some questions to ask yourself about your child's functioning:

  • Are the problem behaviors of your child interfering with his daily functioning?
  • Is she able to play with other children her age?
  • Is he able to attend school regularly?
  • Do the demands of her difficulties outweigh the needs of other members of the family, maybe including you?


Here are some questions to ask yourself about your child's feelings:

  • Does your child feel like there is something wrong with him?
  • Does she feel overwhelmed handling normal activities other kids her age engage in?
  • Does your child worry about things other kids don’t even think about?


Is there a history of mental illness in your child’s family? Research indicates that having a parent or sibling who has bipolar disorder increases your child's chances of developing it, though this factor may or may not be meaningful.

Symptoms of Childhood Bipolar Disorder

If you've said YES to questions in at least two of the three items above (functioning, feeling, and family), you're probably curious about the specific symptoms of bipolar disorder. Experts disagree about the exact symptoms that may appear in childhood and adolescent bipolar disorder because they​ appear to manifest differently than the symptoms of adults, but some of these symptoms may include:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Rages & explosive temper tantrums (lasting up to several hours)
  • Marked irritability
  • Oppositional behavior
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Distractibility
  • Hyperactivity
  • Getting involved in many projects or activities at once
  • More energy than normal
  • Less need for sleep
  • Impulsivity
  • Restlessness/ fidgetiness
  • Silliness, goofiness, giddiness
  • Racing thoughts
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Grandiosity
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Depressed mood
  • Lethargy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Night terrors
  • Rapid or pressured speech
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

What to Do If You Think Your Child Has Bipolar Disorder

It's important to know that children with bipolar disorder usually have extreme, severe fluctuations in their mood and behavior. With that, it's common for children to experience some of the symptoms listed above, and the majority do not have bipolar disorder.

In fact, bipolar disorder is fairly rare in kids, though symptoms may begin to manifest in childhood. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can also overlap with other disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), clinical depression, and anxiety disorders, so if you feel like your child may have a problem, getting a correct diagnosis is important.

If your child is having difficulty with daily functioning or if your child is struggling with feeling normal—most especially over an extended period of time—then an evaluation by a psychiatrist may be warranted. An unbiased, professional opinion could bring you some peace of mind and perhaps a few new parenting skills.

Talk to your pediatrician and seek out advice for your precious one so that you are not carrying your worries or concerns alone. 


Children and Adults With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Pediatric Bipolar Disorder

Hall-Flavin DK. Bipolar Disorder in Children: Is It Possible? Mayo Clinic. Published January 4, 2017.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Bipolar Disorder. Updated August 2017.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Updated 2015.