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Classroom Strategies For Students With Bipolar Disorder


Classroom Strategies For Students With Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that can cause sudden and severe changes in an individual’s energy, mood, behavior, and cognitive process. Bipolar disorder is most commonly identified by sudden and frequent shifts from depression to mania over the course of several days or weeks. However, pediatric bipolar disorder (bipolar disorder in children) often presents itself differently. Manifestations of depression and mania in children can occur multiple times per day or even simultaneously, making it hard to identify.

Children with bipolar disorder are often anxious and easily frustrated, and are at a high risk of failing their classes, abusing drugs, and becoming suicidal. Some of the most prominent symptoms of pediatric bipolar disorder include withdrawal, isolation, excessive sleeping, chronic irritability, unexplained crying, hyperactivity, grandiose thinking, and more. Because of its wide range of symptoms, bipolar disorder in children is often mistaken for “severe ADHD.”

Thousands of children spend their entire childhood without a diagnosis and often end up failing or struggling severely in school. However, there are ways to treat, manage, and understand bipolar disorder in classrooms. As an educator, it is up to you to make the accommodations necessary to help your students with bipolar disorder thrive. Below are a few classroom strategies and struggles to keep in mind as you teach and assist children with bipolar disorder.


When it comes to preparing lessons, be flexible. Depending on their mood, your student may require more time to complete an assignment, test, or activity. In other cases, your student may finish early, leaving them understimulated and subject to spiraling–so be sure to keep them entertained with games and books during their free time. When preparing lessons, take these circumstances into consideration and prepare accordingly.


Consistency has its benefits in all areas of life, but especially in the classroom. Children with bipolar disorder thrive on consistent routines such as dependable break times, regular aid, and periodic agendas. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it can help your students manage and regulate their mood swings and set realistic expectations for themselves.


Children with bipolar disorder (as well as children with other mental disorders, such as ADHD) are prone to being distracted easily. Any precautions you can take as a teacher to eliminate distractions will be extremely beneficial in helping your students stay focused and engaged throughout the day. Seating your students with bipolar disorder and ADHD near the front of the room is one way to reduce distractions.


Students with bipolar disorder may differ from others in that their grades may fluctuate, their participation may be minimal, and they may even be disruptive. While this can be frustrating, remember to practice tolerance and patience with your students. Give the child extra help when needed, and try not to dwell on minor negative conduct. Instead, acknowledge and praise their good behavior whenever possible.


Remember to communicate–not just with your students but also with other educators as well as your students’ parents, psychologists, and other health care professionals. The more information and advice you can gather on how to best help your students with bipolar disorder, the better. If something is not working in your classroom, contact another adult who knows your student well to discuss different classroom strategies.

Plan for Outbursts

Outbursts in children with bipolar disorder can take all different forms–screaming, crying, and even withdrawing. No matter what your student’s outburst looks like, be sure to take it seriously and have a plan in place. Any extreme behavioral changes or signs of suicidal ideation can be difficult to deal with without training, so it’s important to consult the child’s parents and doctors in advance to figure out the best possible way to deal with such situations. This emergency plan may include taking the child out into the hall, encouraging them to play a game, sending them to the nurse’s office, or having a parent pick them up from school.

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