Parents: How Your Child’s Mental Illness Affects Your Relationship

Hi, I’m Angela, I have a husband with bipolar 2 disorder, my kids have ADHD, and I myself have struggled with depression—YOU’RE NOT ALONE! This week’s mental health tips are for parents—how your child’s mental illness affects your relationship.

Last week we talked about the fact that our mental health impacts how we think, act, feel, how we handle stress, and how we relate to others. It makes perfect sense that your child’s mental illness is going to impact your relationship with them. But we often dismiss this and focus solely on their treatment. Once our child has effective treatment we expect that our relationship with them should be the same as a child without a mental illness.

The first mistake is assuming that effective treatment means that everything should be “fixed” and that they won’t be experiencing any symptoms. Medication and therapy can work to help level the playing field, but it’s not a cure. We will still face challenges in our relationship with them, but there are some great strategies for helping with those difficulties.

Relationship Challenge #1

Connection: As parents we feel competent when we are able to soothe our children. If you’ve had a baby that was difficult to soothe then you know how challenging it can be. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you can’t soothe your child, but the truth is that some children are genetically wired to be more reactive. This is often true for children with a mental illness. When this happens parents can disengage, and then the child feels rejected or abandoned. This can make connection more difficult. In addition, when our child is dealing with symptoms that cause them to lash out, we can also feel pushed away or rejected ourselves. So what can we do?

Relationship Strategy #1

Validation: Just to be clear validation is not agreement or endorsement. It is helping someone to feel heard and understood. It is the most effective way to achieve connection, and has the biggest impact on any relationship. But even when we know this, it can be hard to do. We turn instead toward our own opinions or better yet logic. These strategies turn us away from our kids while validation has the opportunity to turn us towards our kids. Validation can be as simple identifying the emotion and putting yourself in their shoes. If they say: “I’m so sick of going to counseling! It doesn’t even help.” You can say: “It must feel really frustrating. It’s a lot of effort to put into something when you aren’t seeing the results you want.” No advice. Just wait. You can work on asking good questions or making a plan later. If you validate three times in a row in a high conflict situation it can change the dynamic from anger to connection.

Relationship Challenge #2

Over-functioning: What does this look like? It’s doing things for your child that they are capable of doing themselves. It’s being overly focused on them to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. Having goals for them that they don’t have for themselves. Preventing your child from trying something that might result in a failure. Taking responsibility for their feelings. When your child has a mental illness, there are times of crisis where we need to step in and help more than usual. That’s why it’s easy to slip into over-functioning. So how to prevent it?


Relationship Strategy #2

Empowering: When you have had to step in and help, make sure you define some goals to release responsibility back into their hands when appropriate. Empowering them to make decisions, even if they make mistakes along the way, will help them to gain confidence in their abilities. It might seem like no big deal to take over and do things for kids that they could do for themselves, but in the long run it will prevent them from growing into capable adults.

Your child has a specialized illness and you need to become a specialized parent. Don’t hesitate to become an expert in their struggle. Seek knowledge and don’t be afraid admit when you’re wrong.


Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. Proverbs 12:1 (NIV)


What are your best tips in preparing for crisis? I’d love to hear from you today, comment below.

And don’t miss out on next week’s video: How Mental Illness Affects Marriage

A big thank you counselors…

Julia Garrison

Kristal Mathis

Julie Watson

For consulting with me on this video and to His Heart Foundation for supporting this channel. If you want more in-depth mental health information for you and those you love check out today.

Connect to resources:

Watch this video if you want to change your relationship dynamics…The Drama Triangle

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Segal

No more confusion or wondering how you’ll face the roller coaster of life with mental illness. Mental Health Academy is here to take the mystery away, and give you the knowledge and the tools you need to have relationships that last! The time is NOW to get our first course: Trauma.

Please subscribe for videos on our Youtube Channel for our amazing resources. I’ll be sharing great tips and encouragement for whatever your facing—whether you’re fighting mental illness or have a loved one who is.