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Parenting a Child with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Parenting a child with borderline personality disorder (BPD) or parenting a BPD teenager requires a specific skillset. Understand BPD and learn skills here at HealthyPlace.

Parenting a child with borderline personality disorder (BPD) requires patience and a unique skillset. It’s not unusual for parents of a child or teen with BPD to begin to dread parenting and then feel guilty and like bad parents. If you’ve felt this way, it’s a natural reaction to BPD and the frustrations and exhaustion that it brings. You aren’t a bad parent. You might just need information and tips for parenting a child with borderline personality disorder. You’ll find both here.

At one time, BPD was associated with adults; however, as researchers continue to study this personality disorder, their understanding deepens. It is now known that even children around the age of 10 can have borderline personality disorder. Their symptoms show what BPD is like for them.  

Symptoms of BPD in Your Child or Teen

Understanding what’s going on with children and teens with BPD is an important step in parenting them. Most kids and, especially, teens who don’t have BPD, desire independence. This isn’t the case with BPD. Kids with borderline personality disorder loathe, fear, and strongly resist any type of independence. This need for dependence on parents drives many of their symptoms, like these:

  • Fear of abandonment, rejection
  • Need for parents and others to be concerned about them
  • Inability to be alone yet feels isolated and unloved
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Difficulty regulating emotions (emotional dysregulation)
  • Volatility and reactivity
  • Long-lasting emotions
  • Impulsivity
  • Rapidly changing moods
  • Difficulty self-soothing; can turn to self-harm and suicidal behavior
  • Almost constant crises
  • Compulsiveness
  • Anger
  • Depression and despair

Kids with BPD believe that their neediness will make them the center of everyone’s concerned attention. Then, they believe, they’ll be taken care of forever. To them, this equates to being loved and valued. For others, including parents, it’s a tiring battle. Armed with parenting strategies, you don’t have to wave a white flag in defeat.

Helpful Strategies for Parenting a Teen, Child with Borderline Personality Disorder

“The acting out is a cry for help. If a cry for help is not heard, it only becomes louder” (Gunderson & Berkowitz, n.d.).

Parenting BPD teenagers and children requires specific skills. They can’t and won’t respond well to the way you parent your non-BPD kids. The following approaches have been successful for many parents struggling to raise someone with this personality disorder.

Handling Conflict. It can seem like conflict is constant, so wanting to avoid it makes sense. It does not make sense to your child, and they’ll let you know it. Address problems calmly, quietly, and non-judgmentally.

Clear Communication. Someone with BPD can misinterpret messages, read into expressions, and internalize conversations in negative ways. They also easily feel humiliated and react strongly at what you intended to be an innocent comment. When talking with your child, use simple, straightforward, clear communication. Leave nothing open for interpretation. Be mindful of your nonverbal communication and tone of voice, too; for example, adopt a neutral, relaxed posture and even tone.

Lower your expectations and adjust goals. While this is the opposite of parenting non-BPD children, it’s essential for your child or teen with the disorder. Keep expectations simple and few. Help them set realistic goals and very small steps to achieve them. Otherwise, you’ll risk an overwhelmed, angry outburst driven by their belief that you’re trying to get rid of them.

Set Boundaries. Whether they like it or not, your child must live within boundaries and limits. Work with your child to create limits (one at a time) that work for everyone, and explain that they’re in place for love and security. Create your boundaries based on what your family needs, but one that is important for all families dealing with BPD is a zero-tolerance policy for violence, abuse, and destruction (all part of BPD). Establish simple consequences that you can enforce consistently.

Validate. To reassure them and calm the storm when it rages, validate them. Listen fully, reflect their words and feelings back to them so they feel heard. Reassure them that their feelings are legitimate, and help them express their emotions verbally.

Create Calm. BPD is dominated by chaos, for your child, you, and the rest of the family. To counter this, create a home environment that is calm and inviting. Make a comfortable space for destressing, breathing, meditating, and stretching. Everyone in your family can benefit from a secure deescalating zone.

These strategies for parenting a teen or child with borderline personality disorder will help keep your own emotions and reactions neutral despite the rapidly shifting and intense negative emotions that greet you multiple times every day. When you are informed, you’ll feel more equipped to help your child.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 18). Parenting a Child with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/bpd/parenting-a-child-with-borderline-personality-disorder-bpd

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD