What Does BPD Look Like In Children?

Updated: Apr 25

BPD is often diagnosed in adults and overlooked in children, and therefore they miss out on early treatment. BPD can affect a child's life as much as it does an adult. Children who have a borderline personality disorder but are not diagnosed might endure years of ineffective drug treatments, as well as the stress and frustration that comes with feeling helpless.

70% of teenagers with borderline personality disorder attempt suicide at least once, and 10% of teenagers that have BPD die by suicide. For this reason, I'd like to raise awareness about this disorder since it is often missed when parenting children.


It's a tough job raising children, even tougher when a child has a mental disorder with suicidal tendencies. Most parents do not have the time, resources, or understanding to recognize what their child needs and how to help them, so let me guide you.


When the child's behavior does not match the environment or develops in an atypical way, your child could be at an early stage of a borderline personality disorder or another mental disorder. As a role model, parent, or guardian, you have the responsibility to raise your child to the best of your ability. I know you might not be a professional to find out what type of disorder your child may have, so I hope I can give you some insight to recognize if your child has a borderline personality disorder and how to help him or her. Since I was that child with BPD, I may have a unique perspective that could be helpful to you.


How to recognize children with BPD

Unstable relationships

One of the most prominent indicators that were apparent in my childhood was having unstable relationships. If your child is experiencing on-and-off relationships, it may indicate that your child has some sort of bonding issue. People with BPD Idealize someone and then dislike them moments later. Add fear of abandonment with that, and it can be hard for a child to sustain any type of relationship.


Emotional outbursts

Emotional outbursts are common for someone with BPD. When parents do not respond appropriately to the extreme behaviors and emotions of the child, he or she does not learn to develop skills in recognizing and regulating emotions. The child may start to resort to unhealthy or inappropriate ways of coping with their feelings.


Risky behavior

Children or teenagers with borderline personality disorder are known to be risk-takers and are more inclined to engage in smoking, drugs, alcohol consumption, or self-harm to help deal with the emptiness. To get diagnosed with BPD, your child does not necessarily have to engage in these acts since people with BPD can express this behavior in a variety of ways.


Feeling of emptiness

A child with BPD has instability in the views of themselves, their identity, and the trustworthiness of others. This feeling is expressed by saying, thinking, and acting as if no one understands him or her. When a child reaches adolescence, when they are meant to be solidifying their identity, they become confused and lost. They have no idea who they are as a person. They seek validation by relying heavily upon what other people think of them.


When your environment does not reflect your experience, it is hard to know who you are.


If you want to read more on the different symptoms of BPD, here are the 15 Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder.


As a child, I did not express all 15 symptoms of BPD, and your child doesn't have either to be diagnosed with BPD. The classic portrayal of BPD, having emotional outbursts, does not always have to be significant in their behavior to show symptoms of BPD. It's possible that your child is disguising indicators of the disorder, and it will look like having depression.


Children as young as nine years old can express themselves by not wanting to live anymore. The feelings of emptiness and hopelessness can be interpreted in different ways. Oftentimes, children are diagnosed with depression and get all sorts of medication, including mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. However, no medication will fix the root that these children are dealing with. The child needs understanding and help. Medication can be a tool, but it's not a way to resolve the problems.


How can we help a Child with BPD, and what treatments are available?

The earlier a child with BPD gets diagnosed, the more effective a treatment plan is. It will enable them to move into adulthood with better control of their emotions. It's also crucial to get into treatment before maladaptive or dysfunctional patterns form.


However, diagnosing BPD in children, especially young children, is more complicated, and therefore it needs a skilled psychiatrist. BPD usually coexists with other mental disorders such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder.


Treatment Options for BPD

Therapies that are successful in the treatment of BPD:


Schema Therapy: Uncovering and understanding schemas that a child/teenager develops during childhood when their emotional needs are not met. Schemas are maladaptive and dysfunctional patterns that affect someone's thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Schema Therapy helps break these patterns that cause emotional distress.


Read more on Dysfunctional and maladaptive patterns here.


Emotion regulation therapy: The therapy focuses on understanding one's thoughts and emotions, regulating emotional outbursts, and helping with day-to-day functioning. This therapy also covers small parts of schema therapy.


Dialectical Behaviour Therapy: This teaches coping skills to deal with unhealthy emotions and behaviors, improves relationships, and encourages the practice of mindfulness.


Other therapies available are social skills training, individual counseling, and family support.


There are no medications officially approved for the treatment of BPD, however, some helpful medications include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood-stabilizing drugs.


What can you do to help a child with BPD?

Here are some final thoughts on what you can do:

  • Be patient with your child.

  • Create a calm home environment.

  • Always show love and support whatever happens.

  • Follow a daily routine with good sleeping hours.

  • Encourage a healthy lifestyle by exercising and a diet.

  • Talk with siblings, other family members, and friends and explain how to support the child/teenager.

  • Be aware of sudden changes in friends, clothing, behavior, and routine.

  • Be cautious of warning signs of suicide.


If you're interested in reading more about children and BPD, you might want to check out Do parents cause Borderline personality disorder?