Are you wondering how to discipline a child with RAD? Maybe you are a parent of a child with attachment disorder and you are at your wits’ end. You could be wondering how to manage your child’s behavior or you may be asking yourself what not to do with a child with RAD.
Perhaps you are a teacher who has a child with RAD in your classroom. If so, it’s likely you quickly realized that your typical classroom strategies are not working.
Let’s explore 5 strategies to discipline a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)
How to Help a Child with RAD to Manage Behavior
Managing behavior for a child with RAD is complex and hard. Typical methods will not work with a child with RAD. You must throw out most of the things you think you know and develop new strategies.
How Do You Use Consequences for a Child with RAD?
When I adopted two children with RAD I not only underestimated how hard it would be, but I also overestimated my parenting skills. After many parent fails I had to let go of everything I thought I knew. Here are some strategies I have learned to help my child with RAD.
1. Focus on Safety
Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder can feel like one crisis after another.
Children with RAD engage in extreme behaviors such as fire starting, self harm and other unsafe acts.
When responding to this child, start by asking yourself, if everyone safe? If the answer is yes, then you have time to plan. For example, if your child is screaming at the top of their lungs but nobody is injured, it can wait.
Give yourself time and show your child that you will not join them in their crisis. If everyone is safe, take a deep breath and look at #2.
2. Be Patient
If you have a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, then you probably already have a great deal of patience. This is good news because it will be needed in every part of discipline.
Children with trauma history must be told the same instructions many times. They will often act out of impulsiveness and impatience. While this is frustrating, it is how their brain operates.
Your superpower is your patience. Grow that power and use it not only with your child but with yourself.
For example, if you decide to use a 10 minutes time-out every time your child throws something, plan on that taking an hour to implement. Plan that once that shoe gets launched across the living room, you will be working on getting compliance for the next hour. Children with RAD will try to force the parent, grandparent or teacher to fold, so be patient and stay the coarse.
The consequence you pick is less important than your determination to keep at it. You are being the calm in their storm and your patience is needed.
3. Decide Consequences Before Misbehavior
Children with attachment issues will repeat the same behaviors over and over. This is both a source of frustration and creates predictability.
If every time you ask your child to put their backpack away, they refuse, then you have an opportunity to strategize. Let’s say that non-compliance in your home means loss of electronics. Then you and your child understand that refusing to put the backpack away means no TV.
This strategy will help you be prepared to act on the consequence instead of having to think of one in the moment. It will also help your child to have a predictable consequence to misbehavior.
4. Look for Patterns
Children with RAD may have an exaggerated reactions, but they also have similar fear responses. Kids from tough places are often responding to the world around them with fear and uncertainty.
The behavior you most often see is based off distrust and it is the child’s attempt to gain control. Once you think about what typically upsets your child, you can start to understand the pattern.
For example, your RAD child may runaway and hide. This behavior is both extreme and unsafe. It is also stressful to chase your child across a street or search for your child in the store.
When you are not in the crisis of locating your missing child, think about what happened before they ran.
- Where were you?
- Who was with the child?
- Was the public place crowded?
- Was it noisy?
- Was it a new place for the child?
Running away is a common fear response. The child may not be able to tell you with their words that they are scared, but they are telling you with their behavior.
We runaway from things we are typically afraid of. You may not understand what is scary about the grocery store or a parking lot but if you start to think about what happened before the behavior, you may be able to determine a pattern.
5. Self-care is Key
Understand that you are going to blow it sometimes. Parenting a child with RAD is a challenge and you will not always get it right. Give yourself space to think about what happened, consider if you selected the best discipline strategy, then try again.
Do things for you. Maybe that means developing a healthy routine or taking time to go for a walk. Whatever it is, you have to commit.
Give yourself grace. Know that you are not alone.
With these 5 strategies in place, while modifying the behavior of a child with attachment issues will not be easy, it will be possible. By paying attention to safety, having patience, deciding consequences in advance, looking for patterns, and taking care of yourself, you will remain in control which will make your child feel safe. Then his or her behaviors will slowly start to improve.
Have you found effective methods for discipling a child with RAD? Share about them in the comments below.