You have a child with an attachment disorder in your home, now what? Here are 7 things all parents must have to successfully parent a child with RAD and survive.
If you are parenting a youth with attachment disorder, you’ve quickly realized that typical parenting strategies don’t work. We are here to help you figure out what you need for this unique and oh-so-challenging type of parenting.
Children with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) struggle to form healthy attachments to parents due to early childhood trauma and neglect during the first three years of life. These children and teens develop challenging behavior issues as a survival mechanism.
If you are parenting a child with RAD, it’s incredibly important to develop a support system or you will soon be dealing with your own mental health issues, a crumbling family system, marriage struggles and more. Whether you are a parent, foster parent, grandparent, or teacher with a RAD child, these will apply to you.
Here’s what you need to survive – and yes, even thrive – with a RAD child in your household.
7 Things You Need to Survive Parenting a Child with Attachment Disorder
Here are 7 critical things you need to survive this toughest parenting challenge of caring for a kid with RAD.
1. You Need Knowledge
What do you know about attachment disorders? Do you know what it is you signed up for?
There are many resources that can help you understand early childhood trauma, attachment disorders and Reactive Attachment. The more you know about attachment, the better prepared you will be on how to respond.
Here is a list of the types of information need for RAD parenting:
- Talk to other RAD parents
There are great support groups for RAD parents. Parenting a child with an attachment disorder is not only hard, it is isolating. Parenting techniques that work for other children will not work for a child with RAD. You will be judged and it will help to talk to other parents who are in your shoes.
- Talk to adult adoptees
Adult adoptees can be a source of information and inspiration. Not only can they provide lived experience, but they can also provide hope for the future.
- Read books and articles about people who have survived RAD
When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide To Parenting with RAD Reactive Attachment Disorder by Nancy L. Thomas or Detached: Surviving Reactive Attachment Disorder by Jessie Hogsett are two helpful books.
There are a number of articles that can help including: Parenting a Child with RAD and
2. You Need Professionals
There are a variety of treatments offered for attachment and early trauma. You need to have providers who specialize in attachment disorders. The wrong professional can have a negative impact on your child and your family.
Here are some of the professionals you need on your team:
- Occupational Therapist: An occupational therapist who specializes in trauma can help you develop exercises. This can include calming, grounding or cross body processing exercises for sensory issues.
- Diagnostic Testing Center: A psychologist trained in diagnostic testing can be critical to developing a treatment plan. While a therapist can diagnose, a psychologist certified in assessments can measure IQ, cognitive functioning, and treatment plan recommendations. An accurate diagnosis can be the entry to resources and services your family desperately needs.
- Education Advocate: A child with attachment disorder may present very differently at school. You need a consistent advocate to represent your child as they navigate school. There will be school personnel who give your child unhealthy special treatment. This can be counterproductive for a child who is learning consistency and boundaries. Having an advocate can help bridge the gap between home and school.
- Case Manager: You will likely be pulled in different directions when trying to address the psycho-social and emotional needs of your child. A good case manager can help you and your child navigate and coordinate services.
- Respite providers: A solid plan includes a break for caregivers. You may have to get creative to find a safe place for your child to go. Yet, without a break the caregiver of a RAD child can experience empathy fatigue, burnout, secondary trauma, and become a less effective caregiver.
3. You Need Support People
A child with attachment disorders can take a toll on any and all of the caregiver relationships.
If you are married, you must have a partner who is patient and on your side. A child with a history of unhealthy attachments will make every effort to create conflict. You have to be a united front and your partner needs to have your back.
If you aren’t married, you need a primary support person such as a parent or understanding friend.
Ways to develop your primary support relationship are:
- Join support groups to meet other parents
- Pursue your hobbies to have an outlet
- Journal the thoughts and feelings that you can’t share with others
- Seek out connection with people who have similar values
4. You Need a Safe Home
You will need lots of locks and storage options in your home, so it’s important to create a safe space for your child that is also realistic for the rest of your family.
Here are some ways to make your home safer:
- Most children with RAD have food hoarding behaviors. To promote moderation, you may have to lock up snacks and sugary foods.
- Always have medications securely locked (over the counter and prescribed). Here are ways to lock medications safely in a home.
- Lock away sharp knives or other utensils.
- You may have to lock up other items such as cellphones, remotes and other screened devises. Many children with attachment disorder can not moderate themselves. They will not be able to control the urge to watch TV in the middle of the night or be on inappropriate websites such as those with sexual images.
- Consider installing video cameras.
- If your child rages, create a safe space for this, such as in his or her bedroom.
- You will have to monitor or secure many things in your home, such as cash and valuable jewelry.
5. You Need Understanding Family & Friends
Besides your primary support person such as your spouse or a parent, you also need a supportive community around you.
You need your friends and family to believe you. If you have a child with reactive attachment disorder, some of your days will be unbelievable. Others will want to offer advice and suggestions. They may not even believe that the child they see is the same child you describe after they leave, but it’s true. Children with attachment disorder are often most violent, hurtful and unkind to their primary caretakers.
Here are some ways to promote understanding from family and friends:
- Provide materials about kids with attachment problems. This RAD checklist is one helpful resource to share.
- Invite your support person to a treatment session. If they can hear from the professionals directly, they will understand the treatment plan and intensity of what is being asked of you.
- Explain what you need from your support people. Sometimes you may want advice, while other times you may wanted to vent. Your support people do not know what you need unless you tell them.
6. You Need Informed School Staff
When your child with Reactive Attachment Disorder attends school, it’s critical that the teachers and school staff understand your child’s issues.
The school must honor your house rules in order for your child to heal and to prevent triangulation. While kindness and compassion are great, a child with RAD needs consistency of rules and expectations more.
RAD kids struggle to learn moderation. Overindulgence is not an act of kindness. Overindulging ends up throwing the child out of regulation and often creates regression in development. RAD parents aren’t mean. They are trying to provide consistent care so that their child can learn limits and appropriate boundaries. If you break house rules, you are making things harder on the child and their caregivers.
Here are ways to inform school staff and keep them in your team:
- Provide literature on RAD.
- Meet with new teachers at the beginning of every year. Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences
- Get the school counselor involved in teacher meetings. Counselors are much more likely to be familiar with attachment issues and trauma responses.
- Communicate daily if possible. Email or texting often works best if the school is open to it.
7. You Need Grace for Yourself
If you are the caregiver of a child with RAD, you need to give yourself grace. There are going to be days when you blow it. Don’t beat yourself up. Take a break and try again tomorrow.
When parenting a child with attachment disorder, your natural instincts won’t work. You have to expect that you won’t know what to do, and some days the best you can hope for is safety. This way of life is a hard and often lonely road, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Here are some ways to take care of yourself while you are parenting a RAD child:
- Do something enjoyable while doing an undesirable task. For example, save your favorite weekly podcast to listen to while driving your child to a dreaded therapy session.
- Choose how to spend your time wisely. If you only get out of the house once a week, make it count. Don’t go out to do a family chore as your only “you” time. Hit a movie solo or go read at the park.
- Laugh as much as you can. There are going to be plenty of days filled with tears, so find joy and humor where you can. Sometimes you have to laugh so you don’t cry.
Most importantly, you need to know you are doing incredibly hard work. Your support and stability is making a difference in the life of your child. You got this!