Use this RAD checklist as an assessment tool for children at risk of attachment disorder.
If you are parenting a child who had trauma early in childhood, chances are good that he or she displays concerning behaviors. How do you know they have attachment disorder? Use this checklist to understand the driving behaviors behind attachment issues.
Remember that only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose a child with attachment disorder, which is a serious diagnosis. This RAD checklist is for information purposes only.
Be sure to download your copy of the free PDF printable RAD attachment checklist below.
- Does My Child Have Attachment Disorder?
- Spectrum of Behavior with Attachment Issues
- RAD Rating Scales
- Testing Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
- Anxious Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
- Protective Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
- Next Steps if You Are Concerned
- Reactive Attachment Disorder PDF
Does My Child Have Attachment Disorder?
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a serious mental health condition where children do not form healthy attachments with their primary caregivers. RAD occurs when a child experiences trauma within the first years of life.
Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) often show similar behavior patterns. Children with trauma history rarely use verbal expressions appropriately, so most communication that occurs is done through behaviors.
Spectrum of Behavior with Attachment Issues
RAD behaviors occur on a continuum. Some children have attachments to their caregivers but they are insecure. They struggle with relationships but are able to make some connections.
At the other extreme, children with the worst cases of disordered attachment will grow up to be adults who are narcissistic and even dangerous because they lack of conscious.
While there is no cure for attachment disorders, the goal is to promote healthy bonding and attachment as much as possible during childhood.
No child will display all the behaviors listed. That does not mean they do not have RAD. Instead, look for patterns. A child who has many of the behaviors listed is at high risk of being diagnosed with attachment issues.
Only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose a child with attachment disorder.
RAD Rating Scales
With our RAD rating scale below, we have categorized similar behaviors to provide insight into what may be driving these behaviors. Our hope in identifying the source of behavior is to assist you to see past the behavior and understand what is being communicated.
Behavior is communication and it is often the loudest way in which a child will communicate what they are unable or unwilling to vocalize.
Children may show behavior in one location but not another. Often kids with RAD act appropriately at school but not at home. However, after a honeymoon period (early time of good behavior), they often start to display behaviors both at home and at school.
Testing Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
Testing behaviors are ones where the child with RAD is trying to prove to you that they are in charge. Testing behaviors are an attempt to ensure that the child will not be rejected.
If a child with RAD can test people in order to not get close to them, then there is no risk of being rejected. Thus, they control the situation by making sure that others will reject them instead of being hopeful of connection.
Kids with attachment issues want connection, but their disorder makes it seem impossible. Their fear of rejection is so high that they start off by trying to control the situation and force rejection.
Testing Behavior in Social Situations
- Ambivalence to new people. Ignores someone talking to them, won’t answer or make eye contact.
- Non-compliance. Won’t follow instructions or rules while in public.
- Attempt to control the event or outing. Makes up new rules or argues about the rules.
- Running off or hiding in public. Running out of the store, hiding in the store, telling strangers they are lost.
Testing Behavior with Emotions
- Clingy to new people. Hang on strangers and ignore caregivers.
- Become non-compliant as people become familiar. As new people become familiar they begin to defy and test the familiar person.
- Statements of uncaring. Making statements like, “I don’t care about you, I hate you, It doesn’t matter to me.”
- Evidence of low self-worth. Scratches self out of photographs, says they have no friends, says that nobody likes or loves them.
- Runs away or avoids feeling special. Makes negative comments about gifts, sabotage birthdays and special events, rejects efforts to make them feel loved and included.
Testing Behavior at School
- Misuse of education items. Play games on computer instead of doing homework, walk on tables or desks.
- Run off or hide at school. Run out of a classroom to go to a preferred class, refuse to go to non-preferred classes.
- Test anything new. Talking back, complaining or arguing about a change in classroom rules.
- Ambivalence to classroom rewards. Not interested in classroom rewards, gift basket, extra time on preferred tasks.
- Starting off each day with a negative attitude. Tantrum first thing in the morning, refusing to even enter the classroom to begin the day, refusal to take off coat or unpack backpack.
Testing Behaviors with Home and Family
- Non-compliance with chores. Refusal to pick up room, follow chore chart.
- Toileting issues. Bowel and urine accidents beyond the age of being developmentally appropriate, encopresis, poop smearing, peeing in odd places like down heater vents and in toys, on carpet, or in a corner of bedroom.
- Destructive to room. Strip beds, empty dresser or toy chests.
- Refusal to engage in family traditions or activities. Refuse to go to a birthday party, refuse to go on a vacation, say they don’t want gifts on their birthday. Participate but ruin events with negative behaviors such as raging or non-stop complaining.
- Talk-back and abusive language. Tell family members they hate them, call family members names and say hurtful things.
Anxious Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
Anxious Behaviors are driven by fear. Children with RAD are anxious for a number of reasons. They can be anxious due to incidents that remind them of trauma or they can be anxious about being rejected.
At times, kids with RAD have no clear source of anxiety but find comfort in the chaos-driven environment.
Anxious Behaviors in Social Situations
- Fidgeting or refusal to stay seated. Constant scanning of the room, moving around the room, refusing to stay in their assigned area.
- Play alone. Refuse to join others on the playground, play the same game over and over again.
- Refuse to follow rules. Won’t share with peers, won’t let others make up rules or won’t let others pick the game to play.
- Poor sportsmanship. Hits peers when they win or do better than them, stops trying if they see they can’t win, is hyper-competitive.
- Excessive energy and inability to calm down. Gets hyperactive when peers are around, gets loud and out of control around peers.
- Constant questioning. Asking non-stop questions, asking non-sensical questions, asking questions when they already know the answer, speaking in hushed tones so adults say, “What?” many times over.
Anxious Behaviors with Emotions
- Lying. Dishonesty about many things, including those that seem unimportant.
- Self-harming behaviors. Biting, skin picking, not eating.
- Stealing. Taking toys from friends, hiding or destroying things that are precious to other family members.
- Destruction of property. Breaking pencils at school, breaking own toys, destroying their belongings including birthday and Christmas gifts right after receiving them.
- Exaggerated emotional display. Laughing extremely loudly, smiling clownishly large, displaying feelings far beyond social norms. Adults often say something is “off” with the child’s demeanor but can’t explain why.
Anxious Behaviors at School
- Elaborate lying. If confronted with a lie, they will go to elaborate lengths to maintain the dishonesty and refuse to admit any untruth.
- Aggressive towards peers. Throwing items at others, hitting others, kicking others or other displays of aggression or violence.
- Stealing. Taking food or other items from classrooms, peers or teachers.
- Being the model student. Presenting their best behavior at school, behaving as a model student at school while being non-compliant at home.
- Sexually inappropriate. Being overly sexual with peers or adults, sexualized gestures, remarks. Making sexual comments. Inappropriate bathroom boundaries.
Anxious Behavior with Home and Family
- Food hoarding. Hiding food in their rooms, eating all of a desired food, eating when not hungry to ensure they get more than others.
- Aggression towards others. Hitting, verbal abuse or other violence towards others in the home.
- Ambivalence. Ignoring other family members, ignoring what is going on at home or acting like they don’t want to join or don’t care.
- Making their own rules or arguing house rules. Arguing over family rules, making alternative rules to avoid the house rules.
- Attaching to only one member of the family. Only speaking with one person in the home, pitting family members against one another, trying to form conflict among family members (triangulate).
Protective Behaviors of Kids with Attachment Issues
Protective Behaviors are an attempt to preserve self. Meaning, it is a way to meet your own needs or attempt to keep others who may harm you at a distance.
Keeping in mind that attachment disorders are formed from a strained caregiver relationship, the child with RAD believes caregivers can not be trusted. They believe they must always meet their own needs and have learned maladaptive ways to do this.
Protective behaviors can often be the hardest to identify and interpret.
Protective Behaviors in Social Situations
- Being a loner. Poor hygiene, appearance of apathy towards social norms.
- Over familiarity. Doesn’t know a stranger, violates boundaries immediately after meeting someone, overly friendly or charming.
- Needing to be the center of attention. Being dishonest, having to be the best, fastest, or smartest. Not able to play alone or entertain self.
- Wanting to come along to all social outings. Being upset if they aren’t invited to run errands or attend events that are adults only.
- Tantrums. Having frequent meltdowns in public, inability to be appropriate and safe in social settings or community.
Protective Behaviors with Emotions
- Secretive. Will not share the truth, will not answer direct questions or will spread the truth among several people.
- Unsettling writings or drawings. Journals about harming self or others, drawings of hurting others or self, inappropriate writings.
- Overly negative. Only willing to speak on negative emotions, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always viewing things in a negative light.
- Quick to anger. Most comfortable in a state of anger, screams, stomps, shows displays of anger more than any other emotion.
- Argumentative. Always rejects others point of view, considers themselves to be the only right opinion, unwilling to see situations from the view of others.
Protective Behaviors at School
- False allegations of abuse and neglect. Saying they are abused at home (when they are not), exaggerating the truth such as saying they were refused dinner when in reality it was a meal they do not prefer.
- Lying about what happened at school. Refusing to acknowledge an incident at school when confronted with a teacher report, making up elaborate stories about their school day.
- Playing the victim role. Grooming a school adult to feel they need to be their rescuer, protector or lifeline.
- Seeking out special treatment. Begging teachers for a favor, demanding treats or prizes, arguing the unfairness of them not winning a game or award.
- Eloping at school. Running away from the school, skipping school or refusing to attend school.
Protective Behaviors with Home and Family
- Silent treatment. Refusing to respond, acting like they can not hear others talk, acting like they are unable to speak.
- Overly hostile to feedback. Takes every comment as a personal attack, tries to one-up others or strike out first if they perceive they have been slighted.
- Power struggles. Refusing to follow or comply with others in the home, demanding the full attention of the family, interrupting or talking over others.
- Excessive jealousy. Unable to cope with a parent being attentive to anyone else in the family, becomes aggressive or violent when others are getting needs met.
- Runs away. Doesn’t want to come home from a friend’s house, asks friends to live with them, leaves the house without permission, refuses to return home.
Next Steps if You Are Concerned
If your child displays many of the signs above of reaction attachment disorder, get an evaluation by a qualified developmental pediatrician, therapist, or psychiatrist.
Then take steps to find therapy using one of these top 10 treatments for attachment disorder.
If your child is not safe to live in a home situation, consider these types of residential treatment or use our list of Reactive Attachment Disorder treatment programs by state.
Reactive Attachment Disorder PDF
Download this free PDF printable RAD checklist by clicking here or entering your email below.
If you have a child with RAD, what symptoms do you see? Share about it in the comments below.