reactive attachment disorder

Time Stealers – Parenting A Child Who Has Reactive Attachment Disorder

Individuals who battle Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), for the most part, have no idea why they do the things they do.  Their behaviors control them.  Impulses drive them.  Their bad habits become instinctive.  As a result, they lack the ability to discern whether their impulses are learned or innate.

Let that sink in for a minute.

They lack the ability.

As a parent, trust me when I say this, you will sit your child down over and over and over again to have in-depth, heart felt, honest conversations.  Hours of conversation.  Days of conversation.  Sometimes you’ll be calm.  Other times, you’ll be explosive.  At times, you’ll even find yourself in a heap of tears.  You’ll explain for the umpteenth time why stealing, lying, destroying property, running away, and/or violence are wrong.  And illegal.  Utilizing fear as a tool, you’ll paint a frightening mental image of prison for your child.  You may even do as I did, and make visits to the local juvenile detention center where an officer has that exact same conversation with your child as you wait for the truth to dawn on her.  As you wait for that change to take place.

Because she’s smart.

Of course she’s smart.  She has the ability to weigh facts and to formulate decisions.  You see her do it every day as she chooses what clothing to wear … what she wants to eat for lunch … which books to read, television shows to watch, music to add to her Spotify playlist, friends to hang out with, etc.  Choices are a central part of her existence.

And you remind her of that.

To which she replies, “I didn’t mean to … I honestly don’t know why I do the things I do.”

And because you are reasonable, and since you still believe your daughter can control her impulses, you reply:   “But you stole something, and that’s illegal.  It’s serious.”

Then you go through the whole scary jail talk again before adding:

“Raise your hands up in the air.”

She complies.

“Now put them down”

Again, she complies.

You spot a pencil on a nearby table.  Pointing at the pencil, you ask:  “Can you go get that pencil for me?”

And she does, without question or hesitation.

“Don’t you see?” you ask, thrilled to have come up with such an amazing interactive illustration.  “You have complete control of your body and your hands.  Just now, you told your hands and your feet exactly what to do, and they obeyed you.  Because YOU are in control.  So, when you feel that impulse to steal, just tell your hands to stop and tell your feet to walk away.  They will always obey what you tell them.”

It makes perfect sense.

Your daughter nods her head in agreement with you, because she probably does agree.  But who really knows what she thinks?  Only she knows how her brain is ticking, and she doesn’t completely understand it.

This is your hamster wheel.

These meaningful conversations happen day in and day out.  You’re even sick of hearing yourself say the same things over and over again.  But your daughter never seems to tire of it.  Why?

This may be hard to swallow if you’re new at this whole RAD thing, but if you’re an old timer, you’ve already answered the question.

It’s more about what you’re NOT doing than what you ARE doing.  You see, during those moments of one-on-one conversation with your RAD child, you aren’t tending to her other siblings.  You aren’t communicating with your husband, parents, cousins, friends, or co-workers.  You aren’t caring for the pets or your home.  You aren’t pampering yourself.

She has your full attention.  In her mind, she’s got you.  She’s in control.

So what are you teaching her?  Really?

To steal, lie, destroy property, run away, and be violent.

It’s a perfect plan actually.

Quite brilliant.

When she gives into her impulses and acts out, she gets what she craves the most.  YOU.  All of you.

In the process, however, you are allowing her to steal your time.  It’s not to say that she doesn’t deserve a piece of your time, but if allowed, she’ll be a time thief.  She’ll steal all of it.  You’ll wake up one day and realize you’ve spent so much time on her that you’ve missed out on life.  Don’t do that.

Your job as a RAD parent is to teach.  To direct.  To lead.  To meet basic needs.  To model what it means to be an upstanding human.  To never give up.  And to love recklessly and with complete abandon.

Your job is NOT to change her.

You are not responsible for her decisions.

She is.

It has taken me fifteen years to learn this.

My advice:

Take the pressure off of yourself, and more importantly, take time to enjoy your life.

Just my thoughts,



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