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,


reactive attachment disorder

Got Loyalty? — Parenting A Child Who Has Reactive Attachment Disorder

When I was in law school, one of the common quotes most every professor enjoyed trumpeting was “…if you’re looking for justice, the last place you’ll ever find it is in the courtroom.”  Which seemed an oddity to me.  Wouldn’t the courtroom be the best place to find justice?  But no, it isn’t … because in the courtroom you have two opposing points of view trying to meet somewhere in the middle.  Sometimes one is probably right while the other is wrong, but most times, justice is a blur.  A gray area.

As a mother who has parented a child diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, I can wholeheartedly say that if you are looking for loyalty, the last place you’ll ever find it is from that child.  Which also seems an oddity.  Wouldn’t the parent who saved the child from the horrors of early childhood trauma be the one who would receive complete loyalty?  But no, that doesn’t happen … because as in the courtroom, there are two opposing points of view trying desperately to meet in the middle.  In this case, the parent can be trusted, but to the traumatized child, loyalty is a blur.  A massive gray area.  Loyalty is a thing he or she has never experienced.

Those connected to the judicial system throw around the term “justice” as if a person will indeed receive equity when he enters a courtroom.  How many commercials have you seen, put out by a nicely groomed attorney with bleached white teeth, promising justice if you’ll just call the 1-800 number on the screen.   But it’s a fool’s paradise.  An illusion.  A child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder is that nicely groomed attorney with bleached white teeth. haha.  They pretend to be attached and feign loyalty to whomever they perceive as the weakest among them.  They lure their target in with fake promises just like the lawyers lure in the simple-minded sheep.

What’s in it for these kiddos?  Control.

Parents cannot be manipulated for long, though.  We are dialed in and figure out pretty quickly what we’re dealing with.  As a result, our children stop working to manipulate us with their kindness and irresistibility early into the adoption.  The child who was once so helpful, generous, kind, and loving … becomes reckless, angry, manipulative, and willful.  In keeping with this tongue-in-cheek courtroom comparison, parents would be the judges.  (The bailiffs sometimes, too). Sitting on our perch, we look down at the attorneys and their clients and see it all as a free-for-all circus.  No matter how crazy it gets, we have no choice but to let it play itself out.

Here’s an example:

This child befriends an adult neighbor.  Perhaps she sees the neighbor clipping bushes or raking leaves and offers to help.  She’s chatty, sociable, and fills the conversation with compliments and giggles.  She’s harmless.  Adorable even.  Over the next weeks, she continues to stop by to offer her help with housekeeping, cooking, walking the dog, etc.  She brings the mail to the door.  Carries the emptied trash cans from the street to the garage.  She’s an angel.  Soon, the neighbor realizes the child is becoming too comfortable.  She’s hanging around the house now instead of stopping by for an occasional visit … and she’s using the computer  and eating cookies from the pantry and playing with toys that belong to his/her own children.  The neighbor considers saying something.  But, the child is just so helpful and sweet.  She’s harmless.

Soon, the child begins to tell stories of home.  The adoptive parents just don’t appreciate her.  Maybe they’re even mean to her.  And the neighbor then feels so sorry for the child. No wonder this child is hanging around his/her house all of the time.  The child’s home is such a bad place.   It all makes sense now.

In response to the sympathy, the child stops by even more often, uses the computer more, takes more cookies, and helps herself to any/every room in the home.  Before long, true to form, the neighbor realizes things are missing.  It might be something as insignificant as a tube of chapstick or a pack of ink pens or as important as money or a piece of jewelry.  At first, the neighbor says nothing.  Perhaps he/she misplaced these items.  But it continues, and so the neighbor finally confronts the child.  The child then loses the control she had.  The jig us up.  And the child melts down and acts out.  At best, she screams and cries.  At worst, she may destroy something that belongs to the neighbor or tell a scandalous lie about the neighbor.

Then, she moves onto her next victim.

Because she’s starving for control.

A lack of control over someone or something means she’s vulnerable.  And being vulnerable isn’t an option.

The parents have been through this cycle over and over and over again, which is why they’re now the judge and bailiff.

And the neighbor?  He/She will now avoid that family like the plague.

Sound familiar?

If it does, I’m going to remind you of something you already know.  Your child is a victim too.  She never asked to be dumped or abused or neglected … she never asked to be rescued either.  In her own mind, she only needs herself.  She doesn’t need you, because you’re going to break her heart.

But she does need you.

Got Loyalty?

No.  She has never experienced loyalty.

So she is going to test you and test you and then test you again.

Show her.

Show her.

And then show her again.

Give her the selfless gift of loyalty, even though you may never receive one thing in return.


Do whatever you have to do to protect yourself and the rest of your family, but don’t ever disappear from her life.

Everyone deserves the gift of loyalty, don’t they?

James 1:12:

  • Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
reactive attachment disorder

Betrayal — Parenting A Child Who Has Reactive Attachment Disorder

No matter how much love and forgiveness you offer your child, you cannot piece back together what has been smashed to smithereens.  The base issue of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is betrayal.  Your child was rejected by the one who was supposed to love her most, and in the place of love was neglect.  Possibly abuse.

You’ve rescued your child and continuously try to make up for all she’s lost, but your efforts are rewarded with lies, manipulation, and acting out.  Sure, on occasion, she offers what appears to be a truce.  The daily onslaught of battle is halted for a random hug, endearing words, a soft smile, or a handwritten note professing love … but the truce ends up being an odd form of manipulation as well.  An effort to seize the upper hand, because if you are knocked off kilter, well….she wins.

The saddest part of it all is that she does love you.  Yes, of course she hates you too.  But she loves you.  Hold onto that.  She knows you rescued her.  She is fully aware that you are meeting all of her basic needs.  And she knows you want to connect.

But what if you stop?

She can’t put her trust in you, because to do that would require her to open herself up for the original pain again.  And that pain is too much to bear.  So to keep her distance, she continues to lie, manipulate, and act out.  In self protection mode, she conjures up reasons you are not a good parent.  She makes you pay for her pain.  Your life is on repeat.  Every day.

Because of betrayal.

There is nothing you can do to fix your child.  In no way can you put all of the broken pieces together again.  Your child is a broken child.  Your job is to see that, to accept it, and to love your child in spite of it.  To hold the broken pieces.  To be there for the broken pieces.  To love the broken pieces.  It’s quite possibly the toughest job on the planet.

“When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. ”  Matthew 5:44 ( The Message)