Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) can be a complicated situation for parents to navigate. This disorder results from a disruption to the all-important bonding process that should take place between children and parents in those early formative childhood years. To ensure healthy development, children need to experience healthy and loving interactions with parents and caregivers during infancy and toddlerhood.
RAD can be triggered as a result of adoption. Still, it can also stem from situations where there was neglect, abuse, or frequent separation from a parent or primary caregiver.
RAD can be characterized by a child or teen’s inability to form healthy emotional bonds or connections with caregivers and others around them. The child may also display antisocial behavior, violent outbursts, and a lack of shame, guilt, or ownership over situations. With some type of intervention, these children and teens can grow up to display serious behavioral problems, turn to substance use and abuse, and could also struggle with school and fitting in with their family.
Tips that may help you better understand your teen with RAD
There is no cure for RAD. That said, with early intervention, therapy, and plenty of parental support, teens and young adults with RAD can learn to manage their symptoms effectively.
Don’t point fingers and blame
Parenting is a challenge even in the best of situations. Parenting a teen with RAD can add an extra layer of complexity. Children and teens who live with RAD have a mental illness that may not have been caused by anything you did or didn’t do.
One of the best things you can do for your teen is to have a healthy approach to helping them through RAD. This means skipping blaming yourself and others. Don’t point fingers at those you may think are responsible for the child developing RAD. It may be true that your child’s biological parents can be blamed for how your teen struggles today, but it’s not healthy to continuously blame.
The healthier approach is to understand the past and focus on the future. Your teen with RAD doesn’t need constant reminders of the why and how. They need to know how to cope with the symptoms they’re struggling with and understand what is expected from them.
Be kind to yourself
Going hand-in-hand with avoiding blame and finger-pointing, you must be kind to yourself. There is no parent anywhere who can claim that they haven’t made any mistakes when parenting their children. If you find that you’ve made a mistake while trying to navigate parenting your child with RAD, you need to learn to be kind and forgive yourself.
You could find yourself yelling at your child when you’re frustrated. You may find yourself breaking down after a frustrating situation and have no idea how to proceed next. Please don’t beat yourself up over it. Even a perfect parent would find it challenging to remain calm with a patient approach when facing the difficulties RAD can introduce into your home.
Making a mistake will not cause irreversible damage to your child with RAD or your relationship with them.
Be confident, ignore unhelpful outside influences
If you have a child or teen struggling with RAD, you will need to find a new level of confidence in your parenting skills. People around you may judge you, speak to you about how misbehaved your child is, and possibly cross your boundaries.
Parenting a child with RAD can often mean you’re opting for zero flexibility on some things, and you’re taking the route of parenting methods some may consider unconventional. You may find some whispering about you or directly confronting you if you’re opting to ignore behaviors that aren’t considered socially acceptable.
Remind yourself that most of these folks will have no idea what you face with your child. What they see as a tantrum may be a reaction to a trigger they aren’t aware of. It may also be an improvement upon behavior your child once displayed.
You will need to learn to parent with confidence in yourself. Trust that you are doing the best you can for your child and your family. Learn to smile and respond politely. Be gracious when given advice but remind yourself that you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Other parents may be living with typical tantrums and disobedience in their children. They don’t see that you could be living with violent and explosive behavior, screaming, destructive behavior, and swearing over the smallest of things.
You are your child’s parent. The parenting decisions that you make are in your child’s best interests.
Learn the value of respite care
Parenting can be exhausting and leave you feeling drained. When you’re parenting a child with RAD, you may find yourself feeling completely without the energy to do much.
Getting a bit of time away from your RAD child doesn’t mean that you love them any less. You need to have time to rest, relax, and feel rejuvenated. Your relationships with your other children and your partner also need to be prioritized.
A respite caregiver can provide you with an incredible level of support when you need it the most. It’s important to find a respite caregiver who knows about RAD. They will need to understand and follow your parenting strategies, as they differ from those that work best for children without RAD.
Establish a strong network of support
Just as it’s important to rely on respite caregivers to help you get a bit of a break, you must have a strong network of support. Your support network should include family, friends, therapists, and RAD support groups.
Your family and friends can offer a shoulder and an ear on those rough days, while your therapist can help you work through those challenges that parenting a child with RAD can bring.
It’s essential that you, your child with RAD, and other members of the family get into therapy. Group support that includes other parents who understand your challenges can be beneficial.
Reactive attachment disorder is difficult to navigate, but it’s not impossible to find yourself in a routine with a happier and healthier child who feels confident in the love they feel from everyone in their lives.