Our Journey with Reactive Attachment Disorder

August 15, 2016 Attachment, Attachment Disorder, Jean, RAD, reactive attachment disorder, Trust Based Parenting 1 Comments

I have written this post countless times in my head and on the computer, each time it’s a completely different post. At first I wondered how a post on the same topic could be so different from one day to the next and then I remembered, it’s because RAD kids are different each day… at least ours is.

Each day is a bit of a mystery, I never really know how she will act or react to me, her siblings, complete strangers or even acquaintances.

When we first began adopting I thought the one disability I could not handle was a cognitive disability. I was wrong. God blessed us with two children that have cognitive disabilities and many others with learning challenges and we could not be happier to be the parents of the children that HE chose for our family. In our eyes their special needs are manageable and they are a delightful addition to our family! I couldn’t imagine our life without them.

As we got further down the adoption road I began to hear about families that had children with RAD, or Reactive Attachment Disorder. I felt bad for “them”. I would read “their stories”, they were heartbreaking and parenting seemed so challenging. I realized then that RAD would be very difficult for me and I hoped that we would never see it.

Shortly after that, God with his wonderful sense of humor blessed us (pausegulp) with a child that had a hard time settling in and getting used to our family. At first I thought she was just strong willed, hurt and confused. All we needed to do was to give her more time and she would settle in. Maybe it would be a couple months or even a year. With our other adoptions “time” was an amazing healer. As the months and then years passed by, I could see that something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t want to admit that I thought our child suffered from RAD. I was in denial.

Over the 3.5 years that our daughter has been home with us, we have become painfully aware that she does suffer from RAD. Her symptoms and behaviors are classic RAD behaviors. It helped us to have a name for what we were seeing and what we couldn’t understand or explain. It was not what I had hoped for, but it is what it is and at least now we know what we are dealing with.


“From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety.”
-Psalm 61:2

I took it personally at first…

What was I doing wrong?
Why can’t she bond to me?
Am I that unlovable?
Would she do better with another family?
What do I need to do to facilitate bonding?
Why does she do some of the things she does?
Why are her behaviors and actions so different from the other children’s?
Why do I feel confused and why am I starting to question myself?
Why do I sometimes think we are doing pretty good and then other times think we just took two steps in the wrong direction?

RAD can happen with any child. It’s not just older child adoption or with foster children. It is a caused by a combination of their past experiences, their personal coping skills and their individual personality. Teen hormones can make it even more challenging.

A child with RAD is unable to trust anyone, including her new parents. If they cannot trust they cannot attach. To me, RAD is very sad because it robs a child (who has already been so hurt by life) of their childhood. It affects their life in their new family and into adulthood. If they cannot bond to their new parents, will they ever be able to bond to a spouse, a significant other (friend, boyfriend, etc) or their future child? It also robs the child’s new family of their dreams.

As our situation became painfully obvious we turned to a friend who happens to be a social worker, works with an adoption agency and is an adoptive parent. We knew that she was knowledgeable regarding RAD, adoption and teenagers. She helped us by sending us information on RAD and talking through how to handle certain situations. As I read the articles I felt that they were describing our daughter. I realized I’m not going crazy and that other parents struggle with the same behaviors from their RAD child. I am not alone.

If you are wondering if your child has RAD, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out help and support. You can contact your social worker, connect with other families in the same situation, join support group on the internet, go to adoption support groups in your community, attend parenting conferences (Empowered to Connect) and/or see a therapist specifically trained in reactive attachment disorder.

If you are struggling in your current adoption, research RAD and see if that may be the cause of your struggles. Sometimes RAD symptoms are masked in the beginning adjustment phase. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that your child has RAD and please don’t blame yourself. Your child is a victim of their past and they need your help. In order to help them you will need support, prayer and the tools to make it possible.

I have found that my first reaction when dealing with a RAD child is not always my best reaction. When reacting to our daughter’s behaviors I need to take a step back and remember she is a victim of RAD. She is not deliberately trying to hurt me. Her coping skills are very limited, childlike and undeveloped. She oftentimes is stuck in survival mode. I need to be the grown up and my reactions need to help her move toward security, comfort and trust.

Am I telling you all of this because I have it all figured out? Oh no, not at all. We are “in process” when it comes to dealing with and helping our child with RAD.

In the fall of 2015 we attended to Empowered to Connect conference. We loved the theory behind it and the recommended parenting techniques. I wondered if I was personally capable of implementing it with our children 24/7. I was encouraged when I learned about the “redos” and the fact that if you do this at least 30% of the time it will have a profound impact on the child! If you haven’t been to an Empowered to Connect seminar I encourage you to attend one!

When I pray over our daughter and our challenges I can see how following through with these strategies would be very helpful with a RAD child. We are doing it now but with all things, it takes time before you see any results. As far as I know there is no playbook or directions to heal a child with reactive attachment disorder. It will only be through patience, acceptance, unconditional love, providing security and being there for her that she will have the hope of healing.

If you have a RAD child you know that this is not easy. It’s not easy at all. They will push you away and not accept your attempts to be kind or to help them just because they are so deeply afraid, so hurt and unable to trust. It’s not the type of situation that causes a parent to desire to “come back for more”. If anything it will make you want to run in the other direction. If you’re anything like me… you will realize that you have to be better than you really are… and yet, it is so important that you do all you can do to create trust and a lasting bond with your child.

I find myself daily needing a moment to pray and process. There are many feelings running through my head but I ultimately come back to the fact that she is a deeply hurt child and currently (as far as I know) I am not a hurt adult. So I swallow my pride, my insecurities and my opinions and I “go back for more”. Why? Because she is a child of God and she deserves whatever help and love we can give her.

Once we understood what was going on with our daughter we needed to take things/people out of our life that were harming our bonding process. For our child’s future mental health, we needed to be the love of her life. It is not for our own personal ego trip but it is for her future mental health and ability to bond, heal and trust. We cannot compete with anyone else for that coveted spot. Whether it’s family members, babysitters, activities, old priorities, teachers, well meaning friends, etc – they need to be educated first and if that doesn’t work then removed from the equation (if possible). And for your mental health do not listen to others who make assumptions, unkind comments and judge you as you deal with your very challenging parenting situation.

Humor is medicine for the soul! It’s healing, it’s fun and it’s important! We try to have fun, laugh, joke and be joyful with our children as much as possible! It seems to be a stress and anxiety reducer for our child with RAD. We try not to react during critical situations in a way that could ultimately hurt her and us. What seems like a good reaction to a situation is not always the most helpful reaction when dealing with RAD. In other words, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to…

We have started to make a point of verbally reassuring our daughter that we love her and that we are here for her. We want her to hear it so much that she actually begins to believe it. When she is unkind to us or her siblings we let her know that we love her but we do not love the way she is acting, treating her siblings, or that we agree with an unwise decision that she has made. It’s challenging folks, really challenging. Do we do all of this perfectly, all of the time? Of course not, we’re human but we are trying!

We hope to do all that we can do for our child with RAD but we need to remember that there are other children in the family, too. Sometimes they get caught in the crossfire of emotions and that just doesn’t seem fair. As we attempt to help our daughter we feel that it is equally important to nurture and enjoy our other children. We don’t want to over focus on unhealthy behaviors but instead have the main focus of our family be all that is good and healthy. A RAD child may attempt to bring you and their siblings down with them. It’s our plan to not go down together. We want to try to help her without the rest of our family being harmed. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made and we hope not to be in that situation. If we are, we will make whatever decision is best for everyone involved.

And now for the question you all want to ask! How will a child with RAD turn out? My answer – there are no guarantees in life, never has been and never will be. Our goal is to do the best we can and hope and pray that it will work. We can’t do anything more than that. We want to give our child our best effort and give her the best chance possible toward a healthy, faithful, productive future.

I am writing this in hopes that it will help other families that may find themselves in a similar situation. Although RAD was not what we had planned, it is what God gave us. So we will put our faith in him and move forward. I am hoping to share more of our journey with RAD in the future.

“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt taxpayers do that much.
If you are only kind to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?”
– Matthew 5:46-47

One response to “Our Journey with Reactive Attachment Disorder”

  1. Jennifer P says:

    We have a RAD kid and we did have to make one of those hard decisions. I love love love the line best: “You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to….” That is magnificent and I will remember that often because every interaction seems like a battle some days. Thanks for your honesty and good advice!

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