RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder. You often hear about it with overseas adoptions as these children generally lived in orphanages and had to fend for themselves. Put simply, the child hasn’t learned how to attach, and as a result is not attached to anyone. These children have an excessive need for control and are either detached or will go off with anyone (or both). Repeated abuse, neglect and inconsistent parenting causes it.
Please take a look at the Mayo Clinic webpage for further reading; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/reactive-attachment-disorder/basics/definition/con-20032126
The following are things you NEVER say to a parent who has a kid with RAD:
1. “My kid does that too” or “that sounds normal.” THIS IS DIFFERENT
Every child wants control, true. But a child with RAD needs constant control and will act out (tantrum, show aggression, etc.) if she* doesn’t have it. She doesn’t act this way on a temporary regular basis, like a phase, but rather is the way she lives. She is hyper-vigalent, removed physically and mentally, and always observing.
Example: When my daughter was newly potty trained, we would remind her to use the bathroom otherwise she often had an accident. This resulted in a tantrum and tears EVERY TIME we told her.
2. “I understand how you feel.” NO YOU DON’T
And, please don’t act like you do. Because at the end of the day, no matter how bad the day, you know your child loves you and she knows you love her back. Because RAD kids haven’t learned to attach, they do not know how to feel and process love. Affection, if they show it, is detached. It often happens only because it is part of a routine.
Example: My daughter says “good night, I love you too” even if I haven’t said good night yet.
Example: My daughter shows spontaneous affection only when she wants people to notice her; it is an act for attention.
Example: My daughter holds her arms up as though shielding herself when I pull her in for a hug.
Example: “Hi mom, I thought I’d say ‘good morning,'” but all the while she is looking at the cat sleeping on the bed as though I don’t exist.
3. “You’re too hard on her.” SHE NEEDS UNCONVENTIONAL PARENTING
First of all, if you say this, your unspoken words are “it’s your fault your kid acts out.”
RAD kids don’t like surprises and need routine to feel safe. Any deviation from that routine causes one of two problems:
- If you give her an inch, she takes a mile and then gets angry when you won’t let her go two.
- If you deviate from the routine, she acts out and regresses when things go back to routine later on.
Example: When she went back to school after Christmas Break, she had issues every day for a week: She cried because I told her to hang up her clothes; she was blatantly disobedient, sneering at me; she cried hysterically, as though she lost her favorite toy, when her sister broke a piece of her chalk; she had a kicking, stomping, screaming tantrum because I told her to read the directions on her homework.
4. “She doesn’t act that way with me” or “I’ve never seen her do that.” OF COURSE NOT
You are new and fun and don’t require anything of the relationship. Your relationship doesn’t require intimacy and you don’t ask anything of her. If you lived with us a couple weeks, she would act “that way” because you would no longer be novel.
Example: My mother stayed with us a couple weeks when I was having problems with my heart. The first week she was Grandma, the second week she turned into “Mean” Grandma (had to enforce rules, etc). My previously affectionate daughter started acting less affectionate and more disobedient towards her.
My daughter’s therapist said this is something you cannot truly understand until you have a kid with RAD or you are frequently around a kid with RAD. So even if not your intention, these four phrases are dismissive and demeaning. They also imply you don’t believe a word of these struggles. Please, simply listen and offer empathy.
* I say “she” because my daughter has RAD.