In my previous blog titled NEVER Say These Things to the Parent of a Kid w/ RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) I talked about key things to keep to yourself when talking with the parent of a kid with RAD. My good friend, whose daughter also has RAD, thought it helpful to share what to say and/or do.
1. SIMPLY LISTEN: Just sit there and listen with an occasional “uh huh” and sympathetic “mmmm.” Raising children is a difficult job. What makes it worthwhile? You know your child appreciates it on some level when she* hugs you and says “I love you” (unless they’re teenagers!). RAD kids don’t do that, or if they do it is detached. This makes raising a child with RAD not just difficult and selfless, but also a thankless job.** We are thankful when someone takes the time to show us they appreciate us and care by listening.
2. DON’T JUDGE: Parenting techniques used with RAD kids are counterintuitive to typical parenting techniques. They appear cold, indifferent and too strict. The truth is they are necessary. Children with RAD need a calm, stable, even-keel parent who doesn’t make a big deal out of anything, even if it IS a big deal, to feel safe. A strict routine is also necessary for a kid with RAD to feel safe. We may appear heartless but we are really helping the child and averting a crisis.
3. UNDERSTAND YOU WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND: It is difficult if not downright impossible to understand what is involved in raising a child with RAD. My daughter, thankfully, has made much progress. However, it is difficult for others to understand how tenuous that progress is and regression may happen for no apparent reason.
4. ASK BEFORE ACTING: Please ask the parent before doing something or offering something to the child. For example, please ask the parent before offering a treat. Mention a play date or sleepover to the parent before the child. Do not directly give the child an invitation to a birthday party; hand it to the parent or mail it. And please do these things in private; if the child overhears, it is likely to cause disruption and potentially regression if the answer is “no.” Teachers should give goodies from classroom celebrations directly to the parents. This was a constant problem at my daughter’s preschool and resulted in numerous car rides home filled with crying because she wasn’t allowed to have the candy immediately.
5. RESPECT OUR BOUNDARIES: When it gets to the point where we can disrupt our RAD kid’s routine and have a play date or afternoon at the park, please follow our seemingly silly requests. If we ask you not to give her sweets, such as hot chocolate on a rainy day, please honor our request. If she asks for a second piece of birthday cake, deny her that seemingly innocent second piece of cake. If she asks to stay at your place for just one more hour, tell her ‘no’ flat out.
THINGS TO SAY:
- “This must be really hard for you,” or something along that line. When my sister-in-law and I got close, she said that when I confided in her about my struggles. It was so nice to hear someone empathize with ME. The child rightfully deserves empathy but so do the parents who struggle each and every day to heal the wounds.
- “I can’t even begin to understand.” Because that statement is entirely true, we feel validated when you acknowledge it instead of trying to help.
- “Is there anything I can do to help?” Often the only thing you can do is lend an ear but we appreciate the offer. A close friend of mine offered to look after the kids anytime I needed a break. Although I could not take her up on that offer because it would be too disruptive to my daughter’s schedule, I nonetheless appreciated her willingness to help.
I cannot emphasize enough how difficult it is to raise a child with RAD. Things parents take for granted, such as the child making eye contact during a conversation, are all accomplishments for us.
*As noted in my prior blog, I use “she” because my daughter has RAD.
** I know parents are not always appreciated by their children but at some point they have thanked you through their affection.