Parents of kids who have severe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) often feel as if they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They are afraid – perhaps even terrified – of their children. They literally wonder how they’ll make it through the next day. Some are suicidal. Many are depressed, fearful, and unable to cope. Too many parents, years after their child is grown and gone, deeply regret sacrificing their other children, their marriages, and their mental health and wellbeing.
I’ve been there.
This is straightforward advice, one parent to another that you’re not going to find anywhere else. It’s specifically for parents of children who are dangerous and violent and does not necessarily apply to children with mild or moderate RAD symptoms.
Let’s strip away the platitudes and talk about surviving. Here’s my unfiltered, pragmatic RAD-parent-to-RAD-parent advice:
1. If your child has been diagnosed with RAD and is exhibiting extreme behaviors that you can’t safely deal with on your own, get your child into treatment as soon as possible.
Do whatever it takes. Go to the mental health ER every single time your child’s behavior is dangerous to himself and others – even if it’s every week or every other day. Your insurance company will be most likely to fund the treatment your child needs if they understand the gravity of the situation. When they are made aware of your child’s needs by regular ER visits made when your child needs intervention, they will be more likely to approve the needed treatment.
2. If your child is violent towards you (Child on Parent Violence – CPV), you may need to press criminal charges.
Child-on-Parent Violence is quite common in homes where a child suffers from RAD. Yes, the justice system is unlikely to do them any good. But it may be the only option to keep you safe. Don’t put your safety in jeopardy by waiting too long.
3. Don’t beat yourself up for not having natural affection towards your child.
You have been the victim of trauma akin to domestic violence and no one believes a victim should naturally feel affection toward her abuser. It’s hard for us to think of children – even young grade school aged children – in these harsh terms, but it’s the reality.
4. Be prepared for false allegations.
CPS will take seriously even the most absurd claims – despite witnesses and video footage – and you absolutely can lose ALL your children during these investigations. If the allegations are substantiated you can lose your children forever. If your child has started making false allegations against you, consider this a huge warning – act fast to get help.
5. Enjoy your summer break and let siblings enjoy it too.
If that means setting your child with RAD up with a TV and game system, do it. What good are parenting ideals if you sacrifice siblings to reach them? Someday you’ll look back on these years and be amazed at how you managed day to day. Be pragmatic and don’t lose yourself in a losing battle.
6. Your children are being exposed to domestic violence.
Exposure to hours of screaming, explosive rages, and physical attacks is harmful to siblings. They are being forced to live in a state of hyper-vigilance that can cause anxiety, depression, PTSD, and so much more. It would be considered child abuse or neglect for a mother to allow their children to be exposed to similar behavior spousal domestic abuse. Find a way to protect and provide time to talk with a therapist for siblings – they have rights too, and you have an obligation to them too.
7. Some children with RAD abuse their siblings.
They may bully younger siblings or abuse them physically, emotionally, or sexually. This is something you must keep a very close eye on. Remember children with RAD are often extremely manipulative and this can enable them to abuse their siblings right under your nose.
8. Realize that someday you may have to choose between protecting your non-RAD children and keeping your child who is exhibiting extreme, dangerous RAD behaviors at home.
This may mean putting your child in residential programs that seem to be little more than “holding cells.” It may mean filing criminal charges against them. These are heartbreaking choices no parent should have to make, but they may be coming your way. Start mentally preparing yourself now.
9. If it is necessary for your child to receive help in a residential treatment facility, understand that the experience may aggravate your child’s behavior, possibly making it worse.
Yes, in residential treatment facilities your child will be exposed to children with worse behaviors, and many of the “treatments” will empower your child to continue with his behaviors. Despite this, these facilities are sometimes the best, the necessary choice when you need to protect the child from himself and to keep siblings safe.
10. Your child’s therapist and treatment team are very likely to turn on you.
As the parent, you are an easy target for therapists, and much easier to focus on than RAD. Also, providers need to show positive outcomes to continue receiving funding and some will skew the truth to do it. Always remember that this is your child’s team, not yours.
I live in Charlotte, NC with my family and am working on a memoir about raising my adopted son, Devon.