Parenting a child with developmental trauma and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is extremely isolating and difficult. As parents, we simply don’t fit into the typical parenting support groups. We need our own “extreme parenting” support groups which are hard to find. Finding community and support are key to our own mental wellness and providing the best care we can to our children.
If you’re considering starting your own local group, here are some tips to help you get started.
Keep it simple
- Create a “come as you are” atmosphere with no strings or commitments. Some parents may only come once or may not be able to attend regularly. Make sure people know it’s okay to show up in their sweats, for just an hour, or only once every few months. This is the flexibility acceptance parents desperately need.
- Don’t overcommit yourself as the leader. Start with scheduling single events or a monthly meetings rather than weekly meetings. Most parents of kids with trauma simply won’t have time to attend more frequently and as a leader it’s important to not overcommit.
Make it comfortable
- Select a meeting place where people will feel comfortable to share. While meeting in a coffee shop can be convenient, remember how sensitive your discussions will be. Try to meet in a home, a church conference room, or private room at a local coffee shop.
- Limit attendees to parents only. Having social workers, therapists and other professionals changes the tone and will make parents hesitant to share transparently.
- Set ground rules ahead of time and repeat them at every meeting. Two important ones to include are:
- Confidentiality – What’s shared in the meeting, stays in the meeting
- Judgement-free – Parents need to be able to share their anger, frustration, sadness, and guilt without being judged.
- Limited advice – It’s great to provide each other with ideas and resources, but the focus of your group should be to provide encouragement and a place to be heard.
Pick a format that works
- Organic Sharing. Parents are desperate to be heard and know they aren’t alone. A wonderful way to do this is to allow people to share their stories and updates on their lives. If you choose this format here are a few things to consider.
- Make sure everyone has a chance to share. You can do this without seeming insensitive by using a fun timer – perhaps a 5 minutes – for each person.
- Consider a talking stick for discussions to prevent interruptions and rabbit trails.
- Book studies. Picking a practical book to read and discuss can be an excellent way to facilitate a support group meeting. Here are a few to consider:
- The Connected Child (practical ideas and advice)
- The Body Keeps the Score (to understand trauma)
- Parenting the Difficult Child (a faith based option)
- Expert presentations, videos, local events, etc…. There are all sorts of possibilities, so be creative and engage your attendees for ideas.
Find parents to invite
If you’re just getting started you may not know other parents to invite. Rest assured, there are many parents in the same position as you are – and most also feel completely alone. Here’s some ways to connect:
- Join online support groups and write a post asking who else is in your city. The two groups I like to recommend and am most active in are Attach Families Support Group and The Underground World of RAD
- Provide information about your group to providers you work with: therapists, exceptional children teachers, pediatricians, the agency you foster/adopted through, and others.
- Attach Families is working to create an international directory of support groups. Here’s a flyer you can reproduce to handout and please be sure to let them know about your group.
Remember, small is good – a turn out of 3-4 parents is a wonderful start. If your group becomes large – regularly more than 10 people – consider breaking into two groups by geography or date/time.
A few thoughts on logistics
- Use an RSVP system like the free version of SignUp Genius. This can be helpful because it’s easily shared on social media.
- Start a Facebook Group to communicate with local parents about your group and share information on other local events and resources.
- Use name tags and provide light snacks and drinks. Be sure to have a couple boxes of tissues on hand.
- If you are a leader and need advice on handling specific situations please reach out to Attach Families.
I’d love to support you too! If you’d like copies of my book Reactive Attachment Disorder: The Essential Guide for Parents to provide free of charge to members of your support group please contact me.