Parents of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder: 10 Unfortunate truths you must know

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.

Adapted from: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): The Essential Guide for Parents

4 thoughts on “Parents of kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder: 10 Unfortunate truths you must know”

  1. I regret to share a similar experience. I have thought of myself as a family-values , caring and loving father. But my daughter started to have a toxic relationship with my ex-wife (she was a distant person to my daughter since the early years), so she has been attached to me and my current wife. Despite she said she did not want to return to her mother´s house by the end of weekstay, we insisted that she had to have a relationship to that mother. In the end, this backfired to us.
    My daughter turned her rage against us, with insults and physical attacks against me. All in a sudden, she was aligned to that mother (that by the way we have an awful relationship as she is an abussive person; my therapist recommended me to keep the contact to a minimum and be a “grey rock”). Since then it has been an reverse hell. I had also, in one occassion, to call the police because she became physically aggresive.
    So both she and her mother decided to request a distance restraint against me as a vengeance (they got it in no time at all), and since I am a man, my appeal has been rejected as a “cautionary measure”.
    Now after many months, I have not seen my daughters, and I am afraid both of them are now parentally alienated.

  2. Literally, the hardest thing I have ever dealt with in my entire life. These kids are insatiable, never ever satisfied; the more you give the more they want. All roads lead to anger for a RAD kid. The more they get the more entitled. Never ever capable of considering feelings in a back and forth relationship. People are just a Kiosk for stimulus, and they are ready to move on when they drained and emptied you. Its like domestic abuse. All the while on the outside to others they present as “fun, precocious, interested, independent and great children.” Yes, “great.” I kid you not.

    It’s completely insane. Their number one goal in life is the acquisition of attention, stimulus and food. They actually desire the feeling of possession more than the object to be possessed. My conclusion after 12 years:


    1. Our daughter is not as extreme as you describe, but we can relate to so much of what you’ve written here.

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