A View Through the Cracks: Living With A Child Who Has RAD

The names of the children and any identifying features or circumstances have been changed to protect their identities⁠—all scenarios are real and were experienced by myself or other caregivers we are connected with. I have made them to flow together as one story about one child, but this is really a compilation of many children we are connected with and have cared for, spanning a large age range. My goal was to make a cohesive story, and show the challenges faced by families raising children from hard places, living with a child who has RAD or (and possibly) a conduct disorder.

Summer, 2015:

My insides are quaking. It is hot. My parents are wanting to leave, and just asked a simple question: “Would Leslie like to come downtown with us?” I whipped my eyes around to my husband⁠—the unspoken thought there, between us: “This is going to be a problem.” Rebecca cannot handle this. All the kids get to go with Grandpa and Grandma, they all get a turn, and they are good at keeping track of whose turn it is next. But it doesn’t matter. Rebecca has snapped.

She is on the ground, rolling. Kicking, screaming, spitting. Yelling. She is 3. Tantrums happen at this age, yes, but this is different. The loud ping gets my attention. Another one, and then another. Louder. She has picked up some rocks⁠—not pebbles, but sizeable rocks, and she is throwing them at my husband’s truck. I feel my throat thicken, and tears claw at my eyes. My parents are looking to me, their facial expressions are asking me to make this stop, to fix this, but I don’t know how to fix this.

She turns and begins throwing rocks at us. She is incoherent, she is a monster of her normal self, magnified and roaring. We just don’t know what to do. We don’t know. We can’t reach her with breathing excercises and massage, not in this state. My husband tosses down his tools. “Fine. Go. Let her go too.” It’s the wrong thing to do, and we all know it, but we just never know what to do. This rage, this anger, can go on for hours, and it drains us all. She picks herself up, dusty and dirty, and walks to the truck. Next time, it will be harder⁠—we should not have given in, and I know that.

Fall, 2015:

I have to go out, and I dread it. Things have been okay this morning⁠—no waking up screaming, no rages, no head banging or hair pulling. But, things can change in an instant. I never know what I am going to get. I never know what might set her off. It is so hard to get a babysitter, and it isn’t even worth trying anymore. I pack up the kids and hope for the best, but it doesn’t last long. She is kicking the seats in the car, aggravated. She is mean and rude to the other kids. I just want to cry. I want to turn around and go home, but I really have to get some stuff done. I look in the rearview mirror, and she meets my eyes there, glaring. It catches me off guard. What have I done to make her want to push me away so badly? Sometimes I think that she doesn’t care about me at all.

Winter, 2016:

She is getting so big! She is beautiful and can be so kind and loving. Except when she isn’t. She doesn’t like having to be on so many medications, and it is such a battle getting her to take all of her tablets. Yesterday, I made a line with her tablets, all 13 of them⁠—between each one, I put a chocolate chip because she loves them. Her face just lit up, and there were no problems getting her to take them. I did the same thing this morning. She glared at me, pushed the chocolate chips away, and said, “I HATE these. I NEVER eat them.” I tried not to show my surprise or sadness.

I’ve tried her tablets with other candies, and she rejects them all. She simply will not take candies from me. And she loves candy! I left a bowl out on the counter with just a few in it, so I’d know if she took some. I told her, have as many as you’d like! She looked down her nose at me and said she didn’t want any. It is so confusing. It is like she doesn’t want to accept anything from us. She even sat and watched as the other kids ate the candy….and normally that would cause a meltdown. Such control she has at times!

{Insert from 2018 – she has literally not eaten chocolate chips since the above entry. I can’t explain this. She used to be into them all the time and begged for a handful at snack time. I don’t like how this makes me feel.}

Winter, 2016:

We tried to go skating today. I had the help of our EA, so that made me feel good. Rebecca has new skates, and she was so excited to try them. I can’t explain what happened. We got there, and we got her new skates and matching new helmet on. She was happy. And then she wasn’t. She was pushing me away, yelling, spitting, laying down on the ice and kicking with her skates. It felt like the whole arena was watching us! I was talking to her, trying to calm her down, but I just couldn’t get through to her. She was someplace else. Her EA and I spent a half-hour trying to talk her down, until I finally had to physically restrain her, for fear of her hurting someone with her skates, still attached to her feet, which were flailing around wildly. It was then one of the kids let me know my toddler was gone⁠—how could I have forgotten about him?? What a mess. What to do? Keep dealing with Rebecca, or go and look for Caleb? Rebecca abruptly stopped…..and started skating! I think all of our jaws dropped. What was all of this about? I ran to look for Caleb, glad for the break. I found him coming out of the women’s bathroom, and I just held him and cried. Rebecca told me later that she was angry because her new skates felt funny…..

Summer, 2016:

The track and field meet was today, and Rebecca was excited. She is really good! Waiting for her turn though, she just lost it. We couldn’t even figure out what was bothering her. She was just yelling and kicking and screaming….people all over were looking at us, and it was so embarrassing. Rebecca never seems to notice this. We finally picked her up and carried her to the car. We told her we would just go home if this didn’t stop. She stopped. Like, literally, just stopped. She put on a smile, went and ran her race, and won. The rest of the day was fine. Talk about a roller coaster.

Fall, 2016:

One of the most painful parts of this process is that she pushes me away all the time. Like the only time she lets me in or close is when she is sick or hurt, and that does not seem to happen very often at all. I feel like she is trying to be totally independent of me. I know her past and her trauma in her early childhood years might have made her afraid to trust. But it hurts so bad. We love her so much, and I am not sure that she even likes us in return.

Winter, 2017:

Sometimes, I think her early trauma is coming back. I know she saw a lot when she was with her birth mom. I know that she saw a lot of violence, and I know that her mom let her down a lot. She told me once that she tried to hit her mom’s boyfriend with a 2×4 when he was beating her, and I know that she saw a lot of adult content that she never should have.

I feel like all the fear from those days has pent up inside of her⁠—I feel like she doesn’t want to be vulnerable like that again. I think that is why she holds us at arm’s length. When she goes to respite, it is so calm and peaceful in our home. I feel like my heart has a hole in it, and I can hardly pull myself together to leave the house without her. I know everyone will be asking where she is, and I just can’t say it⁠—I can’t say that we’ve had to start taking respite in order to handle life with our daughter. I feel depressed. I feel like I’m failing her, and I have no idea where to start.

A View Through the Cracks: Living With A Child Who Has RAD

Winter, 2017:

Worst holiday season of my life. She just could not handle ANYTHING. Setting up the tree set her off, and she talked about wanting to go back to her mom⁠—her mom who abused her! The night ended in disaster, as no one else wanted to set up the tree either after her outburst and anger.

As Christmas got closer, it all just fell apart. On Christmas Eve, we were playing games, and she snapped. She flipped the board and confronted me. She tried to punch me! She was so out of control, we didn’t know what to do. I called an after-hours support number, and they said my only option on a holiday was to call the police. I couldn’t do it. So, we just didn’t sleep. We stayed up for days, taking turns watching her. The other kids said they were afraid to be alone with her. No one else was allowed to sleep downstairs. I think whatever sadness happened in her past has turned to anger. And the holidays this year are just bringing it all up.

She has gone to respite now for a few days so we can sleep, finally. No one wanted to open presents on Christmas Day, and dinner was a disaster. I forgot to make half the meal, and there was no dessert. My mom could not figure out what was wrong⁠—I finally told her how bad things have gotten. There are just no easy answers.

Fall, 2017:

Things have been a bit better, sometimes. She still rejects us, a lot. She still gets angry and violent, and she still acts out in crazy ways. She lies, she cheats, and sometimes she steals. But, we have been making her accountable. We have been making her make amends with those she has hurt. I actually think she respects us more now⁠—it’s like her way of showing love is showing a formal, almost business-like respect. We have to show that we are in charge at all times, and we have to show her that we won’t back down, otherwise, she walks all over us.

We have had to come a long way. Things look so, so much different parenting her than we ever imagined. We still have to leave events sometimes if she can’t handle herself, and I’ve had people say such judgmental and hurtful things about her and our parenting. They have no idea. I see a glimmer of hope, and I see the strands of a fine spider web, just slightly starting to spin itself around her, and to us, as it should be. But it feels fragile, and I know we have a lot more work to do. I have so many fears: how will she find and keep a job? Will people accept her? How will she find a partner who accepts her? Will she be able to raise children? Can she live on her own? What will the future hold? I have no answers. All I know is that I love her.


For parents dealing with RAD and conduct disorder, along with other serious conditions such as oppositional defiant disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, love is NOT enough. Love is essential, and love is the tie that binds a parent to a child that may not be willing or able to show love in return, but love alone will not heal the deep hurts or psychological trauma that occurred to bring a child to this place. Children who have experienced early trauma, abuse, and neglect can be extremely hard to reach. These children push caregivers away at every turn and make everyday tasks a challenge. These children act out from a place of pain, sometimes from a place where pain has turned to rage. Caregivers are often judged and shamed for their inability to get their child “in line” with other children their age both academically and behaviorally. Any parent who has gone through this knows the loneliness and isolation this causes.

I hope to bring awareness to the struggles caregivers are facing, and I hope to bring awareness to the need for more research for treatment for children of RAD and conduct disorder, as well as other serious conditions that affect the daily life and future of so many children of foster care and adoption.

A View Through the Cracks: Living With A Child Who Has RAD

More Resources of RAD:

A Guide To Parenting A Child With RAD

Bridging the Gap: RAD and Equine Therapy

How To Help Your Child through RAD

What Are the Effects of a RAD Child on Their Siblings?