Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can be exhausting and discouraging. The angry outbursts, cold stares, and defiant words can cut a loving parent to the quick and make you question your own competency. During the knottiest times, wrap yourself in a cloak of patience and a blanket of humor, and know that everything can and will turn out beautifully.
Parenting a Child with RAD
In order to parent a child with RAD, there are some specific things that you should know.
Children who have been adopted after infancy have been jounced between caregivers that may or may have been cold or violent before they were placed in a forever home. Your child has experienced unnatural emotional loss at a young age, and raising your voice in response to disobedience can often trigger increased out-of-control behavior. Giving consequences as quickly as possible in a low-key tone of voice will communicate that you are a trustworthy, relaxed, and consistent caregiver.
Statements such as “We are going to grandma’s house and that’s final” will likely provoke anger in a child with RAD. Give them a degree of control by asking “Would you like to wear your blue pants or your red pants when we go to grandma’s?” At the beginning of your parenting, you can give them food choices to get them interested in healthy options such as cauliflower or carrots with their chicken.
There will be times when traumatized kids will open up about their past experiences. It may be just a sentence about something they remember in a previous situation, but it will give you an opportunity to probe a little further. Ask only as many questions as your child is comfortable answering but show that you are ready to listen to his story in a calm, nonjudgmental manner. It will help him to work through his pain and build a bridge of trust that will be fragile at first but will gradually become stronger.
“Can you close the door behind you? Wow! Thank you for doing that!” Let your child know that she will be noticed for doing the right thing and that you will be impressed with her maturity—before she does it. Many children with RAD have only received attention for negative behavior in the past, and they will be thrilled to get some positive regard. Your child will be more likely to comply if you praise first instead of making demands in an authoritative voice.
When we first adopted my kids, there was an endless demand for tea and popcorn every night. The smells, sounds, and tastes of familiar and comforting fare made them feel nurtured and indulged. There are a lot of inexpensive ways to cheer up your child’s environment such as flowers from the dollar store or wall decals from Costco. Inviting your child to help you choose these accessories will also give him or her a sense of belonging and control.
Venting to your sister, curling up in bed with a snack and an uplifting movie, or getting your hair done will go a long way towards helping you stay balanced during your first years as an adoptive parent. Remember that you are doing a divine work being a parent, and your efforts will not go unrewarded.
Rebekah Yahoves is a writer, mother, and music teacher from Long Island. In 2016, she adopted three school-aged siblings from Poland at the same time. When she isn't constructing casseroles or tuning violins, Rebekah likes to go on tea binges and read.
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