We are trying radically different Reactive Attachment Disorder techniques from yet another new therapist, and the therapist told us in the first session that we would get negative reactions from some people if we mentioned the name Nancy Thomas who invented these techniques. Apparently she is just a parent who has worked out these techniques fostering or adopting RAD kids over the years. Ninety-five percent of the kids that come to her have no conscience and have already killed! Yikes! She has an 85% success rate getting them to be successful in a loving family. That got my attention. Nancy has written a book called When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting Children with RAD-Reactive Attachment Disorder. That also got my attention since I will scream if one more person tells me, “Just love them.”
The buzzwords of this new approach are “respectful, responsible, and fun to be with” and that’s what the kids need to be to earn any privileges. Respectful means having a pleasant attitude and tone of voice and being cooperative; responsible means completing three chores a day snappy, fast, and right the first time; fun to be with means no lying, stealing, or temper tantrums when they don’t get their way.
We’ve tried for eight years to get them to be respectful, responsible, and fun to be with, but they’re not having any of it when it comes from us. It’s hard to explain in a brief blog post, but the gist is that the two older kids are now in a structured behavior program where it’s their choice how to be, but we make it REALLY unpalatable for them NOT to choose to be respectful, responsible, and fun to be with.
Nancy Thomas emphasizes that none of this works without a lot of soft loving eye contact and hugs, but the program is that they are in their rooms (with everything but furniture, clothing and wholesome books removed) where we lovingly serve them a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread and a piece of fruit three times a day. If they can go all day being respectful, responsible, and fun to be with, they MAY be invited to have dinner with the family. Meanwhile, we’re downstairs having really yummy dinners with our youngest son, playing games, having fun, etc. As they progress, they can earn fifteen minutes of television, or half an hour hanging out with a friend at our house, etc. We the parents win no matter what because unless they’re respectful, responsible, and fun to be with, they’re in their rooms and we get a break. If they’re out of their rooms, it’s because they’re so enjoyable to be around. They have to achieve fourteen successful days on the “the program” no matter how long it takes.
When the kids realized we were serious about this, things got much worse for a few days, and I had never seen such ugly outbursts on their part. Then when they started to get tired of those sandwiches and realized the only way back to pizza was to be respectful, responsible, and fun to be with, an amazing transformation started to happen. They actually reached for it. They WANTED to be respectful, responsible, and fun to be with, not because we wanted it but because it got them what THEY wanted. Although it’s not a perfectly smooth progression and took him almost three weeks, my son has now earned eight of the fourteen successful days, the last three of which have been consecutive.
We have tried absolutely everything, including six different therapists, dozens of behavior programs and literally thousands of dollars in counseling co-pays. Nothing advanced the ball. On Memorial Day my sixteen-year-old son was so snotty that he was not invited to join the family for our BBQ dinner. In eight years, he has never missed a holiday, or a holiday soda, which is the only time I let the kids have soda. We even had cherry pie. It seemed so draconian that I second-guessed myself all day and almost gave in at the end. But I’m so glad we held out. After a very ugly Monday, my son woke up independently Tuesday morning (one of his three chores he needs to complete every day) humming and singing. I have NEVER heard my son sing. He earned dinner and then some with us that night (and of course we had saved him some ribs from the BBQ the night before). We had the nicest dinner we’ve ever had as a family, laughing and talking around the table for a long time. I enjoyed my son so much!
So we held our son accountable for being respectful, responsible, and fun to be with (in violation of the advice of every previous therapist we’ve ever been to: “These kids are so traumatized they can’t function like other kids” or “Your expectations are too high” or “You just need to love on him more”) and it worked!! I just keep trying to figure out why people react negatively to Nancy Thomas and these techniques. Yes, they are exacting but practically overnight shifted the locus of control in the home to the parents and the motivation for success to the kids. What’s not to love? We’re all happier right now than we’ve been for eight years. Something is actually working! I dare to have hope again for the first time in a long time, and the best thing of all? My son says so does he.
Photo credit: //www.sxc.hu/photo/1329803