Top 10 Ways To Help Family Understand RAD

One of the most frustrating parts of having a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is the feeling of living in a vacuum. Having to parent differently from other parents is one part; having children who don’t socialize appropriately often keeps them cut off from social groups. But it also means that even the closest family members are often distant because they can’t understand the child or how you have to or have chosen to parent them. 

How do you help your family understand RAD and what is necessary for your child to be safe and heal? Following is a list of ways to talk to your family which may help bridge the confusion and bring some new understanding.

  • Many family members believe that traditional parenting will work with children with RAD. They do not understand that your child may not be able to partake in activities that other children can. They need highly structured environments with firm limits. Rewards and behavior modification don’t work. It usually means that family believes that parents are either too hard or too lenient.
  • RAD children are control freaks. Their belief is that they must control their environment is key to their survival. Part of this may include triangulating with parents and grandparents to get what they believe they need or are entitled to. Extended family members need to be educated to what this is and how to recognize it in order to avoid getting trapped and affecting relationships.
  • Many family members believe that love cures all. The early trauma and abuse your child suffered physically altered their brain making the ability to give and receive affection almost impossible. Your family needs to understand this in order to know that this isn’t a quick “fix”. Love is unfortunately not enough.
  • As much as parents know, you still don’t know everything. You may have read everything you can get your hands on but each child is different. Your child is continuing through therapy and medication to change and grow and your family needs to understand there will be good and bad days. And you won’t be able to control that.
  • Your child will seem very “charming” and “delightful” out in public or with your family. That will seem very confusing with stories you may have told them. What they need to know is in these situations they are “shopping” for new parents or other adults they can manipulate. It’s very shallow and all for control and manipulation.
  • If we seem hypervigilant it’s not an overreaction. We have experienced things at home we haven’t told you and we don’t want those things to happen at your house or in public. For example, August stole a variety of things from his grandparents and ran up hundreds of dollars on their cell phone. They need to know how to be just as aware.
  • We won’t tell you everything that’s happening. We don’t want you to know how bad it is. We want you to believe that your grandchild or nephew is smart and funny and charming. We would rather you think that our child is wonderful and I am a monster.
  • Please don’t give us advice. Words like “Have you tried…” or “They’ll grow out of it.” or “Let me tell you what works” don’t help. We are working with psychiatrists and doctors and reading everything. We are doing all we can. We are as informed as we can get. And it’s not for lack of trying.
  • Sometimes the best our extended family can do is be there for us as the exhausted, overwhelmed parents. It may not be able to be babysitting. But maybe it can be bringing over food, mowing the lawn, taking the other children for a day (or a weekend!)
  • Our child is the love of our life. We are going to fight for them to be safe and healed no matter what it takes. We need you to understand that even if it means we make some unusual choices for their treatment. We need you to know that we only have the best of intentions but we need your support no matter what. Please continue to love us and support our family as we work to make our family whole.

Explaining August’s Reactive Attachment Disorder and his behaviors to our family has been one of the hardest parts of what I have been through. Why we chose residential treatment. Why he was stealing, getting arrested, behaving the way he was in front of them; in radically different ways to all the other children in our family. Trying to explain why he did what he did never seemed to quite get through. Certainly doesn’t where he is now.

Obviously family is hard under the best of circumstances. They will try. They might fail. You might too. That’s what being a family is all about.

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    1. I’m happy when the media covers RAD at all. It’s so invisible and misunderstood. It usually only gets coverage when a child with the diagnosis does something horrible or a parent terminates rights.

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