RAD Self-care Sabotage

As parents of trauma-affected children, we live in a constant state of awareness. All our efforts are focused on taking care of them, their siblings, our partners, our jobs, the house and often last and least, ourselves. But what are our RAD kiddos focused on? Sometimes it seems like they have one goal and only one goal: sabotage. 

I know this sounds like an evil plan hatched by a demented Dr. Frankenstein. But there were occasions when August was little where it seemed just that devious and planned out. And  yes, I know it wasn’t. But when you’ve waited all day for a bath and a little quiet and that’s the time he chooses to pee all over the plastic kitchen set in his room, you just have to wonder!

So I want to talk about RAD self-care sabotage. What it might look like. What it might mean and how we can react to it when it might feel so personal to us. 

  • Does it feel like they only need you when you’ve gotten on the phone?
  • Do they talk to you through the door while you’re going to the bathroom?
  • Do they refuse to eat what they ordered at a restaurant but your food looks awesome?
  • Does the one sound they know drives you nuts get louder as soon as you ask them to stop it?
  • Has your favorite shirt, sweater, necklace, scarf been ruined by an “accident”?

I’m by no means implying that all RAD children are lying in bed plotting and planning. However, two of the most recognizable characteristics of reactive attachment disorder are that these children are control freaks and manipulative. They want to push our buttons. They want us to react and explode and get mad. Because that reinforces their beliefs that we don’t love them and we don’t want them. And to sabotage the self-care moments that we most treasure in our chaotic lives is pushing a very big button, don’t you think?

So why do our RAD kiddos choose these moments to inject themselves into our lives? Why are they so skilled at finding the times that we need the solace and relief of our daily grind and pick that time to ramp up their behavior? Because it’s when we’ve let our guard down. Our defenses are weak. Think about it. When is it easier for you to respond to your child having spilled a gallon of milk on the floor, when you are loading the dinner dishes into the dishwasher? Or when you have sat down for the first time all day to read a book for 30 minutes?

Now again, I can’t say for sure that all the times that August did those things that made my head explode, he’d waited in the tall grass for me to relax and look the other way. But there were more than enough examples for me to think it was more than a coincidence. And I think if you look back you might find the same is true for you.

So what do we do? Self-care is vital to our well-being as well as the success of our family. So not doing it is not an option. But making sure it happens even if your children are home might mean making some changes. Here are my ideas:

  • Tag team with your partner. Make sure one of you is covering the kids so the other can get in the needed self-care time and then switch. This may not be an option for everyone but caring for special needs kiddos needs to be a team sport as much as possible.
  • Depending on the age of your children, try and help them understand your plan, your timeline. Just a warning, sometimes this can backfire. But try to phrase it like, “I’m going to relax for 30 minutes and then we’ll go to the park so what would like to do until then?” Because this way you’re giving them control over that 30 minutes (within reason). Not just go away until I’m ready for you.
  • Let them self-care with you. Again, this is one of those that could backfire. But maybe you and the girls could all paint your nails or do mud masks. Or you and the boys could all go for a walk. I know the real point of self-care is time away from the children but the main point is that it is stress-free time and these are activities that for the most part shouldn’t end up in arguments and yelling (I hope!)
  • Confront them with the truth. If they’re old enough, they may know exactly what they’re up to. They know you can’t talk to them or help them when they’re on the phone or in the bathroom. They know how little time you take for yourself. Sitting down and having an honest conversation about your needs and the benefits to the relationship between the two of you and the entire family might just clear the air and get a different attitude going forward.

So take some time to think on whether your RAD kiddo is doing some self-care sabotage in your family and think on some ways you can intercept those efforts to make sure you’re getting the quality care you need. Please feel free to share your stories and ideas. I don’t know everything and we all benefit from everyone’s input!

Until next time,


Feeling Like A Failed Parent

This was not the post I had planned for today. I started writing it Saturday after a very long week last week. Some things happened with August and I ran out of antidepressants and I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of bed. And for the first time last Thursday I said these words out loud, “My son is a psychopath.” And now I’m feeling like a failed parent

Not my proudest mom moment.

I suppose this needs some explanation. The last couple visits with August had made me uncomfortable. I know Reactive Attachment Disorder inside and out. I have read and studied it for years and I understand what it looks like. This wasn’t RAD. I talked to him about various things some of which dealt with his behavior and how it affected people in his life. He said outright he didn’t care if he hurt people. He didn’t care if he used people for what he could get from them. Maybe it was for show. Maybe it was to look cool or strong. But it seemed all too real.

He talks about life after prison. His clothing, his lifestyle, how much money he will have. It’s all the best of everything. That is what he looks forward to. Nothing is about relationships with his family or friends. Nothing is about making a better life or repairing the damage he has done. He is not missing being separated from us at all. He says, “I love you” at the end of visits and phone calls but it’s always to hard to believe. 

I am still trying to piece together what has happened but near as I can tell he’s pulled some friends and friends of other inmates into some scheme that has gotten him and them in more trouble. He obviously didn’t care that he knew what he was doing was illegal and also illegal for them because he did it. Though I’m not completely sure he knew what he was doing. And it might mean extended time for him. I don’t know. Our conversation today revolved around his anger that he was in solitary and that maybe those he got caught up with might say something that would get him in trouble. 

Here’s the thing. July 5th. On July 5th he was six months without a conduct issue and was going to be eligible to get into a program which would get him moved to another dorm with stricter regulations which would help him stay more focused, and the program completion would get him reduced time and the possibility of a sentence reduction. But here we are instead.

Psychopathy isn’t the actual psychological term. It’s actually Antisocial Personality Disorder. For information about it, you can check it out here.  It is distinguished from sociopaths by severity and contrary to made for TV movies, they are not always violent serial killers.

But now I am sitting here wondering what validity I have as a parent to be writing to you all. I know my child is wounded from harm that I didn’t cause. That his brain is physically damaged. But it is also harm I couldn’t heal. And he harms others with seemingly no concern for their well-being. I started writing because I thought I had something to give to parents to help them avoid some of the mistakes I made. To provide a resource where parents could come together and learn some tools that would help them along the road to healing their children.

But I sat in that visiting room and listened to him. And now this has happened. And now I feel like such a fraud. 

Taking care of ourselves also means knowing when we’ve done all that we can for our children. His father has been much better at that. I keep wishing and fighting and hoping. Maybe in vain. Looking for that spark of empathy that I hope will magically appear maybe when his brain fully develops. My therapist years ago said that maybe August sabotages his progress in there because he feels safe in there and he doesn’t really want to get out. In there he doesn’t have to make choices of right or wrong where he has repeatedly made the wrong ones. Maybe when he voluntarily decides to take the medications that will help his brain function better things will change. Or maybe it won’t and I will finally have to realize I’ve done all that I can. Can a mother ever do that? 

Pondering the next time,



Top 10 Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Way back in the beginning of writing this blog, I posted the DSM-IV criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder. But that was a long time ago and in psychology speak. So I thought it would be helpful to do a more plain spoken list of what behaviors children with RAD exhibit.

Kiddos with RAD don’t even know most of the time they are doing some of the things they do. It’s all reaction to the very early trauma they suffered and how they protect themselves now from further hurt. Here are some signs your kiddo might display:

  • Failure to smile and avoids eye contact – This may make your child seem like they are angry all the time but it is part of the resistance to connection. They aren’t unhappy but they are constantly stressed and on edge. So it is hard to ever relax.
  • Becomes agitated when adults try to comfort them – They may recoil when they are upset and an adult tries to hug them or comfort them. They don’t want to think of a caregiver as someone they can depend on or someone who will make them feel better. They don’t trust anyone and they resist any attempt to count on someone for assistance.
  • Doesn’t seem to notice when parents or caregivers leave them – Separation anxiety is something that parents face regularly with their children. RAD kiddos don’t notice or care when their caregivers leave because they don’t see them as needed. The connection and bond isn’t there so there is no fear they won’t return, no anxiety about who will care for them.
  • Spends a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves – RAD kiddos firmly believe they can only count on themselves. They are control freaks. They develop incredible skills in self-soothing because they do not trust that anyone else can do it for them.
  • When distressed, they may calm down more quickly without the attention of an adult – You’d think an adult would be helpful when a child is upset but for RAD kiddos it’s anything but. An adult or caregiver getting in their face most times will only make it worse. They have learned coping strategies from their past traumas and they know how to help themselves.
  • Unaffected by the movements of others – RAD kiddos tend to seem very stand offish. They do not want other people in their lives. They do not feel that people affect them no matter how close the relationship. So they will not usually be rattled at all by what other people do.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up – Because RAD kiddos don’t need affection they will not seek it out. For parents that can be one of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a RAD kiddo. It isn’t something they will seek from any adult in their life, no matter how close the relationship.
  • Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys – Group games like tag or hide and seek will not be popular with RAD kiddos. They are not great at playing with toys that are “group” toys. Because they aren’t good “joiners” this isn’t something they will ever be drawn to.
  • Cries Inconsolably – Because RAD kiddos are not able to process their emotions in a healthy way, sometimes when they begin crying, the tears won’t stop. And because they won’t allow anyone to help them be consoled, getting a handle on their emotions is even harder.
  • Withdrawn Appearance – There is often a mix-up between RAD and autism. RAD children are emotionally and developmentally stunted in a way that mimics autism. They might appear not to be “with it” to what’s going on around them. Again, it’s not that they are unaware, it’s just that they are in a constant mode of protection.

Hopefully this can be a reference guide for friends and family to understand why your child may not look or act like they might expect them to. And knowing may help in not judging your RAD kiddo unfairly. I would love to hear your comments on what you see with your children and which of these behaviors have caused you the most stress!

Until next time,