Parenting a Child With Reactive Attachment Disorder

When Love Is Not Enough

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Well, I can’t deny it any longer, I have a child with reactive attachment disorder, or RAD.  It’s a roll of the dice when you adopt, even as infants which mine all were. The reality of the situation is that they all present attachment issues to some degree. This one seems to be the most severely affected (at this point!). He has hit puberty and his attachment issues have come screaming out. Conscience is sorely missing and lying and sneaking abound.

I figured this out because, by the recommendation of my friend and our family therapist, I started watching some videos on attachment disorder. I think for the first 2 videos, I couldn’t shut my gaping mouth. It was describing him to a T. Here I was thinking “why don’t consequences change this kiddo’s behavior?” and “nothing seems important enough to him that can move him from what he wants to do”. Right on both counts, I discovered. In fact, there was a chart that showed just where his level of conscience was.

Ages 1 – 3: Takes what he sees and wants.

Ages 3 -5: Doesn’t take what he sees and wants for fear of being killed by mom/dad.

Ages 5 – 9: Doesn’t take what he sees and wants thinking mom/dad may be upset.

Ages 9 – 11: Doesn’t take what he sees and wants because he wouldn’t like the way that would make him feel about himself.

Oh wow – we are in stage 1-3!

I can’t watch these videos fast enough! Many of the parenting skills I’ve learned up to now are just not working. So I am taking it one piece at a time. Today I learned that until this kid feels safer and is sure he can trust us, we are in for one mighty power and control struggle.

I am starting off with 2 things I learned: Never tell him “I NEED you to do something”. He’ll just think “Oh you mean I have power over your needs? Cool!!” What you have to say is “I WANT you to do something”.

Secondly, when he has his meltdown because he can’t do something (like master something which for him is usually fear of failure so he doesn’t try), I am going to say “Yes you can – I have faith in you”. This also is when he says he can’t handle his consequences, too.

So far that’s all I’ve got! So, keeping the humor up, I will keep plugging away. He’s worth it!

By the way, the videos are part of a DVD series called When Love Is Not Enough by Nancy Thomas. Take a look at the video series or the book if you’ve got adopted kiddos like me. We’ve also had much success with Total Transformation by James Lehman. Though it’s not written specifically for RAD kids, the techniques we’ve learned in it have worked very well for ours.


  1. I am so glad that you found Nancy Thomas. She has provided my wife and me with much insight and knowledge about how to parent our special RADish. I wish you all the best. We have been working with Nancy since the summer of 2007, including a week long therapy intensive and a week long Advanced Parenting training I attended last October. If I can be of any service to you, please do not hesitate to ask. And yes, indeed, keep the humor up and the twinkle of love in your eyes.

  2. Matt Hellstrom says:

    Thanks Michael, it’s a challenge. I took a look at your site, I’ll post a link to it in my blogroll.

  3. Thank you, Matt.

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