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The dreaded summer break: 7 ways to survive as a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder

Nothing fills me with dread and fear more than summer break. When I hear other moms looking forward to the lazy days of summer, fun activities, family vacations, and sleeping in, I am jealous and filled with anxiety.

As a mom of a child with reactive attachment disorder, I know our summer break will look very different from others.

Every year, the idea of no school for three months is overwhelming (particularly after an already difficult and long pandemic school year). School provides necessary structure for my child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). For me, school is an opportunity for much-needed respite.

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As summer approaches, I get stressed. I start making chore charts, behavior expectations, and rules. Then I eat some candy. None of this does anything to calm my nerves. I remind myself to take a deep breath, get quiet, and not approach summer from a place of fear.

This summer, I'm going to try to take a summer break of my own and attend the first-ever Navigating RAD2021 conference, to be held Aug. 20-21, 2021, in Denver.

The conference, created by RAD Advocates, will provide a supportive, nurturing, and informative space just for parents. Every parent will complete, via the guidance of RAD Advocates and experts in the field of RAD, a unique plan of action for their own families. Learn more here.

Whether I make it to the conference or not this summer, I'll still need strategies to get through the next couple of months. You'll need some too.

Here are some tips to help navigate summer break for parents of kids with reactive attachment disorder:

1. Take care of you.

I know we hear this all the time, but we seldom do it. So do it now. Take a deep breath and think about what you need to put in place to allow space to breathe. Not for your child, but for you.

Your well-being matters. These next few months may be challenging. You need to fill your cup with the practices that help you stay calm and at peace. Make a list and pick the top three priorities.

My top self-care tasks are to find a quiet space for morning prayer, exercise, and order. I know I will be a hot mess on day three if I do not have these anchors in my day.

So ask yourself what you need. What can you fit into life right now? Make a plan to adapt to your situation in the moment.

2. Lower your expectations.

As you look at the summer months at home with our kids with reactive attachment disorder, lower your expectations.

Most kids with special needs have accommodations via their individual education plans (IEP) at school. So write an IEP for your home. What needs to adapt to help your child be successful? What needs to adapt to help you and the other children be successful?

Register for Navigating RAD 2021, a unique conference for parents of children with reactive attachment disorder.

My child will need a lot of structure. I will need to monitor him. He needs supervision anytime he uses the computer. How will I manage to do this and get my own work done? I need to lower my expectations on what might get done.

I also need to reassess what my expectations are for meals, housework, and life. Do the best you can and do not worry about the rest.

3. Don’t compare.

It can be disheartening to get on Instagram. I can become discouraged by photos of families finger-painting, making homemade marshmallows, or on a worry-free vacation. I want normal, not challenging behaviors...but comparing my life to others never helps. So stay in your lane and do what you need to do to make this summer work for you and your family.

4. Schedule quiet time.

I was a homeschool mom for 19 years and my kids had a scheduled quiet time. It was a reset for each of us. Kids with RAD do not always cooperate with this. Think of how you can make this happen. Maybe a movie? Video games you may not typically let them play? Find some way to get some afternoon quiet time so both you and the kids can get a break.

5. Move.

Get outside with your kids. Most kids with RAD do better if they move. Find ways to be active. I used to take our child to the high school track. I would walk around the track and she would run. If she was being oppositional, she could throw a raging fit and I would still keep walking (with earbuds in). One up side of no one being in school is that no one will be there to judge your child’s behavior!

6. Have a break glass (in-case-of-emergency) plan.

There will be days that are long and hard. I have been a RAD parent for a long time so I know my child will be oppositional most days. It is hard on him and on me. I need to show him mercy and compassion. I know I will not do this perfectly.

So what is my plan when things are really hard? I reach out to a friend on the phone or meet to have margaritas and chips and salsa.

Have a plan in place for those most stressful days. You can go for a walk when your husband gets home, watch something that makes you laugh. Complete the stress cycle. In the excellent book Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, the authors suggest that physical activity completes the stress cycle.

7. Ask for help.

This is hard. But remember, kids with reactive attachment disorder are usually okay for others. You do not know unless you try. Make a list of what you need and of whom you can ask. Then ask for the help you need.

We have had our kids in all kinds of day camps. The YMCA, local day camps, and summer school programs. There were times when I would be so stressed that they would act out that I would not want to take them. They did have those days, but they also had days when they did just fine.

And at the end of each day (because you'll need to take it a day at a time)...

Look and see what worked and what didn’t and give yourself grace. Adjust as you go, and remember that this isn’t forever.

About the author:

Amy J. Brown is a wife, mom, writer, and mentor. She mentors moms and believes that when we honestly share our stories we learn from each other, gather strength, and come away encouraged. But most importantly, we feel less alone. You can connect with Amy and read more of her writing at

Register for Navigating RAD 2021, a unique conference for parents of children with reactive attachment disorder.

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