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What you need to do before creating a reactive attachment disorder treatment plan for your child

Updated: Apr 30, 2021

I was new to this hospital thing.

My daughter realized that, if she stopped eating, we took her to the hospital. It was her way out of our home. Due to her early trauma, my daughter was more afraid of my love and care than nurses and needles.

I needed immediate action—a reactive attachment disorder treatment plan. Sadly, it wasn’t that simple. No one understood the disorder in the first place.

I remember the day well.

There I sat in a conference room with a large group of parents of other children in the inpatient eating disorder unit. The therapist facilitating the parent support group asked, “How many of you feel like your child's struggles are your fault in some way?“

Every other parent raised their hand. I did not. The therapist looked around the room and then at me with disbelief.

I had responded with confidence that my daughter’s eating disorder was the result of something that happened long before I met her. After a long silence, the therapist ultimately disregarded my response altogether and proceeded to the next question. My answer clearly did not fit with what he had already concluded.

As time passed, I discovered that most of the staff members did not understand the role my daughter’s early trauma played in her behaviors. I constantly felt as though I needed to defend my parenting (READ: Why It's Not Your Fault that Your Child Has Reactive Attachment Disorder).

The overall lack of education about reactive attachment disorder got in the way of getting my daughter the help she needed.

As RAD Advocates, we commonly hear similar stories from the parents we support. Parents feel incredibly alone and misunderstood. They often have nowhere to turn. Many families fall apart under the incredible strain.

Raising a child with reactive attachment disorder is beyond difficult, to say the least. You likely feel as though you literally can’t survive it some days.

I know you want a reactive attachment disorder treatment plan now. But the first step is building your community of support with education.

If your support group—including friends, family and professionals—don’t understand the disorder, they can’t help you. And you’ll need plenty of help. Without your own support, you won’t have the stamina to continue for anyone.

Here are a few suggestions on how to educate your community about reactive attachment disorder:

  • Educate in a factual manner. Once your child is diagnosed, take time to gather as much information about the diagnosis as you can. Many people understand the words trauma and neglect—try sharing how a child’s past history affects brain development. There are helpful publications by leading trauma and attachment experts that can explain how and why the disorder forms, what the symptoms are and how to relate to a child with the disorder. Although difficult, try to remove your emotion from the conversation. People are more likely to have open minds when you remain calm.

  • Take time to recognize your child’s behaviors in various circumstances. Remember that you, the person living with your child, are an expert on what your child’s disorder looks like within the family. Most people outside of the family will not see the same behaviors you do and it is helpful to recognize both perspectives. Children with reactive attachment disorder tend to charm and engage people outside of their own homes. In fact, even adults living within the same home can see different behaviors from the child. For example, primary caregivers often notice worrisome behaviors well before the other parent.

  • Once you recognize your child’s various behaviors, explain how reactive attachment disorder presents differently in various environments. This can be hard to admit as you've likely experienced others doubting, questioning and criticizing your parenting. Yet, calm persistence can go far toward gaining support for your family.

  • Communicate constantly with those who care for your child including school staff, therapists or church members. Lack of communication is the quickest means to destroy a support system. Children with reactive attachment disorder often create discord, or triangulation, amongst the adults in their lives. This is easily done when caretakers do not communicate regularly with one another about what the child is saying or doing.

“Children with reactive attachment disorder manipulate others as a means of control to feel safe,” says renowned trauma expert Forrest Lien, LCSW, Owner and Founder of Lifespan Trauma Consulting. “Ironically, however, they ultimately feel less safe with adults they can manage. It confirms their belief that adults can’t be trusted to care for them.”

  • Share the behaviors of your child in a way that does not portray your child as a villain. Doing otherwise confirms the misconception that you are at fault for your child’s struggles and is not in the best interest of you or your child. It is often as simple as changing your wording from “My child ___,” to “Reactive attachment disorder presents in this way _____.”

  • Explain the effects of reactive attachment disorder on your family as a whole. Many family members suffer from trauma similar to post-traumatic stress disorder from living with reactive attachment disorder. Everyone, including other children in the home, need support. Siblings typically recognize how much energy is needed for the disordered child. They often keep their needs quiet and, in many cases, ultimately experience high levels of anxiety, depression, fear of the unknown and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

  • Tell friends and family specific ways they can help you. Because most people don’t understand reactive attachment disorder, they also don’t know how to support you. You could request simple phone calls or coffee dates, child care, meal preparation or outings for other children in your home.

  • Ask those who understand reactive attachment disorder to advocate on your behalf as well. Give your friends and family permission to share the characteristics of reactive attachment disorder and how the disorder presents itself in various situations.

  • Seek support outside of your traditional circles. Many people find support through online “underground” parent support groups. These groups allow parents to share their struggles with others who are in similar situations and can be a source of real comfort. These groups are also a great place to network and share names of professionals that work well with children and families struggling with this disorder

Navigating reactive attachment disorder is a long and lonely journey. Without support, it can feel like a hopeless black hole. Before you build a reactive attachment disorder treatment plan for your child, build your support community. It will help you to keep going.

p.s. - Let us help you create your community and customize a reactive attachment disorder treatment plan in Denver this September (see below)!


Navigating RAD 2020

a unique conference for those raising children with reactive attachment disorder

Sept 11-12, 2020


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