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RAD and Empathy

Updated on February 10, 2015

RAD and Empathy

The ability to empathize is developed through relationships. A small child learns that the person who feeds and cares for him likes to be hugged and kissed in return. What we like, we give, knowing the other likes it too. A child who has his toy taken away realizes that this is what the other child feels when he takes away her toy. This is a simplification, of course. It all happens through the many kinds of communication that humans have with each other.

A child with an attachment disorder does not have these early interactions to build on. He only knows what he has to do to have his needs met. The ability to empathize does not develop. Later the child may realize that he is supposed to be able to do this, and may learn some of the words to say to make it appear that he is empathizing. He may try hard to imagine what he should be feeling, but does not have the ability to really put himself in the other person's place. This leaves him puzzled about many social interactions and reactions. The RAD child usually has great difficulty in interpreting facial expressions for this very reason. They will continually cross the line because they can't tell from your face that they are going too far.

The inability to empathize can show itself in many forms: stealing, hurting other children or animals, wastefulness, mess making and inappropriate joking, even pleasure at other people's hurts.

People in relationships with RAD children should explain their feelings, over and over if necessary, and try to help the child understand what is going on. Explain social behaviors, what is acceptable,what is not, what is polite and why. Although the child will be far behind in social development, he can learn to compensate.


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      Sharron 5 years ago

      Short and sweet, but helpful! We're going through the "faces" thing right now with one of our kids. Thanks :)