Helping Parents of a Child with RAD
A child with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) causes a great deal of stress in the home, on the parents, siblings, as well as the extended family. I sometimes call it "the invisible disability" because everything appears to be normal. If a family goes out with a child in a wheel chair, or with Down's syndrome, or Autism, everyone around is aware that the child is handicapped and allowances are automatically made. But the RAD child appears charming and friendly, or just plain badly behaved. Whether valid or not, parents feel as if they are being judged as bad parents when the child acts up, or when they are feeling stressed and others comment on what a lovely child they have.
Dealing with RAD does make a parent feel like a failure. All the child raising advice, love, discipline in the world just can't get things under control. Parenting feels like a civil war. Whatever they do fails. Others who don't see what happens at home, or don't have the complete picture, can't seem to understand what the problem is. So the frustrated parent is left with no one with whom to talk.
Even a happily married couple can be at odds in this scenario. In RAD the antagonism is usually directed toward the primary care giver, in most cases the mother. The spouse who is not there all day often does not have a complete picture of the extent of manipulation that goes on. He therefore does not understand the frustration of the worn out parent. The tension that results is used by the child for further manipulation.
So how can caring friends and family help? Please let me suggest some don't s and do's.
1. Don't compare their difficulties to yours with a healthily attached child who gives some trouble. It is like comparing an acorn to an oak tree. The parents will feel like their problems are being belittled, and they will feel even more alone.
2. Don't give advice on how to discipline unless they ask for it. Often with these children nothing, I mean nothing, works.
3. Don't judge their parenting.
4. Don't side with the child in trying to get what he wants, or to defend him against the parents.
5. Don't help the child to get around rules set by the parents.
6. Don't say, "He is such a pleasant boy. He seems to be so stable. I don't understand why you are having trouble with him. He's not that bad."
Now some dos.
1. Listen with sympathy. You may not be able to understand completely, but admitting that is encouraging. It shows that you recognize the problem.
2. Support the parents in any efforts they are making.
3. Babysit the problem child, or take him on an outing, to give the parents a break.
4. Show love and acceptance to the child.
5. Pray for and with the parents.
6. Support the parents in any treatment decision they might make. It is very hard to give you child over to a treatment facility, but then to be criticized for doing so really hurts.
Summing it up, the main thing the parents need is a chance to talk without being judged, support in their decisions, and a break once in a while.