Musings and Personal

NEVER Say These Things to the Parent of a Kid w/ RAD

-RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder.  You often hear about it with overseas adoptions as these children generally lived in orphanages and had to fend for themselves.  Put simply, the child hasn’t learned how to attach, and as a result is not attached to anyone.  These children have an excessive need for control and are either detached or will go off with anyone (or both).  Repeated abuse, neglect and inconsistent parenting causes it.

Please take a look at the Mayo Clinic webpage for further reading;

The following are things you NEVER say to a parent who has a kid with RAD:

1.  “My kid does that too” or “that sounds normal.”  THIS IS DIFFERENT

Every child wants control, true.  But a child with RAD needs constant control and will act out (tantrum, show aggression, etc.) if she* doesn’t have it.  She doesn’t act this way on a temporary regular basis, like a phase, but rather is the way she lives.  She is hyper-vigalent, removed physically and mentally, and always observing.

Example:  When my daughter was newly potty trained, we would remind her to use the bathroom otherwise she often had an accident.  This resulted in a tantrum and tears EVERY TIME we told her.

2.  “I understand how you feel.”  NO YOU DON’T

Blessed to have a therapist who knew to ask these questions

And, please, don’t act like you do.  Because at the end of the day, no matter how bad things have been, you know your child loves you and she knows you love her back.  Because RAD kids haven’t learned to attach, they do not know how to feel and process love. Affection, if they show it, is detached.  It often happens only because it is part of a routine.

Example:  My daughter says “good night, I love you too” even if I haven’t said good night yet.
Example:  My daughter shows spontaneous affection only when other people are around; it is an attention-seeking act.
Example:  My daughter holds her arms up as though shielding herself when I pull her in for a hug.
Example:  “Hi mom, I thought I’d say ‘good morning,'” while looking at our new cat as though I don’t exist.

3.  “You’re too hard on her.”  SHE NEEDS UNCONVENTIONAL PARENTING

First of all, if you say this, your unspoken words are “it’s your fault your kid acts out.”

RAD kids don’t like surprises and need routine to feel safe.  Any deviation from that routine causes one of two problems:

  • If you give her an inch, she takes a mile and then gets throws a fit when you won’t let her go two.
  • If you deviate from the routine, she acts out and regresses when things go back to routine later on.

Example:  When she went back to school after Christmas Break, she had issues every day for a week:  She cried because I told her to hang up her clothes; she was blatantly disobedient, sneering at me; she cried hysterically, as though she lost her favorite toy, when her sister broke a piece of her chalk; she had a kicking, stomping, screaming tantrum because I told her to read the directions on her homework.

superficial RAD4.  “She doesn’t act that way with me” or “I’ve never seen her do that.”  OF COURSE NOT

You are new and fun and don’t require anything of the relationship.  Your relationship doesn’t require intimacy and you don’t ask anything of her.  If you lived with us a couple weeks, she would act “that way” because you would no longer be novel.

Example:  My mother stayed with us a couple weeks when I was having problems with my heart.  The first week she was Grandma, the second week she turned into “Mean” Grandma (had to enforce rules, etc).  My previously affectionate daughter started acting less affectionate and more disobedient towards her. It was then that my mother experienced our daily challenges.

My daughter’s therapist said this is something you cannot truly understand until you have a kid with RAD or are frequently around a kid with RAD.  So even if not your intention, these four phrases are dismissive and demeaning.  They also imply you don’t believe a word of these struggles.  Please, simply listen and offer empathy.

Better yet, read my next blog post about helpful things to say to the parent of a kid with RAD.

* I say “she” because my daughter has RAD.

17 thoughts on “NEVER Say These Things to the Parent of a Kid w/ RAD

  1. Just want to say, I hate that the Mayo Clinic article you linked repeatedly states that RAD is a RARE condition! Not in my circles of adoptive parents. I was hoping to send that link from a renowned medical facility out to others, but I would have to dispute their claim of this being a rare condition when it applies to children who have spent time in foster care.


    1. Thanks for stopping by and reading my post. I hope it resonated in some way. Yes, RAD is very common in foster adoption but I suspect Mayo Clinic was referring to it being a rare occurrence in the general population.


  2. Thank you, I was beginning to think I was losing my mind. After a while you begin to question yourself and if the sky is orange or if you did give them their medicine. As my best friend said, it is so hard to be doing all the right things and still fighting the same battles day after day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, you aren’t! Or, if you are, I know a whole lot of people who are! 😉 Your best friend hit the nail on the head – it is discouraging!! Finding people who are going through the same thing has helped me greatly; feel free to visit my FB page and keep in touch.


  3. A good friend who has only two neurotypical kids, but takes the time and effort to understand my situation (and that of another friend she has, with a RAD kid) says, “It’s not the behaviors themselves, but the intensity, duration, and rapidity, that is the issue” (she’s a professor of nursing) I often tell people that. Yes, ‘all kids lie’ – but does your kid actually try to convince you that the sky is orange, and actually believe it themselves???” (because for some reason, that day, she needed it to be orange, and needed everyone to believe her, that it was!! And, NO, she was NOT joking – we think she actually thought, that if SHE declared it to be orange, it WOULD be, and everyone would believe her!!!!!) And then, the next day, look you right in the eye, and tell you she took care of her pull-up when it’s laying on the floor between you. (and she has no idea where that wet one, on the floor came from) and those two are just the two ‘whoppers’ of the day, there were innumerable other, ‘small’ lies all day long. And this on top of constant ‘gaming’ the system, and a complete and total lake of the ability to answer a simple question with a simple answer, and a complete and total lack of an ability to reason from behavior to consequences, and if she CAN make the connection, it was CERTAINLY someone ELSE’S fault that she did what she did. Yeah, you all get the picture… anyway, thanks for writing this piece, I shared it on facebook, in hopes of helping people understand the unique challenges that we RAD parents face.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing this on your FB page. With more education, hopefully we RAD parents will get more support from non-RAD parents, teachers, friends, etc.

      I know of RAD parents who have dealt with RAD kids who are violent, cruel to animals, and have many more tantrums and much worse acting out than my daughter. I am grateful each day that she is on the mild end of the RAD spectrum. However, her daily acting out, rooted in not being in control, is exhausting. WHEN she will learn these choices won’t get her anywhere? !!


  4. I actually had someone say “Why haven’t I ever seen her act out?” I REALLY wanted to say ‘because you’re not close enough to matter to her.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh – I get that one from her teachers all the time. 😦

      ‘… or close enough to scare her.’

      Thanks for commenting. We’re all in this together.


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