She’s Driving Me Crazy (Reactive Attachment Disorder)

How I feel on the inside.         Photo Credit: Greg O’Connell

Reactive Attachment Disorder SUCKS. (Sorry. Feel free to substitute another word that means “is horrible in every way and makes me want to shoot myself in the face.”)

So, we’ve made some progress in the last few weeks. I was already making some minor efforts (mostly guilt-induced) to connect with our girl before posting about my commitment to do better.

In the five days since, I’ve stepped up my game. Some of my tactics:

  • Look straight into her eyes when speaking with her (this is harder than it sounds)
  • Hug her or touch her shoulder every time she walks by
  • Hug her every time I feel like shaking her (this is harder than it sounds)
  • Listen to the nonsense chatter (this is a RAD thing)
  • Attempt to craft a conversation from the nonsense chatter
  • Spend time explaining homework that I know she can do alone
  • Be extremely clear and repeat directions
  • Make food she likes
  • Immediately praise/encourage when she does something right
  • Try to ignore negative behaviors or react as little as possible
  • Smile and remain calm

And it’s working.

It’s working because

  • she’s become incredibly rude to me
  • she disobeys me at every turn
  • she pretends to be sick
  • she spends time screaming

In the past, rudeness was subtle; muttered words or nasty glances. Now, she’s turned it on full-force. Previous disobedience was generally minor or “forgetting.” Now we have outright defiance. Sickness and screaming are behavior regression; I haven’t seen them at this level in a couple years.



During the month before arrival at our house, they lived with a respite family. I talked daily with the mother. This conversation happened several times each week:

Experienced Respite Mom: “Well, last night she screamed herself into a fever and threw up.”

Naive Casey: “Is she in bed with chicken soup?”

ERM: “Nope. She’s at school.”

NC: “Doesn’t the school have a rule about no school with a fever?”

ERM: “Uh, yeah, that’s if the child is sick. She’s not sick.”

NC: “But she had a fever. And she threw up.”

ERM (chuckling): “Yes, she did. Her temp was up because of the screaming. She threw up on purpose. She’s at school. You’ll learn.”

NC (thinks to self): Dang, that’s harsh.”


When the kids came to live with us, our girl told me that at their last placement (prior to respite), the family made her clean up her own puke.

What horrible foster parents, I thought.

NAIVE NAIVE NAIVE Casey: “Oh, honey, I promise you, that will never happen in this house. Every child throws up. Parents should clean it up.”


Then I found out she could hurl on command.

Yes, I know about bulimia. This was different.

She didn’t like a consequence? Regurgitate

Didn’t want a certain food? Toss the cookies. (Ok, not cookies. She likes dessert.) 

Hoping to skip school? Upchuck.

Have to do homework? Do the technicolor yawn

Holding to my promise, I never made her clean it up.

New foster/adoptive parents: promise NOTHING. “Probably” and “maybe” are your new favorite words.

On occasion, she took a break from chunder tactics. During refusal to perform a simple homework assignment, she began to scream.

I picked her up, carried her to her room and deposited her upon the bed. “You stay here. Let me know when you’re done screaming AND ready to cooperate with homework.”

She screamed for half an hour. I thought for sure she’d lose her voice.


As she became more comfortable with the routine at our house (and learned that consequences can be positive or negative—her choice), screaming and barfing waned, then disappeared altogether.

For the last four years, she’s directed her anger at bio-mom toward me. Like a laser beam.

She’s terrified of connection and is afraid that if she lets me in I’ll fail her, too. 

Once, when she first arrived, she spat,

“You don’t KNOW me. And you WON’T know me because I won’t LET you know me!”

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

She pushes me away, hoping I’ll leave her alone. And hoping I won’t.

I admit that she wore me down. For a while, I didn’t even want to be around her (although I tried very hard to never let it show). Over the past months, I’ve been working harder to connect and bond.

This week, I turned on the fire hose. She’s getting all kinds of love from me.

Here’s the thing.

RAD kids really DO want to connect, but are scared that if they allow themselves to be vulnerable, the adult will fail them. 

The unfortunate truth: most adults fail most kids at least once. I have failed both our kids, at times.

Since I’ve increased my intent to communicate love, her defenses are dropping. And rocketing skyward.

She wants to connect. She wants to let me know her.


But for a RAD child, connection = DANGER.

So, instead of returning the hugs like a typical child, she stands rigid. Sometimes she puts her arms around my waist, barely touching.

And she fights in every way she can.

Last week, she became “sick” when she didn’t want to do something. Her head ached, stomach hurt. Finally, I told her to stay in bed. Or, she could choose to join us but must stop complaining.

Because I wasn’t 100% certain she was faking, I took her temperature. Normal.

Five minutes later, she began calling me. The first time, I dropped by her room. “My head hurts,” she whined.

I told her to close her eyes and try to rest. Three minutes later, she was yelling again. I opened her door. “My stomach!”

Explaining that I had chores to finish, I told her to come get me if she needed something. I went upstairs. She started yelling.

I called down to remind her that she could come get me if she needed me, but I wasn’t coming back downstairs for a while. She started screaming. I shut my door.

Several of my RAD-experienced friends might say I missed an opportunity to bond with her by showing my availability to meet her needs. Unfortunately, we’ve found that whatever behavior gets attention becomes her “thing.”

If I ameliorate imagined aches, they become worse. Much worse. We’ve worked with several counselors; they agree we have to be vigilant about what behaviors receive attention

Half an hour later, she still screamed my name, which told me two things:

  1. She’s determined.
  2. There’s no way she has a headache.

I heard the clothes dryer stop. As I walked down the hall, I called, “Had to come downstairs to get the laundry. If you need me, come get me.”

She called, “My legs don’t work!”

This was new.

I bit.

Opening her door, I asked, “What?”

“I wanted to come get you, but my legs don’t work right now.”


“That’s too bad,” I said, “but you still may not scream. If you need me, come get me. If it’s an emergency, your legs will work.”

I went back upstairs. She started screaming. I put a movie in for our son, to drown it out.

When she finally stopped, I ran downstairs. “Hey. Just checking on you, now that you’re quiet. How are you feeling?”

She groaned. “Horrible. I think I’m very sick.”

“Oh.” I paused. “Too bad. You have that event tonight. We would need to leave in half an hour. But if you’re sick, you’re sick.”

She sat up. “I forgot!”

I started to close her door.

“Wait,” she said, “I think I’m better! We’re going to eat before we go, right.” It was a statement, not a question. I didn’t like her tone, but ignored it.

“Sure, if you’re hungry.”

She hopped out of bed. I went to the kitchen, heated ravioli and put about a quarter-cup in her bowl.

She sauntered into the kitchen and wrinkled her nose. “I can’t eat.”

I reminded her she’d “asked” whether we’d eat before leaving. In a petulant tone, she informed me she simply wanted to know whether we were going to eat; she didn’t want to eat.

I smiled (not on the inside) and said, “Well, that’s why I only gave you a little bit. Since you’ve been sick.”

“If I eat too much, I’ll throw up,” she said.

Oh, geez. This again.

“Okay, well, if you don’t think you should eat it, don’t. I have to run upstairs.” And I did.

Five minutes later, our son yelled, “I think she’s puking!”

Sure enough.

I put her back to bed.

“But we were going to my event!” she wailed.

“Right,” I said, “but you felt sick, and now you threw up. Sounds like the flu to me, and we can’t risk it. Stay in bed.”

She began to argue, but I stopped her.

“I’m not accusing you of anything, but you and I both know that you can choose to puke. I’m not asking whether you did, because it doesn’t really matter. If you didn’t, and you’re sick, you need to stay in bed. If you did make yourself throw up, you’re still staying in bed as a consequence.”

She huffed and flipped over.

Hubby arrived home, already aware of the situation. When he opened her door, she acted sick for about thirty seconds. Then, wrapped up in their conversation, she dropped all pretense. (Surprise: she wasn’t really sick.) He bade her an early goodnight. We didn’t hear another peep.

The next morning, she “had a headache” before school.

Hubby can always see right through her. “If you complain to your teacher even once, or if you go to the nurse, your afternoon activity is cancelled.”

I worried a bit that she’d be truly ill and try to power through instead of asking for the nurse. I imagined her passing out, falling out of her desk.

Those concerns? For nothing.

That afternoon, she bounced out to the car. “I had a great day! I didn’t feel bad even ONCE!”


Here’s the thing. RAD kids use negative behavior to push the “dangerous” loving adult away. When they start to feel connection, they push even harder in reaction.

When I told the counselor about our week, she said, “Congratulations! We’re making progress!”

And then she reminded me that this will probably continue for the next four years. It might get worse before improving.


I have to go…I think I feel a headache coming on. And I might throw up.

But in the meantime, I know you have a thought to share. How would YOU handle this? What’s worked for you?

If you want more information about RAD, the very first link in this post is a great place to start. 

About Casey

Adoption = my life. I'm determined to give my kids the chance they deserve. Adoption isn't always easy. I promise, you're not alone in this. Join me at - we're in this together.

Posted on February 26, 2016, in Adoption, mental health, parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Thank you . I found you because I googled reactive attachment disorder and throwing up food. I figured fake vomiting might not get me too far. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am all for the idea of a puke war. Just try to eat something purple first…I love this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oooooh, or eat a bunch of glitter…hahaha oh, that could be awful… I love yours, too! Did you put a link on the meet & greet? That way others can find you, too! 🙂 (March 3 post)


  3. I like the nano details of life with your girl. You are a Saint compared of the type of mother I’d make. I was confused, is she 8 and the boy older. I know gramps would say all little girls were sweet. I have proof, love to see his face after 30 minutes with her.
    I have a million questions, they have to wait, fourth night in row with no sleep.
    You can do but a miracle or close might happen if your Therapist would spend the day with her. I would grab my headphones and close the door. Who could put up with her screaming and throwing up routine? If visiting your house, I’ll bring a shovel to dig my grave, better than any super diva bitch crap.
    They will one day know who hard is was to raise them, could happen before she heads far away for college.
    I think of the struggle, it’s hard beyond a struggle.


  4. Oh the nonsense chatter! We experience this SO much! Why? Why is it a RAD thing? We also experience sweet in public, manipulative at home, sneaky, lying, and recoil from any hugs. It is HARD! Thank you for sharing this post!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, all of it…SO wish it would go away. We drove to a party today and the incessant talking—my eye was twitching by the time we arrived. 🙂 But I don’t want to tell her to be quiet because sometimes in all the mess she says something with meaning, and if I’m listening then sometimes we can have a few minutes of meaningful conversation. But yeah, it’s exhausting! 🙂 YOU CAN DO IT!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. PS In my opinion, the best tool for parents successfully dealing with RAD is developing a strong plan for self-care and a solid support system! Life can be draining as it is, even without cleaning up puke 5x a day or being trapped in a never-ending argument with an angry child.

    Adoptive parents are often wonderfully caring people who tend to focus on the wellbeing of others before themselves. It’s important to realize that not only is it good to take a break from time to time, it’s necessary if you want to help your child(ren) adapt. Kids need to see examples of positive coping skills and self-respect! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! YES, you’re right! The first two years it was difficult to leave them, but these last few years Hubby and I have managed to take a couple weekends away. We recently joined a gym with a kids’ program as well, which means that even during the summer or after school, I’m able to take a yoga class or get on the elliptical and know they’re supervised. It’s fabulous. Thanks for all you do!


  6. I spent the last 5 years of my life working with children affected my mental health problems and during one of those years I worked at an adoption agency. I fully admire your understanding of RAD, how complex this disorder can be, and your dedication to your daughter’s wellbeing despite the difficult behaviors she displays.

    It’s wonderful to know that you can empathize with your daughter’s inability to control her thoughts/ behaviors and that you are able to remain strong, patient, supportive and loving in the face of such challenges! Unfortunately, many parents lack your awareness and are unable to fully recognize the impact of early disruption to their child(ren)’s emotional developmental and mental state. Sending support and deep respect your way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for reading and for the support! I’m definitely not strong and patient every day, but I’m working on it with the grace of God! 😉 I hope that the posts will help others understand RAD a little better and—especially for new or “getting ready” adoptive families—help them be fully ready for what’s likely to come their way. If we can help just one family prepare, time writing this blog is totally worth it.


  1. Pingback: A Final Lesson From the BeTA Retreat: I really love my kids - Trauma Mama Drama

  2. Pingback: A Final Lesson From the BeTA Retreat: I really love my kids – Trauma Mama Drama

  3. Pingback: My Article Read (2-26-2016) – My Daily Musing

Add your opinion here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: