How to Bond when Your Child Won’t

I have finally found the key to bonding with a RAD child.

Abject terror.


Photo Credit: Martin Keamy Fanbase


Parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is a roller coaster.

After five years, we’ve attained what I consider a significant level of progress. She no longer voices thoughts of…uh…removing…me from her lifescape.

While still she displays obvious preference for Daddy, most of the angst directed my way these days appears more related to pre-teen hormones. I’ll take it.

During our first year, I bought a fresh coconut because the kids wanted to know what the inside looked like.

Those suckers are tough to open. I ended up outside on the patio trying to crack it with a hammer.

As I bludgeoned the nut again and again, doing my best not to hit my nose on the bounce-back, she began screaming,

Bash her head in! Bash her head in!

I looked up to see her staring at me. The chilling smile on her face disturbed me more than the words.

If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which has always been one of my all-time favorite oldies—there’s an ironic twist for you), you have a taste of what RAD parents experience.

We try to remember the audience when telling stories of our first years; the idea of a child standing over you in your sleep freaks some people. Go figure.

Hubby and I met another RAD family this weekend; we laughed about inviting people over for dinner and needing to retrieve the knives from lockdown in the master bedroom. Shook our heads over the crazy paradox of a child performing extreme levels of misbehavior specifically in order to get a consequence, which makes her feel safe. It’s a little mind-blowing. And exhausting, since it never ends.

Having someone understand is refreshing.

They’re still locking up potential weapons. We gave up ages ago, after realizing they can do just as much damage with everyday household items.

At this point, I think we’re beneficial enough to their daily lives that they wouldn’t actually harm us, although I’m pretty sure “the demise of that woman” is still a daydream theme on occasion.

A couple years ago, as we had a pre-bedtime snuggle, my son wrapped his arms around me, tucked his head into my shoulder and said sweetly,

Mama, I love you. I’m sorry I wanted to lock you in the house and burn it down when we first got here. I would never do that now.

Warms a mama’s heart.

Our son has definitely bonded with us since the adoption day (3.25 years ago) and says he doesn’t even want to think of the “other” family anymore. Our daughter is still a work-in-progress. Her level of anger makes sense (she’s two years older and has more trauma).

Every time we make an advance in our relationship, she freaks out and pushes me away again.

This cycle is very typical of RAD kids. I know about RAD, I understand the reasons for RAD and I even learned about RAD long before we had the kids. I’m cognitively prepared.

Emotionally, not so much.

The constant push-away is wearing.

My honey-badger self-preservation instinct kicks in sometimes. Don’t-care-don’t-care-don’t-care.

But not caring doesn’t work well when you have broken kids. I have to allow myself to be vulnerable in order to reach her.

I’ve been praying for a tender heart and an opportunity to connect. This week, we found affinity in two very opposite and unlikely places.

First, that comment about abject terror—not kidding.

Our family went to an amusement park and I bribed her with ice cream to ride a coaster with me. Halfway through an insane loop, I looked over (hoping she hadn’t passed out). She was screaming but I couldn’t hear the words until the coaster slowed a little.


As we exited down the ramp after our ride, she leaned against me. I checked her face, looking for signs she might fall…or puke. Nope, just a hug.

On the next ride, as we zipped down a steep hill, she grabbed my hand and held on tight. For the whole ride.

Walking down the ramp, she proclaimed, “I rode with you, so now you have to ride the drop-tower with me.”

My aunt would call this poetic justice. Years ago, she and my uncle took me to MGM Studios and I dragged her onto the Tower of Terror. Twice. She’s an excellent auntie.

I love roller coasters but I’m no longer a fan of straight-up heights (and now have even more appreciation for my aunt).

The drop tower ride takes a slow haul straight up something like twenty stories with plenty of time to peruse the landscape and imagine my broken body on the asphalt below. Then, after moments of suspense, hydraulics release in a fast-rush drop to the bottom.

During the excruciating rise, my daughter asked with a sly smile, “Do you like it? It’s really high, isn’t it?” She’s perfectly aware of my height-a-phobia. I admitted that heights aren’t my thing, but she rode the coaster with me and fair is fair.

Sometime after that ride, she started walking with an arm around my waist.


Then, a few days later, she approached with a knitting kit, a gift from my brother.

Quick backstory: my mother-in-law once attempted crochet lessons for me. I proved inept. She gave up. 

“Can we learn how to knit?” She handed me the inadequate directions. I attempted to follow the whomever-wrote-these-did-not-speak-English instructions. Even the diagrams made no sense.

Thank God for Google. In case you want to learn knitting:

After about 15 minutes, we had both learned how to cast on and work the knit stitch. Later that day, we visited a flea market. I found a second set of needles so we could practice together.

Our work is uneven and I’m not really sure what we’re making but we’re progressing.


Photo Credit: Casey Alexander

Knitting is the polar opposite of riding a roller coaster. And yet, it had the same effect.

Tower of Terror Aunt happened to be visiting during the knitathon. I voiced surprise that the thing our girl and I finally found in common was knitting. 

My aunt pointed out,

It’s something you had to learn, too. You’re not already ‘better at’ it.

I realized she was correct; our girl constantly moans about how she’s “not good” at things—mostly thing she hasn’t tried or hasn’t practiced—and how everyone else is so much “better” at whatever she’s attempting.

She finally feels we’re on even ground.

So, the key to connection is finding things I suck at.

Stop your snickering. Yes, I realize this might not be a difficult proposition.

In other words, if I haven’t tried or can’t do it well, she and I can try it together.

Three days in, she expressed a little angst about how I was “getting so much better” than she was (after I’d practiced all day while she played in the pool). Since then, my lack of practice is intentional. In spite of my competitive streak, I know I don’t have a need to excel at knitting.

I have a definite need to connect with my daughter.

Orchestrating our progression and allowing her to be “better” is a small sacrifice. Knitting together knits us together. (Sounds like a 1960’s cross-stitch wall hanging…)

I’ve started making a list:

  • Cake Decorating (right up her alley).
  • Running (she’ll definitely be better at this).
  • Playing guitar.
  • Dancing (again, she’ll be better).
  • Ice sculpting (with a chainsaw—yeah, baby).
  • Skydiving (I might leave this one to Hubby).

I’m actually looking forward to trying new things with my girl. This will be fun.

Come to think of it, I’ve never been on a cruise…or gone to Aruba…or swam with dolphins in the open sea…or…ooooooh, Morocco…

Trouble connecting with your RAD kid? Try something new, together.

And if all else fails, there’s always the Tower of Terror. 








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 July 26, 2016, in Adoption, relationships and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. This is awesome!

    At our house, Middle will connect with me on something and then freaking sabotage it all to hell within a few days 😦 I hope this continues to work for you, and if it doesn’t, that you’ll find another activity to connect over!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lol, yep, same situation here. I’m guessing the trick might be to keep changing the “thing.” Her counselor says keeping a RAD kid “off balance” is important because it keeps her from getting enough of a handle on the situation to sabotage it. Constantly changing tactics is exhausting, but I guess it keeps us on our toes so…all that brain work fights the likelihood of Alzheimer’s, right? (I keep telling myself this…)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Awesome post!!! My heart smiles at how you are connecting with her and I want to hug you again after reading the little Honey badger thingy., oh what this has to do to a Mama’s heart. I know some of what you mean due to what my daughter is going through. Its tough,but as always you give great advice! And hey I’ll go on a cruise with you! No thanks to the skydiving tho! Too much of a wimp! LOL! But my friend did it and she absolutely LOVED it!! So hey Go for it! 🙂 Would make a great blog post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Exel post Casey, lots of tips for adoptive parents or nor. I would wait on the chain saw ice sculpture. I love watching them do the huge ones in competition. Sky Diving is a piece of cake. I’ve been to Aruba and would not go back if last place on earth. Do lots of research on the landscape, not much beach all rocks. The action is no differ than an other destination, Senior Frogs…..drinking and dring spot. Not much of quality that I saw. Gambeling is legal so I glued my self to a chair and four days there. I didn’t find the people welcoming which is unusual for a place who makes their money on customer service. I went in 2001, maybe it’s changed a great deal. I feel worse about Jamaica. Have a great day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, thanks so much for the travel advice! 🙂 Maybe I’ll change it to Rio. I’ve always wanted to see the city. What do you think of Brasil?

      Have you gone skydiving?


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