This could be me writing, except we only have two. It was so true to life I had to stop reading twice. *Breeeeeeeeaaaatthewhooooosaaaahhhhh*
Check it out:
During college, a bunch of us gathered around the ancient donated television every week to watch Mulder and Scully try to catch each other—I mean, try to catch aliens. Anyone who watched the show knows the tag line…
Unfortunately, wanting to believe is not the same as having the ability to trust.
Our boy has had a rough time, both at home and at school, since Dad passed away.
His Asperger’s (don’t tell me Asperger’s is not a thing…it’s a thing, DSM-V be darned) daily rears its head with tics and social ineptitude and difficulty communicating. Our ten-year-old is impulsive beyond belief and often behaves like a five-year-old. A five year old with moments of clarity in which he communicates like a forty-five-year-old…
Children who have missed certain phases of life may regress, especially in times of emotional upheaval. Remembering a college psych research paper on Erik Erikson, I found an article by Claudia Fletcher on the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) website. The site itself is very basic but presents excellent information.
The information isn’t new to me, but sometimes I need a refresher…and the best way to learn is sharing with others.
If your kid appears to suddenly lose his mind, perhaps he’s experiencing a missed stage. (Or, alternately, he’s simply lost his mind.)
Stage One: The First 18 Months
Ego Development Outcome: Trust vs. Mistrust;
Basic Strengths: Drive and Hope
“[E]mphasis is on the mother’s positive and loving care…[using] visual contact and touch. If we pass successfully through this period of life, we…[can] trust that life is basically okay and have basic confidence in the future. …[I]f our needs are not met, we may end up with a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and a [general] mistrust of the world.”1
Our kids did not have any of the above in their first eighteen months. Both have low self-esteem, and our boy in particular has an ingrained mistrust of every human he knows.
Research has shown us how important it is for children to attach. Even so, in the first year after placement, we new parents still make the mistake of dwelling on behaviors instead of attachment. Things can change if we view a newly placed children of any age as a newborn:
- Expectations. Can a newborn give back emotionally? Do chores like everyone else? Know how to have a reciprocal relationship? Of course not. Neither do older kids in a new family.
- Response. If expectation changes, so does the response. Instead of thinking a child is refusing to comply, assume she is unable to complete the task. This nurturing, teaching approach often nets better results whether a child is being oppositional or is truly incapable.
- Realizations. Until a child is attached, behavior will not change. If the child cannot bond with anyone, why would he want to please anyone? Too often adoptive parents expect compliance outside the context of a relationship. Without that relationship, however, a child has no incentive to behave better.
Our kids are not newly placed (we’ve had them over five years now) but our girl has not attached appropriately due to Reactive Attachment Disorder. Although our boy seems to have attached fairly well to us, he often seems unable to control his impulses.
To help children attach, learn to gently correct behaviors without over-reacting. Picture yourself as a new husband or wife trying to please the other and be genuinely attractive and worth attaching to. Long lists of rules and consequences that require consistent behavior management should not be the focus of this first stage.
As much as possible, create good feelings for the child whenever you are around. Use lots of laughter, pop a Hershey’s kiss in her mouth when she sustains eye contact, and give as much affection as she will allow. When the child misbehaves, stay calm and point out that the behavior is not appropriate while redirecting her to a new activity with you by her side. Actions and reactions like these promote bonding between parents and children.
Honestly. A Hershey’s Kiss, really? Not for either of mine, especially him…sugar sends him over the edge (yes, I’ve read the articles proclaiming that any perceived reaction to sugar is all in my head…and deemed those articles inaccurate per my in-person observation).
One of the most significant pieces of this stage in understanding hurt children is Erikson’s definition of hope: “enduring belief in the attainability of fervent wishes.”2 Recognizing that many children who enter care do not believe they can get what they want provides insight into their little hearts. With no hope and no belief in their own abilities, they are victims in a dim dark world. And, according to Erikson’s theory, the only way they can develop the ego quality of hope is to attach to another person.
This last bit hit me hardest.
Too often, our son can’t quite believe in hope.
He wants to believe but is certain that eventually the adults in his life will fail him—as they always did in the past. Birth parents, social workers, extended biological family members, foster carers…all eventually abandoned him, left him or outright abused him.
A few weeks after Dad died, our boy told me outright,
Sometimes I still can’t believe that you and Daddy won’t get rid of me. I want to trust you but…trusting is hard.
He wants to believe.
We just have to find a way to help him get there.
If you grew up in the TGIF generation (USA early 90’s), you might remember that theme song. In our house, the TGIF jingle signaled time to crowd in front of our little TV for Boy Meets World.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in my own show, Casey Meets World.
For five years and four months, I’ve searched for a way to reach our girl. We’ve powered through a trauma counselor, a mentor, a play therapist, outpatient counseling and in-home counseling. I’ve read every book recommended by every counselor, friend or acquaintance…and then some.
We’ve utilized an occupational therapist, speech therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, nutritionist, neurologist and several other “-ists.”
Three months ago, we descended to the proverbial bottom of the canyon to find rock. Rappelling without ropes, if you will.
She flat-out refused to do anything I asked, and in fact did the exact opposite of EVERYTHING. Her behavior was out of control in ways I won’t describe here, but if you’re experiencing RAD, know that you are not alone.
You’re not crazy, and neither is your child.
Primal need for protecting herself (or himself) runs unbelievably deep. However, when you find your family unraveling at the seams, underlying reasons for a child’s behavior don’t matter as much as the emergency of the moment.
By the time a family reaches the cold, dusty bottom of that deep, dark pit, all anyone can do is scrabble for purchase, trying to find a way back up crumbling walls.
We finally admitted to ourselves that our tween needed more help than we could provide and we had to consider a therapeutic setting outside the home.
Back to the beginning for a moment.
Upon the children’s arrival, I began re-reading books by a respected psychologist. As a teen (I was a little weird in choice of reading material for my age), several of his books helped me understand myself better. Nothing in the books worked for these kids. NOTHing. Finally, in absolute frustration, I emailed him, with a subject something like, “Help! We adopted two kids.”
I don’t remember the exact time frame, but shortly after I sent the email, my phone rang. His secretary asked, “Will you be at this number in twenty minutes? Stay by the phone.” And twenty minutes later, he called me.
I’m not one to be awed by position or title. I’ll chat up a CEO or a streetwalker with equal interest. Everyone has a story. Everyone is human. Nothing about who you are makes you more or less valuable than the person walking beside you.
However, I do recognize that people are busy. I’m a mom, a recruiter and a blogger, and I barely have a spare minute. As yet, I’ve never published, never been a sought-after speaker on radio and in person, never been the end-all authority voice about, well…anything. And I’m sure that’s not a definitive list of his responsibilities. I can’t imagine being that busy.
I was floored that he’d take the time to call a random individual, considering the hundreds of email he must need to sort.
He gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten.
Be clear with the child that you understand their motivation.
If you know they’re being disobedient so they’ll get the attention they crave, don’t be afraid to say,
‘Hey. I know you’re acting up because you need some attention. (Fill in the blank with behavior) will only bring negative attention. Do you want negative attention, or would you rather ask me to spend time with you for a few minutes?’
Be open. Let the child know you’re aware of their game. Explain cause and effect, and let them know where the behavior will take them.
Following the above advice, we explained residential therapy to our girl. We showed her pictures of RAD Ranch (not the real name, but if I ever direct one, I am totally calling it that), where children with attachment issues live on a working farm, attend school and have physical consequences for bad behavior. If you act like a poopie-head, you might get stall-mucking duties. (And for those of you not well-versed in ranch speak, that means you’re shoveling poop.)
She didn’t believe us.
With crazy-impeccable timing, the director of said ranch rang our home phone at that moment. While I discussed our situation with him, I heard Hubby ask her, “do you know who’s on the other end of that call? This is no joke.”
Returning from the call, I explained a few of the details to Hubby, in front of our daughter. She watched our conversation, head swiveling as though viewing a tennis match, as we took turns discussing pros and cons. Finally, we turned to her.
I can’t figure out how to reblog this page, so here’s the link. Her blog is fabulous and this link sends you straight to a bunch of great books and resources.
Click below for the
Many thanks to Art Becker-Weidman for allowing me to copy directly from his website. This is one of the most thorough descriptions of RAD I’ve found online.
An Overview of Reactive Attachment Disorder for Teachers
If a parent has given you this to read, you are teaching a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The family of this child has apparently decided to share this information with you. That sharing is a big step for this family and one you have to treat gently and with the respect it deserves.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is most common in foster and adopted children but can be found in many other so-called “normal” families as well due to divorce, illness or separations. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) develops when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life. It is causes by early chronic maltreatment such as neglect, abuse, or institutional care. The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help. The child whose parent(s) are more involved in getting their next drug fix than they are in nurturing the developing child learns that the child’s needs are not primary to the caregivers. Children born of drug or alcohol addicted parents learn even in the womb that things do not feel good and are not safe for them. In severe cases, where the child was an abuse or violence victim, the child learns adults are hurtful and cannot be trusted. The child with RAD may develop approaches or “working models” of the world to keep the child safe. The child may try to control a world the child experiences as dangerous if not controlled by the child. Without therapy child with RAD may not develop the attachments to other human beings which allow them to trust, accept discipline, develop cause and effect thinking, self-control and responsibility.
Children with RAD are often involved in the Juvenile Justice System, as they get older. They feel no remorse, have no conscience and see no relation between their actions and what happens as a result because they never connected with or relied upon another human being in trust their entire lives.
What you may see as a teacher is a child who is, initially, surprisingly charming to you, even seeking to hold your hand, climbing into your lap, smiling a lot, you’re delighted you are getting on so well with such a child. At the onset of your contact with the child who has been reported from prior grades as “impossible” you will wonder what those previous teachers did to provoke the behaviors you have not (yet) seen but which are reflected in the prior grade reports. A few months into what you thought was a working relationship the child is suddenly openly defiant, moody, angry and difficult to handle; there is no way to predict what will happen from day to the next; the child eats as if he hasn’t been properly fed and is suspected of stealing other children’s snacks or lunch items; the child does not seem to make or keep friends; the child seems able to play one-on-one for short periods, but cannot really function well in groups; the child is often a bully on the playground; although child with RAD may have above average intelligence they often do not perform well in school due to lack of problem solving and analytical thinking skills; they often test poorly because they have not learned cause-effect thinking. In addition, having experienced at an early age that nothing they do matters, they do not “try” or put in effort; why try when what you do has not effect?
A child with RAD may climb into your lap and pretend to be affection starved. Children with RAD may talk out loud in classrooms, do not contribute fairly to group work or conversely argue to dominate and control the group. Organizational abilities are limited and monitoring is resented. There may be a sense of hypervigilance about them that you initially perceive as no sense of personal space and general “nosiness”. They seem to want to know everyone else’s business but never tell you anything about their own. There is no sense of conscience, even if someone else is hurt. They may express an offhand or even seemingly sincere “sorry,” but will likely do the same thing again tomorrow. They are not motivated by self or parental pride, normal reward and punishment systems simply do not work.
They may omit parts of assignments even when writing their names just so that they are in control of the assignment, not you. This stems from a deep feeling that adults are not to be trusted, so the best strategy when you don’t trust someone may be to not do what that person asks you to do. When assigned a seat they may choose an indirect, self- selected path to reach the seat. When given a certain number of things to repeat or do, they often do more, or less than directed. They destroy toys, clothing, bedding, pillows, and family memorabilia. They may blame parents, siblings, or others for missing or incomplete homework, missing items of clothing, lost lunch bags, etc. They may destroy school bags, lose supplies, steal food, sneak sweets, break zippers on coats, tear clothing, and eat so as to disgust those around them (open mouth chewing, food smeared over face).
They may inflict self-injuries, pick at scabs until they bleed, seek attention for non-existent/miniscule injuries, and yet will seek to avoid adults when they have real injuries or genuine pain. These children have not learned how to seek and accept comfort and care from caregivers because their early experiences have taught them that adults don’t care. Children with RAD may have multiple falls and accidents and frequently complain about what other children have done to them (“he started it!”, “Suzy kicked me first”). Children with RAD can walk around in significant physical pain from real injuries and may minimize the injury until it is detected. They may not wipe a running nose or cover a mouth to sneeze or conversely will overreact or exaggerate a cough or mild illness. They often have not had experiences of being taught in a loving responsive manner how to wash, bathe, brush teeth, and engage in other self-care activities.
They are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations. If they are in control they feel safe. If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to be hurt because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth. Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions (“Do I get a drink any time today?”). They have one pace – theirs. No amount of “hurry up everyone is waiting on you” will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are. Need the child to finish lunch so everyone can go to the playground. Need the child to dress and line up, the child may scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further. Five minutes later the child may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions. Again all these behavior are NOT intentional. The behaviors are the result of having experienced significant early chronic maltreatment. These early experiences have created an internal working model of the world and relationship that mirror those early experiences and which are projected onto current relationships.
You can begin to understand what this child’s parents must face on a daily basis. The parents are often tense; involved in control battles for their parental role every minute they are with the child, they adopted the child thinking love would cure anything that had happened to her before the adoption. They have only recently learned that normal parenting will not work with this child; that much of what they have tried to do for years simply fed into the child’s dysfunction. They are frightened, sad, stressed and lonely. Many feel unmerited guilt for their perceived “failure” with this child. The mothers often bear the brunt of the child’s actions.
It takes a tremendous amount of work and therapy to turn these kids around so that they can experience real feelings and learn to trust. Parents who have embarked on this healing journey for their child need support and consistency from other adults who interact with the child.
What can you do as a teacher? CALL THE PARENTS. Have them in to talk with you about this issue. Call them and talk about what you see in the classroom and ask if they have any other strategies for managing things. Parents who are in counseling and therapy with this child will eventually open up to you and you’ll all be able to help the child get healthy or at least not contribute to his dysfunction.
Parents will tell you if time is precious on a particular occasion due to ongoing therapy, or whatever, don’t feel put off or shut out. They will talk to you when they have time and time is one of the things parents often run out of as they work desperately to save their child’s future. The therapy and home parenting techniques are exhausting and time consumptive. Try to respect that if it seems they are not focusing on your goal of home or class work. Do not trust schoolbag communication or expect things sent in a “communication envelope” to be as complete as when they left the school with the child. Use the phone, e-mail, and regular mail – it works.
Don’t feel you need to apologize if you have believed this child and blamed the parents. If they have given you this information they already trust you and do not blame you for not having the information you needed – likely they only just recently got it themselves. Make it perfectly clear in your interactions with the child that you will take care of the child and the classroom or activity. Remind the child, unemotionally but firmly, that you are the teacher, you make the rules. You can even smile when you say it if you can get the “smile all the way up to the eyes”, just remember to get the child to verbally acknowledge your position. Do it every day for a while, and then use periodic reminders. Insist upon use of titles or prefixes (Miss Jane, Teacher Sarah, Ms. Philips), they establish position and rank. Structure choices so that you remain in control (“do you want to wear your coat or carry it to the playground?” “you may complete that paper sitting or standing”, “you may complete that assignment during this period or during recess”). Remember to keep the anger and frustration the child is seeking out of your voice. Try to “smile all the way to your eyes” if you can, otherwise simply stay as neutral as you can. Structure and control without threat.
YOU ARE NOT THE PRIMARY CAREGIVER for this child. You cannot parent this child. You are the child’s teacher, not therapist, nor parent. Teachers are left behind each year, its normal. These children need to learn that lesson.
Establish EYE CONTACT with this child. Be firm, be consistent, and be specific.
Try to remember to ACKNOWLEDGE GOOD DECISIONS AND GOOD BEHAVIOR
CONSEQUENCE POOR DECISIONS AND BAD BEHAVIOR. Poor decisions and choices like incomplete homework, wrong weight jacket for the weather, also need to be acknowledged (“I see you didn’t complete work from this activity period. You may finish it at recess while the other children who chose to finish their work go outside and play.”) Nothing mean or angry or spiteful – it’s just the facts. Remember they have difficulty with cause and effect thinking and have to be taught consequences. Normal reward systems like treats and stickers simply do not work with these children. Standard behavior modification techniques do not work with this child.
Consequencing is a good teaching technique– there is a consequence associated with each good behavior, each poor behavior – teach them what those consequences are – they will not think of or recognize them without your direction.
BE CONSISTENT, BE SPECIFIC. The child with RAD may be “good” for you one or two days or even weeks and then fall apart. This is normal. No general compliments like “you’re a good boy!” or “You know better.” Be specific and consistent – confront each misbehavior and support each good behavior with direct language. “You scribbled on the desk – you clean it up”, “You hit Timmy, you sit here next to me until I decide you may play again without hitting.” “You did well on the playground today, good for you!” “You completed that assignment, that’s a good choice!” Be positive when you can.
This NATURAL CONSEQUENCES thing is important. Do not permit this child to control your behavior by threatening to throw a tantrum (let him, out in the hallway or in another room -“You can have your tantrum here if you choose to”), “I see you’ve wet the rug, here is a rag and bucket to clean it up”, or puttering around doing his own thing when it delays the class’ departure for a planned activity (“I see you’ve not gotten ready to go, you can wait here in the supervisor’s office until we get back”).
Time-outs do not work for these children – they want to isolate themselves from others. Bring the child near the activity he has had to be removed from and have them stand with or sit in a chair along side you. It’s called a “TIME-IN.” If you can take the time, speak quietly about how much fun the other children are having and how sad it is that she cannot join in right now. No raised voices, no anger. Don’t lose your temper if you can avoid it; remember he is manipulating you to do just that. If you are going to lose it, seek assistance from another adult until you are back in control of yourself.
RESPONSIVE, ATTUNED, EMOTIONALLY ENGAGED INTERACTIONS with this child. It is very important that this child experience positive regard and that the child is good, even is the behavior is not acceptable. This helps the child move from feeling overwhelming shame to experiencing guilt.
SUPPORT THE PARENTS. The child who is losing control at home and in the classroom because folks are “on to him” will get a whole lot worse before he gets better. Listen appropriately. Absolutely redirect this child to parents for choices, hugs, decision-making and sharing of information you believe is either not true or is designed to shock or manipulate you. Follow up with the parents.
REMAIN CALM AND IN CONTROL OF YOURSELF. No matter what the child does today. If the child manages to upset you, the child is in control, not you. Remove yourself or the child from the situation until you are able to cope. The child may push your “buttons.” But remember, these are YOUR buttons and it is your job as a professional to disconnect the buttons so that pressing them has no negative effect.
If your classroom is out of control because of this child, get help. Many school counselors and administrators have not had exposure to the RAD diagnosis or how to handle it in schools. There are many resources available. Don’t give up. These children are inventive, manipulative and very much in need of everything you can offer to help them get healthy. Remind the child you will be speaking with her parents on a regular basis. Report to the child’s home as often as you can without feeling burdened by the effort. Expect notes to be destroyed. Use the phone. If you do not get a response to written communication and the parents seem to be out of touch with general information, do not blame them. Chances are they never got the message, never saw the right number of papers and have no clue what is going on because that is just how the child likes it. It takes control from the parent. Give it back by communicating directly whenever possible.
This child can and will be helped to get healthy and you can be a part of that process with the right tools. Keep in touch with the family. Remember that what you see in school is only the tip of the iceberg – family life is terribly threatening to these children and what the parents have to deal with every day is nearly unimaginable to other uninformed adults. Blaming the family or failing to communicate with them adds to the dysfunction and puts the child at greater risk of never getting healthy. This child is learning in therapy to be respectful, responsible and fun to be around. It will take time, it will be an effort, if in the end it is successful it will be because the adults in her life were consistent and the child decided to work in therapy. Your contribution as his teacher cannot be underestimated or undervalued – his parents will be grateful for the support and the therapist will have fewer inconsistent venues to sort out while helping the child to heal.
BOOK AND RESOURCES
Creating Capacity for Attachment, Edited by Arthur Becker-Weidman & Deborah Shell, Wood ‘N’ Barnes, Oklahoma City, OK, 2005.
Attachment Facilitating Parenting video/DVD. Center for Family Development, Arthur Becker-Weidman, Ph.D., 5820 Main St., #406, Williamsville, NY 14221
Building the Bonds of Attachment, 2nd. Edition, Daniel Hughes, Jason Aaronson, NY, 2006.
Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
(c) all rights reserved
Dear Miss Stacey,
You have hit the jackpot. I say this without sarcasm or irony. My daughter is every teacher’s dream.
At times, she will hang on your every word. She will work to keep her classmates in line. Will absolutely follow every directive and do everything you ask with a smile on her face. If you need extra help in the classroom, she’s your girl. She will do everything in her power to ensure you see her as the sweetest, brightest, most charming child.
And for the most part, she is that child.
When I tell you she refused to do her homework, you’ll eye me with suspicion.
When I describe how she pretends not to understand simple math calculations, it will sound like delusion. Especially after you watched her complete the work easily with you.
When I explain that we’re late to school because she intentionally poured a cup of water down the front of her outfit just before leaving the house, you’ll assume I’m crazy.
Her charming, adorable—angelic, really—demeanor will belie every detail of any stories I might share with you.
But I’m not making it up.
In the beginning, she truly will be your ideal, perfect student. This may last well past Christmas if you’re lucky.
Once the school honeymoon has worn off and she begins to recognize you as an authority figure, you will likely begin experiencing RAD.
This doesn’t mean you won’t still enjoy her. Her third and fourth grade teacher (she looped with the class) absolutely loved her. But she was fully informed about the RAD symptoms and messaged or talked with me several times a week.
Last year, RAD manifested in the following ways:
Wandering into class late or at the last minute (even though she was dropped off on time)
Taking excessive time to get organized
Obsessive playing with items in her desk instead of doing her work
Dropping pencils or other materials
Multiple bathroom trips
Difficulty getting along with peers in more than surface interaction
Bossing or controlling other children (she’ll call it “helping” them)
Not reading or following the directions on assignments
Ignoring, daydreaming, “zoning out” during teaching
Sitting by herself and “looking sad” to get other kids to ask her what’s wrong (at which time she regales them with stories of her past and of being adopted)
These may sound like “regular kid” issues but are actually her bid to control her life…and your classroom.
A prime example of her determination to have control: she decided she “won’t” be good at math. Her refusal to learn endangered her ability to graduate 4th grade. We’re still dealing with this.
She’s willing to crash and burn
in order to live life on her own terms.
(RAD kids) are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations. If they are in control they feel safe.
If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to be hurt because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth. Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions.
They have one pace – theirs. No amount of “hurry up everyone is waiting on you” will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are… Need the child to dress and line up, the child may scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further. Five minutes later the child may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions.
-Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
(c) all rights reserved
Our girl is a beautiful, bright kid. She has the potential to do anything she wants in life.
Right now, what she wants is control.
We want her to have some control but she needs to learn she can’t control the people around her in negative ways.
We are working with a therapist to help her resolve her issues. She’s made slow progress in the five years with us. She may try to discuss this with you or other students in order to garner sympathy. If that happens, please remind her she can talk with us or her counselor but may not share life details at school.
A couple years ago, she convinced a teacher we were mistreating her and Social Services paid us a visit because the teacher called. If she says anything concerning, please ask the principal to call her counselor. School administration is aware of her situation.
Please don’t try to counsel her yourself; if you have any concerns (or if you see the behaviors listed above) please text or call me as soon as is convenient. I will be happy to work with you to find creative solutions.
Our goal is to show her that adults can be trusted to protect and care for her. We appreciate your understanding and willingness to work with us. It’s not easy.
Trying to help her develop trust is exhausting.
Someday, though, she’ll graduate. She’ll be a healthy, happy adult. She will succeed.
And you’ll be one of the people we thank.
We need adoption resources in Cambridge (UK). Urgent.
Support groups, services, mentors, counseling…specifically trying to find help for a child and support for the family. Experience with attachment, trauma and behavior issues would be helpful.
If you can help, please email me: Casey@hypervigilant.org and I’ll pass on the info to my friend.
Many thanks, in advance.
Our daughter harbors heartbreaking, heart-aching, anger toward her birth mother.
Thanks to a fun little disorder called RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, not the cool 80’s “rad”), most of that rage is directed at me. One of RAD’s hallmarks is misdirection of anger toward the person who most closely represents the individual who caused pain. Most children with RAD aren’t aware of what’s happening; it’s not intentional, and it’s important for the “target” to understand that most of the child’s behavior is not a personal attack.
In general, she presents as an almost perfect child and is great at surface interactions. Anyone outside our home or very close inner circle of friends would be shocked that she’s anything but an angel. I did not immediately realize she creates that image on purpose, so was taken aback the day she complained about a classmate who did not like her, stating, “but I’m so sweet!” If you’ve ever seen The Bad Seed (which, in an ironic twist, has always been one of my favorite classic movies), imagine Rhoda. That’s my girl (without the homicidal tendencies, thank goodness).
For much of our time together, she has repressed her true feelings. Sometimes she references “pushing the feelings down” or “keeping myself from coming apart.” Once, she told the counselor that she has “a line,” and she has to make sure she stays “below this line,” tracing a chest-high line in the air. If she feels herself getting “close to the line,” she removes herself from the situation and stays by herself for a while. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, she opens up a little bit; two years ago she told me, “it’s not fair that you get to see your mother.” This year, her play therapist suggested we try something different. I sat in the waiting room to see if she would talk freely without me. She told the therapist that she is angry at her birth mom. The therapist suggested that she write a letter.
Later that week, Hubby had our son elsewhere, so I asked if she’d like to write a letter. (We’ve made a rule not to discuss the bio family in front of her brother. He’s allowed to bring it up if he likes, but if she references them when he’s present–and not mentally prepared–he has a very negative reaction.) I told her it was just for her, and I wasn’t going to read it unless she decided to share it. She wrote her feelings in large, scrawled letters (she asked me to read it), stating, “I wrote messy because I am VERY ANGRY.”
Several other times, when her brother was away, either she or I have suggested letter writing. The letters have been shorter each time, but still very angry. This past Saturday, in addition to writing the letter, she wanted to talk as we sat in the kitchen. “Why did she get rid of me? Why was she so mean to us?” Still angry, her tone was plaintive. I don’t have good answers. Or any answers, really.
Social services told the kids their mother was unable to provide care because she was “sick,” which then made our girl feel guilty for not being able to be nurse for her mother. On arrival with us, the kids had convinced themselves that social services kidnapped them from their home, had “taken” them from their family. They hated social workers, police, judges and anyone in authority. The few answers I do have are ones I don’t want to give. “Your mother put herself first, neglected and abandoned you, wouldn’t do the few, easy things the judge ordered she must do to keep you and didn’t show up to what she knew was your final meeting.” No. I refuse to break their hearts further. I remained silent and let her talk, praying for the words to help her.
My eyes snapped to the cookbook shelf, and I had an idea. “So, you’re really angry, right?” I asked. “Yes, SO angry. She took my heart and did this,” she said, making a breaking-in-half motion with her hands. “So, do you think she knows that you’re angry?” I reached for my enormous Asian cookbook. She nodded. “She knows.” As I pulled the book down, I asked, “Do you think it’s hurting her back when you’re really mad?” She stood up, always interested in cooking. “Yes. It hurts her. What are you doing?”
I held the heavy cookbook out to her. “I want you to hold this over your head with both hands. Don’t let go, okay?” She took the book, eyeing me with suspicion. “So,” I asked, “how heavy is it?” She shrugged. “Not that heavy. I can handle it.” I smiled. “Great! So, that’s my cookbook. If I held it over my head, it would be heavy, but you’ve got it and you can handle it. Do you think you can hold it up all day?” Her eyes widened. “It might get heavy.”
“So, you’re holding the cookbook. Is it heavy for me?” I asked. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind. “It’s not heavy at all for you; you’re not holding it.” I smiled. Maybe this would work. I pulled out one of her Christmas stocking gifts, a sealed plastic candy cane full of chocolate kiss candies, and placed it on the table. “Okay. You can have as many of these as you want.” She gasped happily (candy is usually well-rationed at our house). She started to put the book on the table, but I held out my hand. “Wait. You can have as many of these as you want, BUT you must keep both hands on the book.” She narrowed her eyes, determined. “I can do that.”
I let her try for about two minutes. She attempted to use her elbows, her nose, her mouth. Finally, frustrated, she said, “I have to put the book down.” I smiled. “So. In order to get to the candy, you have to let go of the book, right?” She nodded. “I just said that.”
“Before you put it down, tell me this. Does it affect me one way or another if you’re holding the book?” Slyly, she said, “I can’t give you any candy unless I put the book down. So I should put it down and give you some candy, right?” I laughed. “No, I can get the candy, because I’m not carrying the book. So does it matter to me if you hold the book?”
I reached for the candy. Now she was annoyed. “No. It doesn’t matter to you if I’m holding the book. Are you going to eat my candy? That’s not fair.”
I didn’t want her to lose focus on the idea, so I said, “Okay. Put the book on the table.” As she did, I asked, “So, now you can get to the candy, right?” Ripping open the plastic cane, she said, “Yep.” Praying I wouldn’t lose her to the chocolate, I said, “You know, when we hold onto anger, it only hurts us. When you held my book, it didn’t make a difference to whether I could get the candy. It only kept YOU from getting the candy.” Her eyes held a spark of recognition. “You’ve been holding a lot of anger against your birth mom. Who is it affecting?” Her mouth dropped open. “Me.”
“Is it affecting her?” Mouth full of chocolate, she shook her head. “When we hang onto anger, it hurts us and keeps us from getting to the love,” I pointed to the chocolate kisses, “but it doesn’t affect the other person. It can make us have bad behavior, though, and sometimes we find someone else to treat badly when the person we’re really mad at isn’t here.” She squinted at me, not getting it.
“When you first came to live here, were you nice to everyone?” She nodded enthusiastically. I ask, “Were you nice to Daddy?” Nod. “Were you nice to your brother?” Nod. “Were you nice to me?” Nod–then, “Not really very nice to you.”
“Why do you think that happened?” Eyes wide, she said, “I was mean to you, but I wasn’t mad at you. I was mad at her.” Completely floored she made the connection, I continue, “Right. And I always knew you weren’t mad at me. That’s why I didn’t get mad back.” (Honesty here: even knowing her motivation, it was definitely a lot of work not to take it personally, and sometimes I still did, but I worked hard not to react.)
“If you keep holding the anger against your birth mom, will it hurt her?” She opened another chocolate, one eye on me. “No. It just hurts me.” She slid a foil-wrapped kiss my way.
“Right. That’s why God tells us to forgive. Forgiving is deciding to let go of the anger, like deciding to put the book on the table. He doesn’t want us to forgive so the other person will feel better. He wants us to forgive because holding the anger keeps us from being able to get–and give–love.” I picked up the chocolate. “Could you give this to me while you were holding the book?” She shook her head.
“Forgiving is hard. People have hurt me, too, and when it’s a really big hurt, I think about what happened and get mad all over again. But I have to decide to forgive them over and over, because if I don’t, I can’t love others the way I should, and I can’t get the love I need. You don’t have to forgive her today, but when you’re ready to decide to forgive, I know you’ll feel better.”
“I don’t know if I can forgive her yet,” she said, thinking (and unwrapping more chocolate). “I know,” I say. “Sometimes it takes time. But now you know what you can do to feel better.”
The next day, she hugged me. “Can I write a letter to tell her about what I got for Christmas? I’m not going to write a mad letter this time. I forgave her. I’m still a little mad, but I feel better.” I hugged her back, tight.
Blogger JoyRoses13 has a great quote, which I’m stealing: “Bitterness is the poison that we drink ourselves, hoping to kill our enemy.”
Who do you need to forgive? It’s time to put the cookbook on the table.
I have finally found the key to bonding with a RAD child.
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.
“THIS. IS. AWESOMMMMMMMMMMME!”
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.
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.
Yesterday my 11 yr old daughter (if you’re new here: she came to us 5 years ago & has Reactive Attachment Disorder), hugged me almost ten times of her own volition. Normally it’s tough to coax one hug.
Either she’s confused me for a barely-known acquaintance 🙂 or we’ve made some serious headway! Sooooooooooo excited.
Now I just have to figure out if there’s a trigger I can replicate. Most likely not, but if there is, you better believe I’ll find it.