Part V-Modifying the skills to your RAD child
The Smarter Parenting social skills work with all children regardless of age, gender, IQ, and/or mental health disabilities. Just like you wouldn’t read a Stephen King novel to your toddler, or make your teen watch the magic school bus, the Smarter Parenting skills should be adjusted and used in a way that will be most helpful to children with Reactive attachment disorder (RAD).
Here are a few suggestions to adjust the Smarter Parenting skills to children with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
For several different reasons, children with RAD can have a difficult time receiving compliments and praise.
Here are a few-
1) If they have been REALLY hard on a parent and they feel guilty about it they may reject praise from a parent because they feel ‘unworthy or undeserving’ of the praise.
2) They may not believe the praise is genuine and think that you are lying in order to manipulate or coerce them.
3) RAD children often struggle with self-esteem and self-worth and hearing praise or acknowledgement can be awkward and uncomfortable for them.
Teaching them how to appropriately accept praise and compliments is truly helpful. Teach them that it’s okay to say “okay, thank you” instead of rejecting or arguing with the praise.
Make sure that when you do choose to praise that it is sincere. They are masters of detecting the BS and will know if you mean it. Try not to ‘overdo it’, meaning you don’t need to throw them a party for cleaning their room or putting their dishes away. The description of the positive behavior, followed by a brief reason describing why the behavior is appreciated or why they should do it again is plenty.
Example: “Hey Mike, I noticed you put your dishes away without being asked. Thanks buddy. That shows me you are responsible and I can count on you.”
Exposure to physical touch
Parents naturally want to use physical touch as a way to show their love and appreciation towards children. It’s common though that children with RAD struggle with physical touch. .
Be aware that physical touch is often uncomfortable and not enjoyed. Slowly expose to them to small touches i.e. a pat on the back, a hand shake, a high five, give them time to warm up to these touches before moving in for the dreaded ‘hug’.
Given the fact that there is a strong internal belief that these children are unloved, ‘getting in trouble’ can often add to this deeply rooted personality trait.
When using Correcting Behaviors it is important that a parent uses gentle quality components. Quality components are the non-verbal language that we communicate with. i.e. eye contact, smiling, facial expressions, gasps, sighs, body language, eye rolling hand wringing, and fist clenching-to name a few.
Children are master observers and communicators through body language. If they hear that they ‘aren’t in trouble’, or ‘that their parents aren’t mad at them’, yet the parent is clenching their fists, grinding their teeth, and unwilling to make eye contact, this will be a further confirmation of their belief. Often our body language shares a different message than our words do.
This takes practice, but our body language has to be congruent with our verbal language.
The skill of Correcting behaviors is set up to teach the child what they did wrong, offer an alternate, more positive replacement behavior, give a consequence, and then give them a chance to practice the new behavior several times throughout the day.
If during the ‘giving a consequence’ portion of the skill, the child sees a parent who is seething with disgust, they won’t be motivated to change, or feel the need to practice the new alternate behavior.
Preventive Teaching is the tool where parents take several moments throughout the week to teach their children social skills or positive behaviors that seem to be missing.
This is my all-time favorite skill because it allows parents to teach children how to avoid future problems, as well as prepare them with confidence to handle difficult situations.
Like most children, RAD children earn consequences… a lot of them. Through the skill of Preventive Teaching you can teach a child ‘how to accept a consequence’ and not make things worse. For example, during a calm time it’s suggested to pull your child aside and teach them how to handle situations when they are in trouble. Teach them that arguing, fighting or shutting down after earning a consequence only adds to the consequence and makes things worse.
Instead of having one consequence for misbehavior, they might end up with two or three because of how they responded to feeling angry. This saves them a lot of frustration and you a lot of extra de-escalating.
When working with children with RAD, I find it most helpful to teach them how to accept consequences and how to build relationships of trust. Take time to teach them how relationships work, how to show appreciation, or being trustworthy. After you’ve explained it, take additional time to role play with them. By showing them how to build relationships and not further burn bridges, they learn how to build trust and show love, which doesn’t come naturally for them.
Role play trust building activities and how they know that they feel loved and cared for.
Preventive Teaching can be set up in a way that children are motivated to learn and use the skill. See the link below.
Phrases like, “I love you” and “I’m here for you” go a long way. Especially after going through the Correcting Behaviors dialogue, it’s important to end with an affirmation statement closing the interaction with “I love you and I’m here for you.” This communicates to the child that you are committed to them.
Take time to listen to them when they choose to talk to you, these may be rare. Don’t take them for granted.
Side note: sometimes I hear parents say “I STILL love you.” This can lead to major miscommunication.
The word “still” denotes that there is a time frame involved. What the parent is trying to say and what’s being interpreted by the child can be totally different. What the parent is trying to say is ‘regardless of what you just did to me, hit me, kicked me, insulted me, I STILL love you.”
This sounds great and parents have great intentions. What is being heard is “I STILL love you…for the time being and am not ready to give up on you yet.”
I suggest omitting the word ‘still’, and keeping the rest. These affirmation statements sound like-
“I’m here for you. I love you because you’re part of our family. I will love you today, tomorrow, and the day after that.”
Watch the video clip below for more tips and suggestions.
That’s a wrap
I am a huge believer in the Smarter Parenting skills and have used them with my three children, with over 100 different foster children, and taught them to dozens of parents who have children with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
I know that this particular disorder can be EXTREMELY challenging and I’ve had my own frustrations during difficult times when children are raging, hitting me and insulting me. During these times the Smarter Parenting skills give me confidence and assurance that with patience and consistency, the child will turn things around, and the dynamic and relationships of the family will improve!
Use the skills! Practice them with your spouse, practice them in the mirror, but the important thing is to PRACTICE.
I know they will make a difference in your family, I can say that with confidence. You know how a doctor will confidently say “You want to be healthy? Eat more vegetables, work out more, and get some rest.”
I can say with confidence that if you use these skills consistently, keep adjusting them as they grow up, and if you ask for help when needed your child’s behavior and your relationship will improve. If you’ve taken the time to come on to our website, read a few blogs and watch our videos, you are clearly interested in being a more effective parent.
Take the next step! Practice the skills, use them with your children and then let us know if you have questions.
They have worked with thousands of families and they will work for you too.