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Part IV- 5 parenting tricks for Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) children

Part IV- 5 parenting tricks for Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) children

Here are 5 tricks to raising your Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) child and help teach good behavior as well.

#1) Teach them about choices and consequences

A RAD child’s early history usually lack reliable, and predictable caregiving, which can make them see the world as a pretty fragmented place. People and things end up being compartmentalized in their mind rather than connected.

This disconnected view of the world, crosses over into a disconnect between their choices and long-term consequences with people. It’s useful to point out that behavior always comes at a cost. Using a positive behavior chart or another visual display shows them how their positive behavior leads them to a reward and stronger attachments. Practicing positive behaviors and rewards through role playing helps the child connect the behavior to their reward.


Example: A child who struggles to be honest, hasn’t likely given a lot of thought that lying has made it difficult for loved ones to believe them. In addition to simply pointing this out to them, role playing their choice to be honest with them several times with a positive reward attached at the end, helps make it stick. (The reward doesn’t always have to cost money-it could be the reward of having more trust and believability etc.)

Next- role play future situations where the child might struggle telling the truth. This makes the practice real and helpful. As these real situations arise and the child tells the truth, remind them of their ‘believability scale’ and how theirs just went up!


Like most other kids, RAD children lack the understanding of personal choice until it is taught to them.

Children must first recognize the connection between choices and outcomes, before they can grasp how their choices affect them- for younger children, repetition is a must!

RAD children need time and repetition to understand the impact of even the smallest of choices, before the concept begins to make sense.

Be patient and have fun- draw or set up a linked chain to teach important connection patterns such as thoughts to feelings, feelings to behavior, and finally behavior to outcomes.


Visual aids such as drawing, books, white boards, and puzzles can be used in order to reinforce the ‘connection’ concept.

Puzzles are an awesome way to teach children how each choice they make throughout the day is linked to several other choices. Ask them to put together a small 24-36 piece puzzle, then help them identify a few small choices they have to make in the morning and start by pulling out one puzzle piece. This puzzle piece represents a single choice and the next piece that fits the first piece represents another choice that is changed or affected by the first choice.

For example, the first puzzle piece might represent the choice to sleep in and not wake up on time. The next puzzle piece could then represent the choice of racing out the door not having time to eat breakfast, followed by getting to school only to find out they left their backpack at home, followed by being hungry during the first few classes at lunch, and then being in trouble for not having turning in an assignment… and so on until the puzzle has been completely taken apart.

The important part is allowing children to come up with each decision and how they are linked to other ones. If they come up with their own, not only does it show what they’re thinking about, but only makes it more likely that they’ll remember the connection in the future.

2. Affirmation statements of love and commitment

When a RAD child is angry or raging it’s important to use short key phrases to remind them that they are safe. Statements such as;

“Even though you hit me and kicked me today, I love you and will be here for you.” In the spirit of counter intuitiveness, this can be REALLY difficult.

However, these statements are really helpful to RAD children because you’re letting them know that you’re not going anywhere, that you’re committed and that they can’t drive you away.

When they feel afraid or scared, phrases such as “It’s okay” and “You’re safe” go a long way in helping them re-develop trust in adults and imperative to their secure attachment to you.

Sometimes when they act out, they may just be testing the limits of your love. This idea that children are testing your ‘love limits’ seems cold, calculated and completely unnecessary, but it’s true.

Reminding them of your unwavering commitment to them and your love for them strongly reinforces their attachment to you. Remember, the majority of children with RAD have developed self-defense mechanisms to protect themselves emotionally. These games or strategies they use have kept them ‘safe’ in their minds, and this aspect is deeply rooted in their personalities.

It’s very important then that regardless of a child’s behavior they feel safe. Each morning and night should start and end with a hug and a positive affirmation statement, again the key word here is …wait for it…REGARDLESS of their behavior.

While privileges and extra rewards should be conditional, a parents love and attention should never be tied to a child’s behavior. As hard as this is, especially after those REALLY challenging days, a hug and a “I love you and I’m still here” teaches them that they are safe and that someone does care about them.

3. Teach them about emotions

RAD children need to be taught about their feelings. Some of them are so disconnected from their bodies that they struggle to recognize emotions and feelings for what they are.

A popular activity among RAD parents is to take pictures of family members and friends making silly faces that depict all kinds of emotions. They then post the pictures on the computer or on a large chart and go through each emotion and funny face with the child. This helps the child recognize feelings in others and increases empathy and social awareness.

RAD children also need help in recognizing how the body physically responds to certain emotions. For example, seeing someone with clenched fists, a red face, and heavy breathing probably mean the person is angry. The feeling of uneasiness, nausea, or a ‘knot in the stomach’ might mean that they are nervous. These physiological symptoms are a good way to tell how a person is feeling.

One mother made her son a visual chart which included physical sensations that were linked to feelings. She reviewed these ‘signals’ or symptoms with her son a few times each week until he was able to identify them on his own and he could say “Mom, my chest hurts and I’m fidgeting, I’m feeling claustrophobic” or “my stomach hurts and is growling, I think I’m hungry”.

For younger a children, a simple face chart with a few dozen facial expressions is very helpful. Each face has a different emotion drawn on it and the child practices recognizing the facial expressions of anger, happy, sad, excited and scared.

Practicing in the mirror is my favorite way of teaching young children how to recognize emotions. They love seeing the goofy side of their parents AND they learn how to identify feelings by seeing their own facial expressions in the mirror.


4. Teach them the importance of eye contact

As long as a RAD child is not required to have regular eye contact it’s difficult for them to practice emotional recognition in others.

This can be a very difficult task and should not be forced on children when they are frustrated or already having a difficult time. Eye contact should be taught and encouraged first during the calm and non-confrontational times.

Learning how to “keep eye contact” is important for children as they are trying to assess the mood of those around them and more importantly it helps them feel attached and connected to others.

Here are a few tips for younger children-

a) verbally prompt or remind them to look at you

b) gently tap their cheek until they look at you

c) calmly wait to speak until they make eye contact.

d) once eye contact is made make sure to smile and have a pleasant face.

Remember, an underlying concern for RAD children is safety. It’s often safer to look away from parents than look directly at them. Make it a warm and pleasant experience. This will only increase the likelihood of them looking at you more often, while demanding eye contact by raising your voice with statements like “look at me when I’m talking to you” actually decrease the child’s desire to make eye contact and now they associate eye contact with arguing and conflict.

#5) Parenting is hard work and it should be, but don’t work harder on your children than they are working on themselves

This concept is much easier said than done and in all honesty, I’d be a hypocrite if I told you I did this all of the time. Simply put, we shouldn’t care more about our child’s problems than they do. When we do, it becomes OUR problem. . RAD children can be quite content allowing adults to carry the burdens of change and worry, while they continue their behavior. Genuine change takes time, patience and love. I think the phrase “it’s a marathon not a sprint” has more meaning to RAD parents than nearly everyone else.

Be careful not to take on their anxiety or their workload that is required of them to grow and attach to others.


Learn anything new? After you’ve tried these some of these suggestions, please comment below and let us know what you think! And check out these other parenting lessons also!

COMING UP NEXT: Part V-Using the Smarter Parenting Skills with RAD children