The Little Prince
              Surviving Life with Reactive Attachment Disorder

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Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Lack of Eye Contact   (Yet, will often will look someone DIRECTLY in the eye when lying.)
Lack of Conscience  (Will hurt others, yet there often doesn’t appear to be any remorse for what they’ve just done.  These children lack compassion for others and do not appear to develop healthy moral values just from having them modeled by their new caregivers. )

Resists Affection with Parents (RAD children often are known to push a parent away or become STIFF when the parents attempt to hug them or get close to them in any way.  Yet these same children might approach the parent and try to embrace them as a means of control to get something that they want.  These children are often manipulative, and superficially charming with strangers, and may even climb up into the lap of a complete stranger and ask for a hug.  They are known to accuse parents of abuse, or tell others that  a parent is depriving them of basic life necessities such as food, drink, etc… as a means of triangulating or getting sympathy from outsiders.  RAD children appear to lack the ability to give and receive genuine love or affection, and appear to resist all efforts of a parent who is trying their hardest to nurture and guide them.)

Feelings of Entitlement or Arrogance

Crazy Lying (The child will lie about the obvious – and seriously cannot seem to figure out HOW the parent knows that they are lying.)

Risk Taking

Hyper-vigilant/Hyperactive (May have a previous diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder due to hyperactive behaviors and a lack of impulse control.)

Intense Control Battles  (Child is often defiant, angry, and argumentative for the parent but outsiders may not ever observe this type of behavior.  Many times, an outsider might even think that the parent is exaggerating, or maybe even causing the child’s behavioral problems due to being over-controlling or from poor parenting.  Often the child will SNEAK THINGS in the home, even if the parent would generally say yes if the child were to ask for these things.  At times, the child will chatter non-stop, ask repeated questions about things that make absolutely no sense, mutter under their breath, or mumble words in an attempt to keep control of a situation.)

Bossy and Controlling (Usually results in poor peer relationships with same age children, but the child may appear to play well with younger children who can easily be bossed around or manipulated.)

Food Issues (Child may steal or hide food, eat strange things, gorge himself to the point of getting sick, refuse to eat, or even go as far as to throw away a school lunch and tell his teacher that his parents are depriving him of food.)

Intolerant of Rules and Authority   (Appears to be directed more towards parents or family members, but may also be directed towards teachers, babysitters, or anyone in an authority position who happens to be telling the child what he can and cannot do. Children with RAD do not appear to trust caregivers, or any adult authority figure.)

Incessant Chatter or Asks Nonsense Questions (The child sometimes appears to be talking just to hear himself talk, or as a means of gaining control over certain situations.  Sometimes the child will be very demanding or even clingy.)

Stealing (The child will often show up at home with items that belong to others, with unusual or suspicious stories of how they came to obtain these particular items.  School is a very common place to FIND these type of items and the parent and school must work closely to help get this problem under control.)

Destructive to Property (Often destroys his own or others’ property, punches or kicks holes in walls, and breaks his own toys or personal possessions.  Some parents have noted that their children appear to get a sort of  “darkness” in their eyes, as they become angry and enraged.  Some parents also report that their children get a look of self-satisfaction after destroying the personal possessions of family members.  Sometimes these children throw temper tantrums that last for several hours.)

Prone to Depression

Inappropriate Behavior (Quite often, violent or sexualized behaviors will be observed with these children.   These behaviors are often directed towards a parental figure (often the mother), as a means of pushing the parent away.   These children are extremely afraid of trusting/bonding with parental figures, and the behaviors often appear to be an unconscious attempt for the child to insure that he or she will always remain safe.  Many times, outsiders will not observe the severity of these type of behaviors, and may even question the validity of the parents as they attempt to make them understand the importance of monitoring these children at all times.  These children often appear to NOT learn from their mistakes, and despite the consequences…the behaviors continue over and over again.)

Self-Abusive/Abusive to Others (Many RAD children do things to cause physical injuries to themselves or others.   Again, these types of behaviors are more often observed on the home front and directed towards family members.   At times, these children appear to be VERY concerned about tiny injuries (hangnails, small scratches, etc.) yet, they often BRUSH OFF a serious injury (broken bones, cuts requiring stitches, etc) as if it’s not really a big deal.  Always be on alert with these children when they are with younger children or animals.  Children with severe attachment disorders have been known to cause great physical harm to others.   Some have even gone as far as to threaten family members with knives, or to kill a family pet. )

Sleep Problems  (Sleepwalking, Nightmares or Night Terrors, Bedwetting, etc.)

Fascinated with Fire, Blood, Gore,and Weapons (These children will often be seen drawing violent pictures, setting fires, or will be heard talking about blood and gore situations.)

Learning Difficulties (Speech and language problems, learning delays, etc.)

Triangulation of Adults (Pitting one adult against another.  This could occur with teacher and parents, therapist and parents, or even with one parent against another parent

***Please note that not all children with Reactive Attachment Disorder will exhibit ALL of the above symptoms. 

Causes Of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Disruptions in Care-giving (Multiple foster homes, multiple caregivers, multiple babysitters, frequent moves, etc. within the first three years of the child’s life. The result is a child who never seems to know WHO will be meeting their needs at any given time and never learns to depend on, or bond with one specific person.)

Early Abuse and Neglect (Usually within the crucial first three years of a child’s life.  The result is a child who develops poor cause and effect thinking because the child never learns the cause and effect concepts of, “I cry and someone feeds me” … “I’m wet and someone changes me.”   Children that are lacking that kind of cause and effect thinking have a really hard time trusting caregivers…bonding…and learning to love others.  If the child was physically and sexually abused at an early age, the caregivers will usually see some very disturbed and violent behaviors that may or may not be seen by teachers, neighbors, or anyone outside of the family unit. )

Separation from the Primary Caregiver (Hospitalization or any prolonged separation between the parent and child within those very crucial first few years of the child’s life)
Traumatic Experiences, parental depression, parental addiction to drugs or alcohol, a lack of attunement between parental figure and child, or a young or inexperienced parental figure with poor parenting skills.)

Today, psychologists and therapists are much more aware of the behaviors of an Attachment Disordered child, and to the tragic consequences that occur when a young child’s emotional and psychological needs are not met within the first three years of their life.   Unfortunately, many of these children who have been removed from a chaotic living environment and placed in a stable family environment will often continue to struggle.  Many of these children are emotionally crippled by the time they reach a loving home and will need to be re-parented, in an attempt to help them learn to bond and attach with their new caregivers.

To outsiders who do not understand what life is really like with these children, the new caregivers are often accused of being very overprotective and uncooperative.   They are often criticized, and sometimes even BLAMED for being the cause of their child’s difficulties.  Outsiders need to be very sensitive to the fact that RAD parents are going to be emotionally and physically tired, and sometimes extremely burned-out from time to time as the problem behaviors wax and wane.   Some of these parents may even appear to be a bit unreasonable or hostile towards outsiders on occasion, especially towards those who do not understand what they are dealing with or who might be ridiculing or questioning their unique methods of parenting these children.

If you know of a parent that is struggling to raise a RAD child, the best thing that you can do for this parent is to offer them your support and understanding.   You can also help the parent by reading and learning as much about RAD as humanly possible because these children can quickly become master manipulators, and are very good at triangulating the adults in their lives.  In fact, many of these children almost appear to be experts in charming an outsider into believing that they are nothing more than “sweetness and lace”… while their parents are “cruel and unreasonable.”   Sometimes these children become such good manipulators that they can even convince the father figure in the home that the mother is the one of the BIGGEST PROBLEMS in their lives.  This generally happens when the child turns on that sweetness and lace in the evenings when dad is home, but saves the controlling and aggressive-type behaviors for the times when he is completely alone with the mother.   If this kind of triangulation is allowed to continue in the home, it can cause serious difficulties within the marriage.   Experience has proven that a chaotic and disorganized marriage and household will produce even more anxiety to the child and will usually prove to be quite disastrous for all members of the family.

Although it is never easy to change these manipulative and controlling behaviors, the prognosis is much better for the families that begin treatment with the child at a very young age.  Yet, parents need to be aware that TRADITIONAL PARENTING is not usually the best approach to use with these children, even if it has proven to work in the past with your biological children.  There are many special considerations to take into effect as we parent traumatized children, one of them being that early childhood abuse and neglect not only affects the child’s behavior, but also affects the child’s psychological, emotional, and cognitive functioning.  These children will often appear much younger than their chronological age, and parents will usually need to take these children all the way back through those normal infant/toddler stages of development in order to help these children learn to trust them.  As much work as this is for the parent and family, many parents have found that repeating these very important stages is crucial to the well being of a child with severe attachment difficulties.  It is suggested that parents of RAD children seek out the help of a well-trained Attachment Therapist as soon as possible.  Preferably an Attachment Therapist that is familiar with re-parenting (not to be confused with re-birthing) and who is also experienced in EMDR and Neuro-feedback.  If you can find the right help and manage to provide your child with a nurturing and affectionate home environment, despite all of their desperate attempts to push you away; your child does have a chance of growing and healing.  If you can listen to your Attachment Therapist and be open to hearing some constructive criticism and new ideas in parenting…it is possible to find a way into the heart of your child.   It won't be easy... but it is definitely possible.

Even with all of the stress, sweat, tears, confusion, and hard work that it has taken to raise my son these last ten years, I can honestly say that there are many days that I have truly found this experience to be rewarding, as well as challenging.  I love my son, and with the right help... I have seen him take some tremendous steps forward.  In fact, my only regret is that someone didn’t educate me about RAD in my son’s earlier years, and that I had to find the appropriate information, resources and support on my own; when TLP was almost 10 years old.  

Although this page may make adopting a child look like a bit of a nightmare, I believe that education, patience, unconditional love, and a good Attachment Therapist is the key to success with these children.   Parents should NOT be afraid to adopt an attachment disordered child, but they should use some caution in adopting a child if they do not have the time, energy, resources, or desire to give these children everything that they need to  ensure that the adoptive placement will be as successful as possible.   

Child abuse casts a shadow
the length of a lifetime.

-Herbert Ward

Let the children cry no more...
Let us wrap them
in our wings...
Let us teach their broken
hearts to love...
Let us guide their souls
to sing.

Let the children cry no more...
Let us lift them to the wind...
Let the children cry no more...
So a new day can begin.

Copyright © 2002 Suzanne