(N.Morgan) Many children suffer from RAD, but most parents just live with this condition because they do not understand what is happening to their child. Do you or someone in your family have a child who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder? Do you ever use electronics to give yourself a break and keep the child occupied? If you answered yes to any of these questions this article is for you.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Attachment is defined as the affectional tie between two people. It begins with the bond between the infant and mother. This bond becomes internally representative of how the child will form relationships with the world. Bowlby stated “the initial relationship between self and others serves as blueprints for all future relationships.” (Bowlby, 1975)
Attachment Disorder is defined as the condition in which individuals have difficulty forming lasting relationships.
They often show nearly a complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate with others.
They typically fail to develop a conscience and do not learn to trust.
They do not allow people to be in control of them due to this trust issue.
This damage is done by being abused or physically or emotionally separated from one primary caregiver during the first 3 years of life.
“If a child is not attached – does not form a loving bond with the mother – he does not develop an attachment to the rest of mankind. The unattached child literally does not have a stake in humanity” (Magid & McKelvey 1988).
They do not think and feel like a normal person. “At the core of the unattached is a deep-seated rage, far beyond normal anger. This rage is suppressed in their psyche. Now we all have some degree of rage, but the rage of psychopaths is that born of unfulfilled needs as infants. Incomprehensible pain is forever locked in their souls, because of the abandonment they felt as infants.” (Magid & McKelvey 1988)
“There is an inability to love or feel guilty. There is no conscience. Their inability to enter into any relationship makes treatment or even education impossible.” (Bowlby 1955).
Some infamous people with Attachment Disorder that did not get help in time: Saddam Hussein, Edgar Allen Poe, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy.
One famous person with Attachment Disorder who did get help in time (in 1887!) and became one of the greatest humanitarians the US has ever produced is Helen Keller.
In the video below Dan Hughes, Clinical Psychologist, from U.S.A., is the originator of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) and also attachment-focused family therapy, recorded this summary of how the brain reacts to trauma and how an understanding of this process is helpful to foster and adoptive parents as well professionals such as residential care workers and teachers.
How Early Years Trauma Affects the Brain the Child Who Mistrusts Good Care
So now that you have an understanding of what RAD is, what is the next step in helping a child heal and develop into a happy, mentally healthy loving adult?
Reading to your RAD child is an excellent bonding tool. Make is fun, with blanket forts or under the covers with a flashlight, surrounded by pillows and stuffed animals. Anything that provides comfort and a sense of security.
The RAD child is going to continuously challenge their caregivers limits, these are testing behaviors that are ultimately about trust.
The next video dicusses the elements of sensitive caregiving during early childhood builds a healthy foundation for future development. Attachment disorder may be triggered during a child’s earliest years when a healthy foundation for trust and attachment is interrupted by abuse and/or neglect, abandonment, separation from birth parents and other factors. When this foundation is damaged, children may have difficulty in forming loving, intimate relationships.
Attachment Disorder: Diagnosis and Treatment
In some cases, the challenges may seem insurmountable to the caregiver of a RAD child and they may consider sending the child away to a special care facility, however, research shows that this makes this condition far worse and the trauma suffered by the child multiplies.
Forrest Lien, Executive Director and Therapist for The Institute for Attachment and Child Development wrote:
Residential treatment centers aren’t family environments. They don’t effectively address the attachment problems between children and their parents. Kids with reactive attachment disorder reject trust and closeness, especially with mother figures. So, that’s exactly what they need in treatment.
However, residential treatment centers have a revolving staff schedule. Kids don’t develop close relationships with the staff. In fact, the kids develop superficial relationships with staff in order to manipulate them. Kids with reactive attachment disorder are extremely skilled at doing so.
To make things worse, we rewarded the kids with the chance to hang out with others who shared their distorted thinking. They only validated one another and made things worse.
Many parents come to me, frustrated and burnt out. They spend time and/or money for their kids to go to residential treatment centers. When they get home, their kids are just the same and families continue to suffer. I hope we can come together as professionals to help break this cycle.
Whether it’s incessant text messaging, Snapchat, or a game app, it’s all the same—today’s modern social media and technology bombards children with constant distractions.
These distractions become yet another obstacle in parenting, especially for those raising children with reactive attachment disorder.
Here’s why electronics create great problems for children with RAD and their parents:
Minimize electronics. Kids with RAD are highly prone to escapism, to the point of it being dangerous and everything a RAD child watches must be monitored because of potential triggers.
Electronics are more interesting for kids than developing relationships. The most important lesson children with RAD need to learn is how to foster attachments and sincere relationships. Life is already very busy for most families with school, work, therapy sessions, etc. Electronics consume even more time in which children with RAD could spend with others.
Social media fuels superficial relationships. Again, children with RAD need to work hard to learn how to create authentic and healthy relationships. However, social media only provides more opportunities to present false identities and manipulate relationships.
Electronics affirm a sense of entitlement. Tired parents understandably need a break from oppositional behaviors. However, to rely upon electronics to get relief only leads to more problems later. Children who were abused or neglected at a young age, right in the midst of important developmental stages, remain “stuck” in their toddler years developmentally (watch the video “How to recognize attachment disorder in your child“). Just like toddlers, they want what they want when they want it. When parents “give in” to electronics after children act out, they only reinforce that sense of entitlement for children with RAD.
Electronics often lead to more power struggles. Parents of children with RAD feel worn out from constant chaos and arguing from their children as it is. Ironically, the very objects parents often use as leverage for desirable behavior—electronics—often create more battles. Children often rush through chores, homework, etc. when parents rely upon electronic time as an incentive. When parents request that their children return to efficiently complete their tasks, the tantrums and arguing ensues all the more.
To raise children with RAD is extremely difficult and exhausting. Yet, those raising such children are better off finding respite time in ways other than electronics. Until children with RAD and those raising them establish a quality relationship, we recommend that parents forbid or set extremely strict limits on the use of electronics.
In the future, parents might have the chance to ease limitations and play games with their children to further build an established healthy relationship. Until that day is possible, however, the “electronic babysitter” will only make matters worse.