What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child With RAD

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Parenting children who have RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) has been the single most challenging thing of my life. I had read about it, attended seminars about it, talked to other parents who were walking it, but none of that could have prepared me for the reality of it. Because I was not prepared even though I had all the head knowledge, it’s hard to write about this knowing that no matter how carefully I choose my words, they will not be able to fully convey what living this journey is like. I am also carefully structuring my sentences so that they speak in generalities and not about my children in particular.

What I Wish You Knew About being a parent to a child who has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)I hope though that in sharing this, others who are parenting kids who have Reactive Attachment Disorder will maybe garner a bit more compassion and understanding from those around them who read this.

This is what I wish you knew about what it’s like to parent a child with RAD:

  1. Children with RAD present very differently outside the home. They are often described as “charming” and “delightful” by others when things in the home are decidedly different. This dichotomy can further isolate parents as they worry that others won’t believe them if they share what the child is like at home.
  2. Children with RAD often have poor boundaries and therefore are socially indiscriminate. What you may see as “friendly” and “cute” may actually be a case of mommy (or daddy) shopping. We would appreciate if you would direct our kids back to us if they try to hug you or sit on your lap. We realize that you are trying to help by picking them up or returning their affection, but you may be further damaging their attachment to us. When in doubt, ask us.
  3. We know in our heads that love will not be enough to fix this, but our hearts often feel differently so we try to pour enough love into our child to replace what is missing.
  4. Parents of kids with RAD carry tremendous guilt. It is a heavy burden to carry the weight of something that was done to my child by someone other than me in a time before I even met them.
  5. These parents second guess everything. I know that all parents second guess, but when you are parenting kids who have RAD, it borders on compulsive and it is draining.
  6. Parents of kids who have RAD sometimes (or often) think they are losing their minds. Kids who have RAD can be expert manipulators, Philadelphia lawyers and extreme triangulators. This can lead to questioning of one’s sanity and second guessing facts that you know to be true. It also puts great strain on marriages or relationships with other caregivers.
  7. Parents of kids who have RAD are proficient detectives in their own homes. They need to be in order to keep from going crazy (see #6 above).
  8. We are tired every minute of every day. Our child’s hypervigilance can cause us to also become hypervigilant as we attempt to avoid any possible trigger for them. Our child’s emotional needs are often greater than the capacity we have as human beings to meet them.
  9. Parents of kids with RAD don’t tell you how bad things are because they don’t trust that you would understand the reasons behind their child’s behaviour and they would rather suffer silently than have you judge them or their child. We don’t tell you the worst because we want to protect our child’s privacy. Whatever we are telling you, imagine it at least ten times worse. Words like “rage” and “aggression” may be codes for “completely out of control for hours” and “physically violent”. We may be sugar coating in an attempt to protect. I would rather have you think that I’m a bad parent than have you think that my child is a monster.
  10. We love our child who has RAD. It hurts our hearts to be constantly rejected by them, but we hold on out of hope that healing is possible. We sometimes see a glimmer of the wonderful child that we know is in there and it makes us fight all the harder to love them through this.

If you are parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, what do you wish others knew? Leave your suggestions in the comments so that others can learn from them.
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Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder


  1. Perfectly said! I loved every word.

  2. The first thing you said really fit my oldest…so perfect outside the home and horrible here. This is a wonderful post. I also like the part about second guessing yourself.

  3. Passive aggressive RAD is alive and well. And ‘lovely’ and ‘a perfect guest’. You wrote so well, Sharla. Thank you for your words.

  4. Thanks for further educating me on RAD. I cannot imagine the stress, heartache and desperation that would be a part of parenting a RAD child. I do hope that loving them will help them, and you, through this x

  5. Lana Becker says:

    I would add the impact on siblings and the hurt/guilt associated with that. Our son developed severe anxiety after we adopted our daughter due to the stress. He was hoping for a sister and got a competitor and a verbal abuser. That hurts me the most that I was soo exhausted I didn’t get him help. He said he would never adopt and gets mad at how people take the idea of adoption lightly.

    • I completely agree with you Lana. Several of our other kids developed secondary trauma and are in counselling as a result. It has been a very hard road.

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