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.

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If you’re looking for a community who understands, The Chaos and The Clutter Community Center offers resources to equip you and a network to support you.

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Calming the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response in Your Child

More Calm in the Chaos Printable Planner for Moms of Special Needs Kiddos


  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.

      • My husband I desperately need to connect with those that understand. I stumbled upon this blog and I am incredibly thankful, I needed this affirmation.

  6. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post. I’m engaged to a man who has 2 adopted children with a RAD diagnosis. As I think about becoming a stepmom to them, I want to prepare myself as best I can….fully knowing that I will never be prepared. If I may ask, there don’t seem to be many resources in my city for parents with kids with RAD, where do you suggest we find support and how to protect our marriage? Thank you!!

    • I am the stepmom of a RAD child whom we now have custody of. Unfortunately there isn’t many resources. The kids therapist has been our biggest resource… Internet, videos and read read read. You’ll both have to hold stand very strong and support each other above all else. If my relationship wasn’t as steong as it is, I would have ran for the hills already. I don’t say that out of no love for my stepchild, its the fact that raising a RAD child is sooooooo taxing. As a parent, you want to fix what’s wrong but you can’t. Not alone anyway. It takes alot of support, strict structure, strict boundaries and above all else.. Protect your marriage!

    • Step mom of RAD kiddo says:

      Don’t do it!! Trust me. Walk away. Especially if you have other children. If it was just me, I wouldn’t have regrets, but my bio children have secondary trauma from step sibling. Especially the stealing and lying and destructiveness.

      • Jen Sheppard Beardsley says:

        I don’t know if I would say don’t do it. I would say think long and hard about it. I love my husband tremendously, but if I had known how hard it is with my RAD step-son? I don’t know if I would’ve married him. I’m extremely fortunate that God blessed us with two daughters so he wasn’t my only experience as a mother. But the worry for them and the guilt…

    • Cynthia says:

      I would like to share some information on RAD and marriage with you.
      Please email me at cyndigoforth@gmail.com
      Kind Regards,

  7. Tiffany says:

    I would just add the toll it takes on the other children in the home. I have tremendous guilt about how much of an impact it has on them.

  8. It’s as if you were reading my mind.

  9. As someone who used to be a special needs adoption and foster care worker, I wish prospective parents knew, love helps, but………Love is not going to make a kid with RAD “normal”.

    • Missy Burgess says:

      You are so right! We adopted a child with RAD. This is her 2nd Adoption. They were a good, nurturing family but thought love was enough. I know love is not enough- I have tapped into every resource I can get my hands on. I’m in support groups , I do self- care and we believe she will be healed – to function in this world. But there are days I still say to myself: what the heck did I do .

    • AMEN, Tamara!

  10. Beautifully said and so true! Thank you for sharing and putting this into words. I’ve written about adoption and attachment on my website, also hoping to promote understanding, but as you said, ultimately I would rather people think I’m a bad parent than that my child is a bad kid. Plus it’s always that tricky balance of wanting to protect privacy.

  11. Missy Burgess says:

    I wish they understood that my child with RAD was not normal. She looks normal- so they treat her with unrealistic expectations. Don’t try to tell me: well, that’s normal for a pre-teen!
    I’m sick and tired of having to defend my child- because you can’t accept that she is not normal.

  12. Your words ring so true! We have RADs times 3 and it is pure hell at our house often. At least this article affirms my feelings and assures me that I simply doing my best!

  13. Michael Crabbe-Jones says:

    Our daughter just sabotaged Mother’s Day night by running away… she has been missing from her facility for 28 hours in a state far away from our home and we can do nothing… these ten points hit the nail on the head!!

  14. I have just read this article about RAD I am freaking out at the similarities I can relate to with a grandchild, it really breaks my heart, this person hasn’t been diagnosed with RAD, but the symptoms are so very real. More awareness needs to be out there for the parents who have children or a child suffering from this

  15. Thank you! We, as Trauma Mamas, must really stick together. Those that have not walked in our shoes clearly can’t understand what we go through on a daily basis. The ridicule, condemnation and judgment that I have felt and experienced over the years has been damaging. I had to take down my blog for a time and disable comments because of the hate I was hearing. I appreciate your voice and your testimony and pray it helps other Trauma Mamas realize we are not alone.

  16. Thank you for writing this, Sharla. I can totally relate to everything you shared. It’s not only what I wish others knew about parenting a child with RAD. It’s what I wish I would have known sooner. Although my children are now grown, I have had to learn to CHOOSE to let go of the bitter and hold on to the sweet. And more recently, I have chosen to stop carrying around the huge burden of guilt that my love and parenting wasn’t enough to heal my child’s pain. I finally made peace with my own pain when I came to the realization that just because things didn’t turn out the way I had envisioned for my family, doesn’t mean I wasn’t called to be my child’s mother. In many ways, parenting a child with RAD made me a better mom and a more creative, compassionate and understanding human being.

    • You are amazing Salina and I am taking inspiration from you. My daughters are almost grown and I am feeling a loss that my time with them was not as close and loving as I dreamed of before adopting them. I was called on/meant to be their mom and have to remember that like you.

  17. What I want the world to know is, RAD is real. That these precious children need real help and can heal when given the chance. Thank you for this article. It spoke to me and it helped me see that I am not crazy…my love truly isn’t enough. Hugs to all my RAD moms and dads out there!

  18. Angie Gust says:

    This is a great open letter. Thank you! I didn’t think my daughters had RAD as they were growing up. I was really ignorant until now. For the past year, my 19 year old daughter, who was adopted at 3 years old, has been telling people very negative things about me and hurtful things I said to her that I never said. This culminated in her aunt taking her from our home to live with her. Our family (my husband and I have one other adopted child) is devastated. We are not talking to the aunt who did this because we are in shock that anyone could step on parents in this way and because our daughter went willingly. Neither the aunt nor my daughter she took seem to know anything about RAD and only blame me and the family. Do you have any advice for us? In addition, my daughter has serious medical issues. Thank you!

  19. Thank you for writing this. I am a stepmom to a little girl who has this, and it has been so hard to live through. The only time I find I can have peace is when she is sleeping 🙁 After my step daughter wasted 9 months in therapy(she really had them fooled), we are starting with a new therapist that has had great success with other RAD children. We are hoping for the best because we do not know what to do anymore. Again, that you for making me feel not alone on a journey that seems so darn difficult.

  20. God bless all of you! I had the honor of partnering with a RAD family for 2 years when I taught their son for first and second grade. I requested to have him in my class again because I loved him and feared him being misunderstood by fellow educators. I have the upmost respect for you all. Thank you for helping educate others through your journey so that we may all have a deeper understanding and be able to support/encourage one another. Praying that God will give you strength and peace in the midst of the storm, for healing for your children, and that caring support people (friends, educators, therapists, etc.) would cross your path.

  21. I know. I’m praying for you and yours. You aren’t alone.

  22. I took custody of my Niece when she just turned 4. She is now 15 1/2. When we first got her she would have horrible screaming and punching rages. For years we felt like we were always doing something wrong because other people saw her as a beautiful loving child and all we saw was hate. After years of different counselors we finally found one this year that identified her with RAD. Its been a long road because at first she felt we were taking her to the counselors to punish her. After many many sessions and DBT groups I can say I am finally starting to see a different girl. Even if it is a small change, it is a change. We still have a very long road ahead of us.

  23. Nicole Burruss says:

    Thank you. Its nice to see that I am not the only one who has these thoughts and feelings. Its nice to know I am not alone.

  24. When adopting no one told us about RAD or it’s possible effects on a marriage. In my case it was so toxic it ended up dissolving our marriage. For me, the only way at this time, is to try and manage my child separately, but in partnership with my ex. I at least get downtime to start to re-capture who I am before this all started. I am still dealing with huge amounts of shame, embarrassment and guilt, but at least now I have the space to do so rather than under the 360 day/24 hours onslaught of RAD

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