R.A.D. Behaviors and What Causes Them

Any parent of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) will tell you their behaviors are almost impossible to live with. Those parents can give anyone who will listen a litany of behaviors and/or problems their child has.

Most of the time no one believes the parents because the child is such an “angel” in other circumstances. The typical child with RAD is like a chameleon with two different personalities. One is good, the other aggravating.

An adopted child from either the foster care system or international orphanage can have early childhood trauma that happened when they were too young to be able to adjust to their environment. These kids can become cranky, unable to be soothed or really passive, i.e., not caring if they live or die.

An adoptive couple willing to take on a child from an unknown situation is often surprised at their child’s odd behaviors. Many families are very surprised when they find love is not enough to help children of trauma.

I once heard the story about placing a frog in a pan of cold water and then turning a burner on to high. The frog will never try to jump out until it’s too late. Families of a child with RAD are like that. They do not understand how they arrived with a family in crisis, even though the child began their attack way back when the child first comes home.

Children with RAD are remarkably able to manipulate just about everyone they come in contact with. Everyone is so happy to see the child, while the child is figuring out who he can get to first to make them jump to his needs.

The little things can become big issues within a very short period of time. The child will lie to protect himself, even when the person he’s lying to knows the truth. Lying is the child’s way of protecting him/herself and to keep untrustworthy people at arm’s length. Loving parents have difficulty with the continual lies.

Parents of children of trauma have little to no experience with the fact that the child takes things they want just to be taking them. The child doesn’t understand why someone gets mad because they took something. In an orphanage it’s child against child for the smallest possessions. The kids take what they can for themselves. Their expectations are that someone will come along and take it from them. Stealing and the accompanying lying are major issues with adopted children. This can happen in foster care situations as well.

None of the stealing and lies are really serious. What is difficult is the long-term continuation of the child doing those behaviors. Another behavior that is really traumatic to the parents is the child’s penchant to scream or rage. When the children do this for hours on end, you can be sure that the parents’ toleration is stretched to the maximum.

Along with rages comes violent behaviors. The children have been known to tear up their possessions, throw things, hit or kick family members, trash their rooms, etc.

Once the child’s behaviors become too difficult for the parents and other children in the home, the first thing they do is check with their medical person to see if the child has a medical problem. The typical diagnosis is ADHD. Let’s put the child on Ritalin (a methamphetamine). We might as well admit that’s giving a drug for the wrong reason.

Then it’s off to a children’s therapist for play or talk therapy. Neither of which works all that well. No child with RAD wants anyone to know how they feel. They like to keep things to themselves privately.

The result of all these behaviors causes the parents to evaluate their options. The other children in the home are having severe issues with the child with RAD. This is when the parents begin to melt down. The thing is, each year the child spends with the parents, the more trauma the family experiences.

The final options are simple: Find a residential treatment facility (RTF) or a new family for the child. Placing a child with off-the-wall behaviors in an RTF is asking for more trouble. In that environment the child will learn even more destructive behaviors because kids love to share how to best get away from adults telling them what to do.

The other main option is to try and find a new home for the child.  One that understands RAD and can become a mentor for the child.  People who have lost all hope cannot believe that the child would change – remember the frog. Many families who have adopted children with RAD can testify that most, not all, but most of the children can and do change. Which is why I’m an advocate for older children with RAD adoptions.

Thanks for reading.

If you have more questions about our program, please email me at radteenadopting@wiaa.org

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