Parenting Children with RAD

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Parenting Children with Attachment Disorder

For those of you who read regularly you know I call my children by the first letter of their names. It gives them some privacy while still allowing me to be frank about the realities of family life with biological and adopted children. I was accused (by an unhappy adult adoptee) of being so negative about my youngest son. And to a point, she was right. I haven’t blogged a great deal of positive posts about him. Grim reality is that over the last 11 years his negative attributes have far outweighed the positive. He also could not handle positive reinforcement of any magnitude and would immediately sabotage the “good stuff.”

If you haven’t lived with a child like this you can’t possibly understand the opposite parenting that helps them heal. With the basic belief system is that they are “bad” kids or their parents wouldn’t have abandoned them, these wounded kids work hard to destroy every loving relationship, especially that of mother and child. Any positive affirmation has to be given in a random, back door, off the cuff type of conversation.

However, it is with great pleasure that I’m here to tell you I believe my son has made great strides in the last few months. When I was attacked viciously by a blogger my son’s response began the process of changing his beliefs and heart. I don’t believe he is “healed” but I believe he is in process! I think he is doing the very best he can at this moment in his life, with the negative belief system that frames the way he looks at everything. With that said, I believe he loves and cares about me in a way I never expected. If anything, he is overly attached at times (wanting to be in the same room with me constantly) and anxiously attached (fearful that something will happen to me) the rest of the time. 

I’m not a therapist and this is only how I view our relationship. It’s almost like falling in love. You want to be with the person all the time and you’re scared something will happen that will keep you apart. These last few months  I have worked hard with M to lighten up and have fun with him, and sometimes, at his expense. Trying to teach him how to joke and give and take. Learning to read signals and people and social cues. Normal, childhood stuff.  (I am in tears thinking I would never, ever say that. God is truly a miracle worker.)

He still has what I call “RAD responses” that are so ingrained in him that he truly isn’t doing them on purpose. He just can’t overcome the way he responds in certain situations. Arguing as a first response, then stopping himself and saying yes ma’am. Having to be right a lot of the time. Lying on occasion. But I wouldn’t characterize these behaviors as all consuming.

The down side to all this good news is that M has revealed a level of anxiety that can be over the top. He is terrified of new situations and people he doesn’t know. He wants a check list for life so he can know how to respond in every situation. Unfortunately, life is not like that. His continued process of healing will involve pushing him out of the nest while still providing security and working through life as it happens. 

I asked my son recently to rank his thoughts on a percentage scale. He said his positive thoughts/reinforcement probably rated about 12 percent of his total thoughts. (Really? 12 percent? Who comes up with such a number?) I completely agreed with him. My son’s biggest battle that I see at this moment is his overwhelmingly negative and obsessive thought life. These scriptures are my encouragement to him to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5

New International Version (NIV)
5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5

The Message (MSG)
 3-6The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.
Rachel and Donny Baldridge Wedding

We have “moments” that are not good. No fun. Really annoying. Days that seem like we’re stuck in the same patterns. But I no longer view our relationship as constantly painful. There are growing pains to be sure, but there are times that I forget the 11 years of struggle. Family events that are not sabotaged. (M was able to participate in his sister’s wedding and hold it all together during the moments of stress and great joy. That is success in my eyes! Of course, there was some payback amidst difficult days to follow but nothing like I feared.) 

My son has many things to work on. Casting out fear. Replacing negative thoughts with powerful, Godly thinking. Believing family is forever and acting upon that belief. He has some personal demons that he will have to learn to cast out as he comes into adulthood. 

I believe that’s 88 percent positive improvement!

For those of you interested in adoption or our story specifically you can follow our journey by clicking here and perusing our adoption archives.


Marty Signature

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  1. God uses all to his purposes- even ignorant trolls. I am thrilled for you!

  2. Encouraging post Marty, thanks for sharing.

  3. such an awesome story!!! May God continue to heal the boy’s heart. Thanks for sharing

  4. So happy for you … that you are seeing positive growth.

    RAD is not a fun journey to walk. Been there, done that, still walking that journey daily.

    We found a new way to bring out conversation in deep topics, without angry outbursts, running away, slamming doors. On Sunday, after our church service, the children usually head to their Sunday School classes. Jim and I either attend an adult class, or we go to the little “coffee shop” area for a latte and time to visit (which is highly encouraged by our pastor). This week, I casually told Little Miss that she wouldn’t be attending class, but rather would be joining us for a chat.

    After assuring her that she wasn’t in trouble, and buying her a hot chocolate, we sat down for a 45 minute visit. It went deep … in new ways … areas that she has never gotten to due to angry outbursts. There were people all around us, in their own conversations, and Little Miss was able to keep it together and have a real conversation about heartfelt things. Woo Hoo! Happy Dance! While I know she will be mad if we always pull her out of Sunday School, we must might have found a way to get her to open up.

    Gotta tell you, though. Just so that she would show us that SHE was still in control. She refused to drink the hot chocolate that I bought for her. She would not accept this undeserved gift from me. Nope. She loves hot chocolate, and will drink it any time it’s offered. This time, however, I told her that I had bought her a special treat. So … she refused to accept it. Ugh! I brought it home, heated it up, and offered it to one of the other kids.

    Thankful that we are both moving forward, even if it’s baby steps.

    Laurel 🙂

  5. So glad you are seeing progress. May God continue to heal your son’s heart.

  6. My heart is filled with gratitude for you. (((hugs))), my friend. May the healing continue, may the repairs to your heart do so as well.

  7. Wow I am glad things are working better. I read his response, what an articulate young man I really hope things continue to improve for all of you.

  8. Anonymous says:

    People just don’t have a clue what it is like raising one of these hurt, RAD kids. I would love to have them in our shoes for a month and see their comments after that.

  9. Marty, this is unbelievably awesome. Awesome!
    And your daughter’s wedding…wow again. Just wow. She looked beyond gorgeous!

  10. My son’s anxiety has increased as his attachment has increased, as well.

    Last night, in a conversation with another son (both high school age), I asked, how do you feel when Mom or Dad is disappointed in your behavior? RAD-child said, now or before? Of course I asked for both. 🙂 He said, a year or so ago, I wouldn’t have cared. Now, I think about how to make it better.

    Perhaps the anxiety is a necessary part of the process – it gives YOU a chance to meet his needs and prove your steadfastness. I think that’s what it’s doing for us.


  11. I have placed my 7 year old RAD son in a traditional school for 2nd grade. While Kinder and 1st were so difficult to teach at home, 2nd grade started off pretty well. But given some factors, my hubby and I decided brick & mortar setting would enable him to socialize with his peers. I HATE not having him with me. He’s still healing. It’s been 1 week and the school has him in a moderate to severe SAI classroom. He has limited interaction with typical kids. He is ILL, not disabled. I made a huge mistake. My hubby says wait at least 1 semester then we can re-evaulate. The school is suppose to be mainstreaming him, but as a RAD child, he has already learned how to control the situation. He is regressing fast. I need a magical ball to tell me what to do. But in the meantime, I cry a lot.

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