You know very well that Christmas is in a little over a week. Whatever holidays you celebrate in your family, you might feel stressed like many other people this time of year. You probably feel even more overwhelmed as a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). If so, read the following. Consider it part of your to-do list, if you must.
1. First, stop for a moment. Truly take a deep breath—right now. Now close your eyes, let your hands relax, and your shoulders down for at least 60 seconds.
And then remember the following…
2. Do not take responsibility for the pain and loss your child endured due to early trauma. The holidays are probably a difficult time for your child with RAD. However, as our therapists tell parents and other therapists, “You didn’t cause it. You didn’t create it. You’re doing the best you can with what you’ve got.” Remind yourself of that simple fact constantly.
3. Don’t take your children’s behaviors personally. While this is true year-round, it’s especially important to remember during special occasions. Because holidays, birthdays, and other special events tend to trigger children with RAD, your child may act out more than usual these days. That’s because kids with RAD are actually triggered by all the fuss. They often try to manage their parents’ plans to feel in control and safe. Some children dismantle their primary caregiver’s plans as a way to push them away and again, to feel safe. These behaviors aren’t actually personal, but they can sure feel that way. It’s difficult, but helpful, to remember the difference if you can.
4. Remember gifts don’t matter. You already know this but a lot of people around you will forget. They may think that, because your child comes from such hard places, that gifts are a perfect way to help the children feel loved and safe. You know that an overabundance of gifts creates more havoc for your child and in your home. It is okay to let your friends and family know what is appropriate to give your child, regardless of whether they understand or not. For example, “Relationship-building gifts such as games are good for our family. Electronics are not.”
5. Remind yourself that your friends and familly don’t live in your home. They may have the best intentions but others can’t understand what it’s like to raise children with RAD unless they’ve done it themselves. Your friends and family probably see your child very differently than you do as well. You know your children best and what you need to do to take care of them.
6. Act only upon what you want holidays to be in your home. The holidays are stressful for most people but they are much, much more stressful for parents of children with RAD. You’re doing your best to make the holidays joyous for your child suffering from RAD and perhaps other children in your home. Remember yourself. What do you want to do for the holidays? What will be the greatest source of peace for you and your home? And that leads to the next point…
7. Take care of yourself. Yes, you’ve heard this before but the old cliché that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others is absolutely true. Everything is going to fall apart if you’re not healthy and happy both mentally and physically (parents of kids with RAD need to pay particularly close attention to their mental health). You may even have PTSD that you need take seriously. Everyone tells you to take care of yourself and you might even remind yourself from time to time. But what are you doing about it right now?
8. Realize that someone created a National Take Your Plants for a Walk Day. You should laugh here because it’s ridiculous. People make up all sorts of things, including how holidays should be celebrated. You are not responsible for any of it. You are not responsible for what people think you should or shouldn’t do for any holiday—not your children, your parents, your neighbors, your children’s teachers, your child’s therapist, or the person who created National Take Your Plants for a Walk Day. Breathe. And laugh some more…
So crumble your to-do this year, take a nap (or realistically, close your eyes for another 60 seconds), and then recollect. Put yourself on the top of that list and remember that whatever you do is the right thing for you and your family. You are present in the life of a child that needs you, no matter how much they show and tell you otherwise. What a gift you have given.
The Institute for Attachment and Child Development
Learn about a day in the life as a therapeutic treatment parent at IACD (and perhaps consider it for yourself in the future)