Most people in the general population have never heard the term “reactive attachment disorder” (RAD). For those who have heard the term, they often have a fuzzy idea of its meaning. What’s left are people who understand the concept but often have all sorts of misconceptions about what makes the disorder better or worse. Only a minority of people have a truly thorough grasp on what reactive attachment disorder is and what can be done. When misinformed people offer their advice to those raising children with RAD, it often creates more harm than good.
Many people have good intentions when they give advice or try their best to support those raising children with RAD. Unfortunately, those people often leave parents feeling more misunderstood, judged, and overwhelmed. Given that parents already feel exhausted, this unfounded advice is the last thing they need. The best means to overcome this common problem is education, education, education. Please read below and join our mission of advocacy.
Here’s some explanation behind the most common misconceptions about reactive attachment disorder—
Misconception #1 – “If neglect and abuse “broke” a child then love will “fix” it.”
Those raising children with RAD didn’t cause or create their children’s early trauma, nor can they “fix” it with love alone. Children who were abused or neglected at early ages don’t trust caretakers. They will push away the people who try to get the closest to them at all costs. For them, it’s survival. It’s the very premise of their disorder – they reject the very thing they need the most.
Misconception #2 – “It’s a phase that will pass.”
Children with RAD can look similar to toddlers. They are often demanding, want things on their terms, and throw tantrums if they don’t get what they want. Such behavior is developmentally appropriate for toddlers. For children overcoming early trauma, however, such behaviors are symptoms of their disorder. They didn’t get their needs met appropriately as toddlers and are “stuck” with toddler-like minds as a result. They don’t outgrow it with age. If they don’t get the help they need early on, they often grow into adults with the mentality of toddlers and have cluster B personality disorders.
Misconception #3 – “Your child just needs a safe and stable home with good old-fashioned morals, traditions, and parenting. He’ll settle into your family with time.”
Yes, stable and safe home lives are important for all children. Such environments, however, don’t erase all of the unsafe and unpredictable situations children experienced early on. Children with RAD learned to rely only upon themselves for safety and to seek control at all costs at very young ages. Therefore, they sabotage healthy circumstances and create chaos in their homes to feel safe and in control. Time doesn’t ease their instinctual survival mechanisms.
Misconception #4 – “I know a good therapist who really helped my neighbor/child/nephew/etc. She’ll help your child too.”
There are plenty of good therapists who do a world of good for various people. Children with RAD, however, need very specific attachment therapists who are highly skilled at working with such clients. Depending on the severity of the child’s disorder, he may actually need even more than a good out-patient attachment therapist. Good attachment therapists know when to refer clients for more comprehensive help.
Things to say that are helpful
- “I can’t imagine what you’re going through but I’d love to learn more. Once I’m more educated about RAD, can I help you research to find a good attachment therapist?“
- “Is it possible for me to take care of your kids for a couple of hours so you can take a break?”
- “Can I cook you a meal? What would you like to eat and when?”
- “You’re an amazing parent and person. Good job.”
If you’re a parent, keep persisting and educate those who will listen. For those who don’t and continue to point fingers at you, let it go. You’ll likely never change their minds. Reserve your energy to find people who will support you.
If you’re someone supporting those raising children with RAD, thank you for reading this all the way to the end. It’s a sign that you’re truly committed to learning more and effectively supporting them. Keep it up. The more people learn about RAD, the more support families battling early trauma can find.