Tree tipping, tears streaming, and broken toys flying, fa, la, la. And people wonder why parents of children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may act scrooge-like around the holidays. It’s because the holidays are anything but jolly for them.
If you’re a family member or professional who knows a child with RAD, you may not see the child acting up around the holidays at all (keep reading to learn more).
But if you parent a child with RAD, know that your child is normal in the way he reacts to holidays. Other kids with RAD do the same things. But you, as a parent, are also normal for feeling particularly overwhelmed this time of year.
3 reasons kids with reactive attachment disorder normally fall apart during the holidays:
1. Their chronological and developmental ages don’t match up. When children experience trauma early in life, their development gets disrupted. As a result, their brains get “stuck” developmentally in those stages. Thus, just like a toddler, kids with RAD feel a sense of entitlement. They often focus solely on gifts during holidays and throw temper tantrums when things don’t go their way.
2. They manage their surroundings to feel safe. Children who were abused and neglected learned how to survive early on by taking care of themselves. They also learned to manage their surroundings in any way possible as a mode of self-protection. Even when the traumatic experiences have past, they still live in that survival mode. And they continue to manage everything in their power, even if it works against them. When their predictability is thrown off by the holidays, they will find a way to manage it in their own way—which often ends in havoc.
3. They push away their primary caretakers to feel safe too. Kids who were abused and neglected by their early caregivers push people away to protect themselves. This is particularly true of their primary caregivers, even when that caregiver is a healthy and safe parent. The closer that person gets to them, the further away they will push that one person away in various ways which aren’t always obvious to others. For example, a child with reactive attachment disorder may subtly unravel his adoptive mother’s holiday plans. The mother may notice these behaviors when others do not.
Extended family members who don’t understand all of these dynamics often unknowingly add to the stress in the household (plese click to learn more). Children with RAD often don’t display the same behaviors in front of others. In fact, they can be quite charming. Family and friends wonder why the parents are so tired, frazzled, and frustrated with their child. Many times, extended family members give the child lots of gifts in their attempt to help and question parental decisions on behalf of the child with RAD.
Here are 5 tips for parents of kids with RAD around the holidays:
1. Set appropriate limits around gifts within your family. To give children with RAD a pile of gifts only fosters their sense of entitlement. It’s not good or healthy for anyone, especially the child. Kids with RAD don’t grow out of their cause-and-effect thinking like other children might. Rather, they stay stuck in the toddler developmental stage, grow into adults, and continue to create battles to get their way. This doesn’t bode well for healthy lives.
2. Create a paradigm-shift of gift giving in your family. In addition to limiting gifts, give reasonable gifts. Focus on items that provide family togetherness, things the child needs, and opportunities for calm moments. Some good ideas are board games, clothing, books, etc. Ask your family and friends to do the same.
3. Put a firm limit against electronic gifts. Parents often allow their kids to focus on video games or electronics rather than on relationships. Frankly, the parents are worn-out and need a break. They do so to avoid temper tantrums and the trouble it’d take to set appropriate boundaries with material things. However, electronics and music players with headphones create isolation and distance in relationships.
4. Work with a therapist who understands the dynamics of entitlement of children with RAD. Allow a therapist to help you make the gift-giving paradigm-shift in your immediate family as well as with discouraging family members. Relatives often want to indulge their grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. However, such gifts inhibit the emotional growth of your child and family relationships.
5. Lower your holiday expectations. Don’t aim for perfection. Embrace that the holidays are a tough time. Make your own traditions that work for and honor your unique family needs as a whole.
It’s wise for everyone to remember, especially those who care for children from hard places, that the holidays are a time for togetherness and peace.
If you’re a parent of a child with RAD in your home, you still have a chance to show that relationships are more important than gifts. Your child can learn that time and love last longer and are more valuable than material things. That is the greatest gift of all. It’s far from easy, we know, particularly when friends and family think otherwise. Know in your heart, however, that you’re doing so in the best interest of your child.
If you’re supporting a family of a child with RAD, whether personally or in your work, you can learn about the realities of RAD–the parts you don’t see and never will. Find ways to honor the child and their parents. Remember, even if you don’t understand, mom (or dad) often knows best. Take time to listen, really listen, this holiday season. It is the greatest gift you can give that family.
If you’re a parent, know that you’re not alone. If you’re supporting a family, continue to learn and advocate. Sign-up for our newsletter.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net