Over the years, I’ve noticed an increase of in-home intensive programs for kids with reactive attachment disorder. That’s when one or two professionals visit the homes of families with kids who have reactive attachment disorder to teach moms how to attach to their children. Their goal is to enhance healthy mother/child relationships.
Yet, in-home intensive services don’t work for kids with moderate to severe reactive attachment disorder. In fact, these services actually make the situation worse. Parents end up hopeless and professionals blame the parents for lack of success. The kids keep up the same maddening behaviors as before. Everyone feels frustrated.
3 reasons in-home intensive services don’t work for kids with RAD:
- Mothers of kids with RAD are completely worn-out.
For many, many years I’ve heard countless “war stories” from moms who live with kids with reactive attachment disorder. The moms—or “nurturing enemies” as I commonly refer to them—have post-traumatic stress disorder of their own. Many mothers feel like prisoners in their own homes because they must constantly watch their kids to prevent stealing and destruction. Most have no respite support to get away (read Beyond Overwhelmed: Moms, attachment disorder, and depression). These moms need breaks from their kids and counseling of their own before they can productively work with their children.
- Relationships between mothers and children with RAD are tangled webs.
Kids with attachment disorder enter their adoptive homes with their own emotional walls already built to protect themselves. Over time, mothers who live with kids with reactive attachment disorder also form their own emotional walls to survive. So, you have two people in survival mode working against one another to gain control of the relationship. In-home intensive service professionals aren’t able to quickly “fix” this complicated relationship with occasional and short home visits.
- Kids with RAD become more oppositional the closer their parents try to get to them.
When professionals try to force a child with RAD and their mothers to attach, both tend to raise their emotional walls even higher. These “walls” are much too high for professionals to break through within the volatile and extremely personal home environment of mothers and their children.
How to treat kids with RAD in a family environment, outside of their highly-charged homes
Yes, the family piece is an important part of treatment for kids with reactive attachment disorder (read Why Most Residential Treatment Centers Don’t Work for Kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder). Yet, their own homes aren’t usually the right environments to begin healing at first. In my experience, children with moderate to severe reactive attachment disorder need to leave their family homes and the “nurturing enemies” (most commonly the mothers) for a while. They need to practice how they feel as vulnerable children in therapeutic family treatment homes. At the same time, the parents have a chance to recover and regain their strength. After the children are gone, their behaviors improve, and they return home, their “forever mother figures” can let their guards down and their children back in. That’s when the work can truly begin and make a difference for families.
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