The holiday season is often an especially rough time for families with children with reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Parents put a lot of work into planning and prepping. Meanwhile, kids with RAD begin to act out more as the holidays draw near. They tend to unravel their parents’ holiday plans and preparations in various ways. The end result is usually frustration and anger on behalf of the whole family on the big day.
Why do kids with reactive attachment disorder become especially difficult during the holidays?
The reason kids with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) create such havoc during the holidays is a combination of a few things:
- Children with RAD have extremely active and excited brain activity. The anticipation of the holidays adds to their brain stimulation and can cause increased maladaptive behaviors.
- They lack the developmental maturity to think beyond themselves. Just like two-year-old children, they focus on the moment, their needs, and what they can get from others.
- Kids who were abused and neglected at young ages feel the need to control their environments as a means of survival, even after they are removed from such environments. They often interfere with their parents’ plans as a result (especially their mothers’ plans).
- Adults place far too much emphasis on material things and overindulgences during the holidays. This reinforces children’s sense of entitlement and therefore becomes difficult for parents to set limits, even after the holidays are over.
All of this means that kids with RAD feel entitled to get everything they want during the holidays and like to gain control. When they don’t get what they want, they act like toddlers—except they are much bigger than little children. That’s not a good combination for calm and peaceful holidays. And the havoc continues when the holidays are over.
What do a toddler and an older child with RAD have in common?
A child with RAD—just like a toddler—hasn’t gone through the age-appropriate developmental stages yet. The kids we work with were abused or neglected at a young age, right in the midst of important developmental stages. Therefore, they remain “stuck” in their toddler years developmentally (watch the video “How to recognize attachment disorder in your child“).
What can you do?
The good news is that Thanksgiving might be a little less chaotic than other holidays for your family because of the focus on family and thanks rather than gifts. December holidays are a different story as the exchange of gifts enhances the feeling of entitlement for kids with RAD, adding to the overall holiday stress. However, other treats and surprises can throw children with RAD off on Thanksgiving too.
Here’s what we suggest:
- Focus on holiday traditions that revolve around family togetherness and values, not things or privileges.
- Get help from a therapist specialized in RAD to help your child learn how to value relationships more than the materialistic aspects and indulgences of holidays.
- Try to let go of perfection during the holidays.
- Educate the people with whom you spend holidays. Let them know why you set the limits you do and ask that they honor your wishes in regard to your child. We know that most people will never truly understand your family, child, or parenting. Regardless, they still need to respect your wishes for your children.
Remember, your whole family deserves happy and healthy holidays—including you.
We’re hiring therapeutic treatment parents. Read about a “day in the life”.