Dean and Dianna Morgan knew a lot about parenting when they brought their 2-year-old adopted daughter Caylee home. After all, they had three biological sons of their own already. They assumed they’d parent her in the same way they had their boys and she’d easily settle into their family. “We figured we would just love her and everything would be fine,” said Dianna. By the time Caylee had reached 8th grade, however, her parents realized that she hadn’t outgrown attention-seeking and socially inappropriate behaviors that had seemed rather normal as a toddler. It was then that Dean and Dianna realized that they’d need much more than love to parent Caylee. They began the long journey to find the help they needed.
Just like Dean and Dianna, many adoptive and foster parents learn that parenting children with traumatic early histories is very different than raising children with healthy early developmental experiences (to learn more about their story, please go here). Yes, love is important while raising children with RAD. In fact, healthy, stable, loving parents create the most important foundation piece from which children with RAD can begin to heal. Those parents need a lot of good help along the way, however.
Here’s what loving, healthy parents need to help their children with RAD heal:
- Correct diagnoses for their children
The first step to get children with RAD the help they need is to attain accurate diagnoses. Therapists often misdiagnose children with RAD for having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, etc. While many children with RAD often have co-morbid disorders, RAD is typically misdiagnosed or overlooked altogether. Click here for a guide to help parents find qualified attachment therapists.
- Highly qualified attachment therapists rather than traditional therapists
It’s vital that parents find therapists who specialize in reactive attachment disorder. To work with ineffective therapists often creates further issues within families. Children with RAD understand the power dynamics of relationships and often manipulate therapists. Traditional therapists often miss opportunities to truly understand family situations. The children also often create triangulation with their therapists and parents. While the process to find a qualified therapist takes time and considerable research, it’s energy well spent to avoid further complications (see guide above). Sometimes, outpatient therapy still isn’t enough for children with moderate to severe RAD. Such children need quality in-patient treatment care in addition to these other measures.
- Financial assistance to cover the high costs of raising children with RAD
The most common financial means adoptive parents rely upon for treatment of RAD include Medicaid, adoption subsidies, or private insurance. These resources do not effectively cover the high costs to effectively treat RAD, however. Even parents who are financially secure quickly end up in debt due to the costs of medications, various therapies, and residential treatment centers (which are often ineffective anyhow) while raising children with RAD.
In the case of adoption, the best time to request sufficient funds is before adoptions are final. We recommend that parents consistently fight, whether before or after they finalize adoptions, to attain the funds they need in whatever means possible—through adoption subsidies, insurance, etc. The entire system needs a paradigm-shift and it starts with individual parents demanding the resources they need.
- Therapy for themselves and their children
Raising children with RAD exhausts entire families. Parents raising children with RAD often develop PTSD themselves. Marriages often fall apart. Other children in the family feel the effects as well. It’s vital for everyone to receive family therapy to keep the family intact.
- Support from other adults
To raise children with RAD is emotionally exhausting. Parents need all of the support they can possibly get from those who care about them. However, children with RAD typically lie, manipulate others to gain control, and are superficially charming. Many friends and family members fall into triangulation and believe that the children’s parents are unreasonable or dishonest themselves. As a result, parents of children with RAD feel isolated from their support systems rather quickly. We recommend that parents educate friends and family members about RAD to see through children’s manipulative behaviors. If their efforts fail, they need to seek their own alternative support systems in any ways possible.
- Training for therapeutic parenting
Therapeutic parenting is different than more traditional parenting models and doesn’t usually happen intuitively for parents. A qualified attachment therapist is essential to help parents of children with RAD work through their own triggers, remain calm in the face of disturbing behaviors, set clear and consistent limits, allow their children natural consequences, and focus on attachment and relationship.
- Respite time
All parents need a break to take care of themselves, tend to relationships with other adults and each other, and rest. Finding those breaks, however, is not easy for parents of kids with RAD. The job is simply too much for typical caretakers, friends, and family to fulfill. They either don’t have the capacity to handle extreme behaviors or risk further manipulation and triangulation within the parent support systems. Whenever possible, we recommend that parents find professional respite care or create babysitting co-operative situations with other parents of children with RAD.
Too many parents learn the hard way that love and good healthy parenting simply aren’t enough to help their children with RAD heal. While they definitely lay the foundation for opportunities to attach, so much more is necessary. Loving, healthy parents require plenty of professional assistance, support, education, and self-care for that healing to actually begin.