Perhaps you feel like you’ve gotten through to a child during therapy or on a case. He or she trusts you. You wish you could get through to the child’s parents, however. They are the problem.
Maybe the parents are the problem. But what if they are actually part of the solution?
I talk to parents almost daily about how individual therapy for children with reactive attachment disorder doesn’t help their children. They tell me how they sit alone in therapy waiting rooms—frustrated and angry—during their children’s therapy sessions. They feel as though their time and money is spent for nothing. Unfortunately, they’re often right.
Individual therapy doesn’t work for kids with reactive attachment disorder. Here’s why:
- As children with reactive attachment disorder do not trust others, they don’t allow adults to have control. They superficially charm those in positions of authority to manipulate their environments. When given the opportunity alone with therapists, children with reactive attachment disorder deceive therapists and control the sessions. Even when therapists understand this dynamic, they often miss it during therapy sessions because the children are so convincing. Children with reactive attachment disorder typically blame their parents for their problems and behaviors. Given that parents (particularly the primary caregiver such as the mother) of children with reactive attachment disorder feel emotionally exhausted, therapists often believe the children based on their mothers’ affect.
Why parents are in our therapy rooms at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development
We’re proud of the success of the children in our program and hope to share what works for us with you. Here at the Institute for Attachment and Child Development, we focus on family therapy for most of the children’s treatment in our office. Here’s why:
- Children with reactive attachment disorder need to learn to trust that adults will make good decisions for them based on their developmental disruption. Therefore, we do not allow the children to control our therapy sessions.
- Change requires learning and work for both the parents and the child. Our therapists listen to the parents’ feelings and descriptions of their children’s behaviors, join with the children’s resistance and react with empathy, normalize the children’s behaviors for the parents and children, and help parents identify their own triggers and provide techniques to avoid escalating with their children’s behaviors.
- Raising children with reactive attachment disorder requires different parenting techniques than raising children without trauma histories. Most parents use traditional parenting techniques and their children with reactive attachment disorder often take over the household. Children don’t feel safe with their parents when they have the ability to give away conflict rather than take responsibility for their actions. We work with parents to learn parenting techniques specific for their children with reactive attachment disorder.
Because the children are not in control of their therapy here at the Institute, they typically act out to try to regain control. The skill of our attachment therapists in this phase is critical as they maneuver the dynamics of the children’s behaviors and the parents’ post-traumatic stress disorders living daily with their children. Ultimately, parents need to know that their therapists understand all of the nuances of the disorder so they can trust their guide through this emotional process.
Many therapists and caseworkers feel frustrated that their traditional practices don’t work with children with reactive attachment disorder. Our own therapist, AJ Bernstein, once felt the same way. If you’re interested in learning more about reactive attachment disorder and effective therapy techniques, please stay tuned via our social media outlets or newsletters for future webinar trainings.