RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder, Uncategorized

10 Things Never to say to the Parent of a RADish

10 Things Never to say to the Parent of a RADish

(and the heartfelt responses we’d like to give…)

1.  “You just let ME have her for a few days.”

And do what? First, she won’t “act out” with you and even if she did, just what exactly do you think you would do that we haven’t done in all these past years?  Secondly, if you really think that you can “fix” my child with your methods in a week or two or three, perhaps there is great fame and fortune in the field of pediatric psychiatry or, at the very least, a lucrative book deal in your future.  I strongly doubt it however, as the very fact that you would even make such a statement shows you have absolutely NO idea whatsoever of what you speak.

RAD is a very deep, unconscious pain and fear prevalent in foster and adoptive children, borne of trauma they don’t even know exists, because many have little to no conscious memory of early experiences.   It distorts their ability to self-regulate in situations that involve conflict, transitions, and relationships, and manifests itself through countless negative behaviors.  It is NOT their fault, even though the symptoms appear to be nothing more than willful disobedience and a rude, blatant disregard for authority.

Do you know of any young child who would intentionally choose to live in a perpetual state of dysregulation merely for the purpose of being hateful or to garner attention, albeit negative?  I think not.

So, if you REALLY want my kid for a few days, I hope it is with the intention of spending time with a wonderful young person and maybe, just maybe, giving her parents a much needed respite so they can refresh and get back in the game.

2.  “You have to be persistent – I would never let her get away with that behavior – keep punishing her until she gets the message.”

What’s that definition of “insanity” – repeating the same things over and over and expecting a different result? Yes?  I guess you must think we were born yesterday or are, at the very least, morons, based on the fact that you persist with this notion.  You know, I don’t see myself as someone caught up in egocentric behaviors, however, I think it fair to say that I’m relatively intelligent and quite capable of recognizing when something ISN’T WORKING!  Let me assure you that if persistence, consistency, and the right “punishment” was all it took, our child would be eligible for sainthood about now.

Because most people are unfamiliar with the very definition of RAD, (ourselves included until a short time ago) it is difficult at best to understand, let alone embrace the very real FACT that traditional parenting and behavioral modifications DO NOT WORK with our RADishes!

After years of time out, time in, standing in a corner, sitting on a chair, sending to her room, explaining, reasoning, teaching, discussing, yelling, screaming, grounding, praying, taking away privileges, consequences, incentives, sticker charts, poker chips, rewards, taking away possessions, bargaining, tough love, therapy(ies), threats, “catching her being good,” spanking her butt, and the list goes on and on and on, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’ve been WAY beyond persistent and it hasn’t been even remotely effective in breaking through.  So, “thanks” for sharing your opinion that we haven’t been doing everything humanly possible to modify our child’s behaviors and adding even more to our feelings of inadequacy.

3.  “How can you let her speak to you that way – are you okay with that?”

Sure! We absolutely LOVE when she stands in our faces and calls us horrible, disrespectful things – when she uses language that would bring a sailor to his knees.  Now what do YOU think?  Of COURSE we don’t condone that kind of behavior!  Of COURSE we’re not “okay with that!”  It’s mortifying and embarrassing – hurtful and hateful – one of THE most difficult things we face as parents living with our RADish, especially when it occurs in front of other people.  However, short of pop riveting her lips together, I would ask just what exactly you would have us do?  If your answer involves “punishment” or consequences of any kind, I invite you to re-read the above.  So, until we reach a point in our healing that allows us to address her mouth in a way that she will actually hear and internalize, we would most respectfully ask you not to exacerbate the situation or make us feel even worse by opening yours in the moment.

4.  “There’s nothing wrong with your child – she’s just an out-of-control teenager.”

Interesting analysis. May I ask just what professional research and medical data you’ve used to draw that conclusion?  Was it that one article you read while sitting in a waiting room or a website you perused on the internet that night you had nothing better to do or that passing conversation you had with someone who knew someone who knew someone?

May I also ask if you would be so ignorant bold as to make that same statement to a parent of a child with a PHYSICAL disability – perhaps a blind or deaf child – maybe one missing a limb or diagnosed with a crippling disease?  Of course you would not!  Why then do you find it acceptable to say those things to me?

We are blessed to have a child who LOOKS perfectly normal in every way.  She is beautiful, engaging, capable, intelligent, creative, and loved, however, she is far from normal in the sense of everything that defines RAD.

Would it help somewhat if she adopted an abnormal countenance?  Would it in any way help you to see the awesome spirit within instead of focusing only on the negative behaviors?

In the case of the child with the physical disorder, we may very well see the disability before the child, however, empathy, respect, and a sense of compassion tempers our response and we would NEVER intentionally say something hurtful or insensitive to the parent of said child.  Am I not to be granted that same degree of compassion, simply because my child doesn’t LOOK like she has a problem?

Children with hidden disabilities and disorders deserve the same degree of acceptance and grace as everyone else and, frankly, so do their parents.

5.  “I would NEVER medicate my child.”

On the contrary, you would do everything you could, including meds, if it would better your child’s quality of life. Not that any RAD parent owes an explanation, but for clarification purposes, most (and most all reputable doctors) agree to only the bare minimum when it comes to psychotropic meds and only then after much discussion, independent research, and second and sometimes third opinions.  The goal is ALWAYS to use them in moderation, under serious monitoring, and for the shortest period of time.

6.  “Who’s in control – you or your child?”

An accurate response would depend entirely on the moment, what the circumstances, the child’s level of regulation or dysregulation, the setting, etc., etc. I can most assuredly tell you that there are many many times – when a child is in a heightened state, afraid, angry, and unable to self-regulate – that parents are definitely NOT in control.  The irony in all of that is that THE CHILD isn’t in control either.  In fact, he’s totally OUT of control, lost in himself, and responding in the only way he knows.  It is not a pretty thing!

For years now we’ve tried all of the interventions addressed above and more, NONE of which has worked, primarily and because (as we have learned) NONE address the very root of the problem –trauma!  So, next time you question the ability of RADish parents to “control” their child (adding more to feelings of frustration and inadequacy), we invite you to JOIN us as we work toward providing our kids with the tools they need to learn to control themselves.

7.  “She’s always so well behaved when she’s away from you – maybe there’s a problem with the way you parent her.”

Really?? You did NOT just say that to me!  Even in the best of circumstances, kids behave differently when they are away from home.  That’s a given and I’m grateful that mine is no different in that respect, however, what makes you think that it’s okay to criticize my parenting without knowing what it is that we’re dealing with?  Was it that bit of nastiness from a neighborhood gossip or maybe the vindictive facebook post that amounted to nothing short of bullying?

How about just one personal example —  the sleepover with the girl in foster care who was placed in our child’s class – the one who was, at the time, on her EIGHTH placement in just a few short years because of her trauma induced behaviors – the one OUR child reached out to because she felt sorry for the fact that this girl was new, in care, and had no friends – the one who burned my kid with a lighter, lied, stole, was sexually active in Middle School, had a total disregard for adults and authority, destroyed property, ran away repeatedly, and was caught hanging on the OUTSIDE of the chain link fence encasing a bridge that runs over the turnpike WITH my daughter in tow!

Thankfully and blessedly, those who witnessed these things assured us that our child was NOT a participant, but an observer, for which we (even in our horror) rejoice and find comfort in the fact that she had the strength, courage, and presence of mind to do the right thing in the moment.  Sadly, those things are lost on you because it is much much easier to criticize than understand or to point your finger of blame at what you perceive to be inadequate parenting rather than to extend a hand of compassion to a hurting and struggling family.  Wow!  Just wow!

So, here’s the million dollar question.  Just exactly how many adopted crack babies are YOU raising?  Yeah, I thought so…

8.  “We’ve raised “X” number of kids and we did this and that and never did that or this – maybe you should…..”

Sigh… Congratulations to you on raising your kids successfully.  I’m sure you mean well, but your comments are not helpful!  In fact, they only serve to heap on more guilt and frustration, as you are essentially (and I’m sure unconsciously) adding to already burgeoning feelings of stress and failure.  We DO NOT profess to be perfect parents, quite the contrary, however, we (and most who foster/adopt) are also not first time parents, with many of us also working in fields involving special needs children, so we do bring experience to the table.

All that said, and while we are grateful for your concern and try to listen as intently as possible, we can’t help but glance at each other across the table or across the room as you impart your parenting wisdom and think to ourselves, “Did any of your “X” number of children carry a diagnosis of RAD?”  “How about ODD?”  “ADHD or Sensory Integration Dysfunction?”  “Hmm…  What about a Processing Disorder or problems with Executive Function?”  Nothing yet??

“Were any of your kids adopted?  In foster care?  Abused?   Abandoned?  Drug exposed?”

“Please don’t think me disrespectful, but would you feel comfortable comparing your parenting experience with your perfectly seeing children to that of a parent with a visually impaired child?”  “What about the parents of a child who was wheelchair bound or mobile only with the use of a walker?”  “What about the parents of a child with Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy?”

Thinking yet?  I hope so.

9.  “I could never do what you are doing.”

There are two ways to interpret this particular statement.

IF your intention was to offer a compliment or support by way of acknowledging that what we are doing is challenging even on a good day, then I most graciously thank you from the very bottom of my heart!  We SO seldom hear words of encouragement.  That you would take even a moment to share some time in conversation, allow us to talk about our child, offer words of support, well, please know that it is appreciated more than words can adequately express.

As almost all parents of RADishes will tell you, one of the hardest things is the feeling of isolation that comes with parenting our kids, along with the lack of compassion, tolerance, and grace exhibited by others who choose to judge rather than lean toward outreach and understanding.  YOU are among the few who give us the strength to keep on keeping on.

IF, on the other hand, your statement was meant as a means of criticizing the HOW of what we are doing, (as opposed to the WHAT) I refer back to the aforementioned question on meds. It is very easy to be a backseat driver, to offer an opinion on what you THINK you would do.  With due respect, you have no idea what course of action you would choose if you found yourself in a position that involved making life-altering decisions for the child you love.  I do think it is safe to say that you would do anything and everything humanly possible, that you would stumble and fall along the way, that you would put yourself through hell if it meant finding answers, and that you would feel hurt and anger at the insensitive comments and actions expressed by those who choose to criticize your path simply because it isn’t the one they would have chosen.

10.  “How can you buy into all that psycho-babble? That sounds so complicated you can’t even explain it adequately.” 

Can I say “thank you” yet again for the vote of confidence as we search for answers for our children? Geez!

Ironically, and not long ago, we just may have agreed with you – in the days before we officially became residents of the “RADish Patch.”  That was before we ever even knew the definition of Reactive Attachment Disorder, before we began the process of opening doors to long-sought, viable resources that had not been offered or available to us, before we were (finally) looking at a diagnosis that was SPOT ON with regard to our child.  All that time lost…

Now we are immersed in that “psycho-babble,” as you put it, and, for the first time, are experiencing genuine hope and a degree of understanding that has been elusive and hard-won.  This makes sense.  It addresses everything we deal with day in and day out.  It explains WHY our child behaves as she does and in what direction we need to move in order to work toward healing.  It has given us new hope.  It is complex and affirming, raw and primal, but it is built on love and promise and to parents who have walked through the deepest valleys with the children they cherish, it offers hope.  Did I mention the hope thing?

Here’s what it is not – EASY!

Therapeutic models designed to reach children of trauma are, in a word, HARD!  In many cases it involves tossing everything we’ve ever learned about parenting out the window, including how we may have been parented ourselves.


It does NOT and, much as those who choose to “lend their opinions” by way of the above would like to think that they have answers, know this.  YOU ARE NOT HELPING!  In fact, you are doing nothing more than adding to an already difficult and often critical situation by offering opinions and criticism disguised as assistance and concern.  I would refer back to the above comparisons to giving one’s opinion on a child who carries a physical disability.  It is no different and, with due respect, unless you’ve set down roots in the RADish patch, you’re clueless!

There is hope, however, and that is what keeps our heads above water – barely above on some days and often just treading water, but afloat just the same!  And that hope, dear skeptic, draws us much like the proverbial lighthouse in the storm, offering guidance, shelter, and direction where before there was none.

So, to those of you who would, by way of your insensitivity, seek to keep us tossing about in almost insurmountable seas with little hope for clear passage, we ask but one thing.  As we pull anchor, adjust our sails and turn into the winds of change and healing, please keep in mind that, while we would love to have you along for the ride and, in fact, would welcome your extra hands at the rail, it is your support and encouragement we need in order to weather the storms and rough seas that are sure to come, not your criticism and disdain.  Send a sustaining wind by way of your thoughts, words, and actions and prayerfully wish us Godspeed as we begin our voyage of healing and sail toward the sun.


(P.S.  If you find that to be an impossible task, do feel free to jump overboard!  Preferably into shark infested waters!!)

And someday, I just might write that post about things you SHOULD say to the parents of a RADish…


Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.    1 Peter 5:2

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