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Day to Day Life Parenting a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder

People often comment how they can't imagine doing what I do as a parent of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Others close to me can't believe what goes on or how I cope.  And of course the question is why?  Why do I do this?

Today I want to share an up close and personal look at day to day life parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Beware.  It is raw and honest.
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The Morning

The alarm on Princess' bedroom door always sounds the loudest in the morning when it's time for her to rise and shine.  It's my daily wake up call to realities of life parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Why is there an alarm on Princess' door?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often display unsafe behaviors in the night when others are asleep, or when they think no one is watching.  These behaviors can include sexual victimization of others in the home, self injurious behaviors, behaviors that may injure others including adults, siblings and animals, stealing, destruction of property, and/or the use of weapons, or other harmful substances and objects in the house.  An alarm on the door protects everyone in the home, including Princess.

Once greeted, Princess is then escorted to the bathroom to complete her morning routine.  She is supervised by an adult the entire time.

Why does Princess require supervision in the bathroom?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, when left alone can cause significant damage to property or themselves.  Bathrooms in particular can be a trigger, and may be very unsafe due to the contents of the room.  Princess has shown increased maturity while using the bathroom but has requested that we continue to supervise her so she won't be tempted to revert back to earlier behaviors.

Breakfast comes next.  Usually it's the most enjoyable meal of the day, but one can never tell.  Princess' meal is selected and prepared by an adult, measured carefully.  If there is to be a battle, the adult wants to make sure their energy isn't wasted.

Why can mealtime turn into a battleground?

Food usually is a trigger for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Most often this is a result of past trauma and/or neglect.  Some refuse to eat for hours.  Others gorge, over stuff, and/or over eat to the point of vomiting.  Meals are best selected and monitored by caregivers as many children with Reactive Attachment Disorder can not identify when they are hungry, full, or feeling ill for quite some time.

Once breakfast has been eaten, Princess completes morning chores and homeschool responsibilities all within arm's length of an adult.  It is her responsibility to remain with Jason or myself, not the other way around.

Why must Princess stay within arm's length of an adult while completing daily tasks?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder will take advantage of any opportunity to cause chaos, and/or engage in destructive or harmful behaviors that involve objects or people in the home, school, or other community places.  They enjoy the art or sabotage.  If they can manipulate someone they'll do it.

Triangulation, especially with parents is their specialty.  It takes only seconds to create a dangerous situation.  Putting the responsibility on the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to remain with the parent encourages responsibility of one's actions and consequences.  If the child is unwilling to comply with the safety plan, the parent can then reach out to therapists and doctors with documentation, and seek a higher level of help and/or care for the child.

Lunch follows learning.  The same rules that are in place for breakfast apply to lunch as well.  This meal poses a higher threat of battle, but there are days when it runs quite smoothly after years of hard work.

The Afternoon

The afternoon kicks off with some form of physical activity.  If the weather is nice, we try to go for a walk at the very least.  Princess is required to hold hands with an adult while on our walk.

Why must Princess hold hands on walks?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder tend to have a very high flight or fight response to stress.  Anxieties often increase when the child leaves the home, as fears of the unknown are confronted, and when the child is unable to control the environment around them to feel safe.

Most often the children feel safer when close to their caregiver, even if they express the exact opposite with their behaviors. In so many situations their fears and anxieties get the best of them, and they can not self-regulate.  When this occurs negative behaviors increase.  Keeping the child close with physical contact in some cases can help the child be successful outside of the home.

Depending on how long lunch time is extended due to food issues, and the length of our walk or other choice of physical activity, we may be able to sneak in some family fun before the nightly news and dinner.  Princess' emotional state and behaviors determine her participation.  

If there have been issues throughout the day, this is usually the time when they come to the forefront and I fulfill the motherly role that Princess needs. Most often this consists of a backwards approach to parenting.  Some days this ends with both of our faces tear stained.  Other days, I sit with her in her room, listening to her scream, while I try to keep her safe.  

And then there are those days, when all we can do is crank the speakers to maximum volume, turn on our song, and dance, singing our guts out, hoping that by songs end, we've released enough emotions, we can both make it through the rest of the day.  

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder may be chronologically 6 years old, cognitively 9 years old, developmentally 4 years old, and emotionally 2 years old.  Coping with emotions, sensory stimuli, and anxieties can be rough to say the least.  We have learned when it comes to our expectations of Princess, we must always factor in her emotional age.


The Evening

The nightly news provides respite, as it's part of a consistent routine that helps everyone wind down before dinner and bedtime routines.  Though grim at times, it encourages the discussion of emotions and opinions, which is important, as many children with Reactive Attachment Disorder can't recognize emotions, let alone express them appropriately.  Princess is permitted to sit on the floor with a blanket and pillow as long as she keeps her hands where adults can see them at all times.

Why must Princess keep her hands visible at all times?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often act out sexually, sometimes this means with only themselves, other times these children can target others.  It is normal for some children to act out sexually in public.  These behaviors are often a result of sexual trauma they experienced in the past.

Dinner is prepared and served.  This is usually the most difficult meal of the day, but we are always hopeful that the current day will be a good one and we'll get lucky.  After dinner, Jason grabs the prescription lock box from the shelf in the kitchen and gives everyone their nighttime doses of medication, one child at a time,while I'm supervising the others in the living room.

Why do we use a lock box for medications?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often steal and can engage in a variety of self injuring behaviors.  Many suffer from other mental health illnesses.  Depression is not uncommon.  Others enjoy the thrill of stealing and selling items for money to engage in harmful behaviors.  A lock box is used to keep everyone safe, especially our children with Reactive Attachment Disorder and demonstrates appropriate safety plans put in place.

Once all medications are locked away, Jason and I sweep through the downstairs, in search of any sharp objects that we may have used during dinner preparations and mealtime, washing them and returning them to their places in our lockable kitchen tool box.

Why do we lock up sharp objects?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often engage in dangerous activities, using sharp objects to injure themselves, others, animals, and to cause destruction to property, etc.  Locking up sharp objects protects everyone in the household, including caregivers, as they're demonstrating appropriate  safety plans put in place.

Bedtime routines follow.  Princess continues to be supervised 100% of the time, unless she is in her room with her door shut and alarm on.  Before tucking her in each night, Jason or I do one final search through her room.  The search takes five minutes or less, as it only contains a mattress on the floor, covered with a fitted sheet, one blanket, one pillow, and one stuffed animal.  She has a forward facing book case with six books and one set of shelves where her clothes are neatly folded and visible at all times.

Why must Princess' room be searched each night?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often steal and/or hoard food and other objects in their bedrooms.  Some hide weapons, including sharp objects.  Other children tend to destroy walls, doors and household furniture.  There are also many children with Reactive Attachment Disorder who may cover their floors, walls, clothes, etc. with bodily fluids and feces.  Daily checks confirm that you're not missing something, and also help you to remain vigilant at all times.

Why does Princess have so few items in her room?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder become overwhelmed easily with too many things.  They often destroy items given to them or use them inappropriately while self harming, etc.  Daily, weekly, and/or monthly searches take time.  The fewer objects and furniture in the room  the easier it is to do routine searches.  There are also fewer places to hide things.

Princess' bedtime routine ends with hugs, kisses, and I love you's before her light is turned off and her door is shut, with the alarm on.  Then it's time to finish documenting any incidents that may have occurred during the day in Princess' "special book," to report to members of Princess' therapeutic treatment team during upcoming appointments.  Emergency situations are reported immediately by phone.

Why do you document incidents that occur in a notebook?

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often engage in bizarre and dangerous behaviors that threaten the safety of themselves and/or others.  It is crucial that these behaviors be documented and reported accurately and in a timely manner to help the children in the home, and to also protect the parental rights of caregivers.

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder often put on "artificial charm" for others outside of the home. It is completely normal for them to lie about incidents that have taken place and accuse others of maltreating them.  Documenting behaviors also helps the caregiver feel validated and provides a constant reminder that behaviors are not just figments of the imagination, but instead very real, especially when so many others doubt a child could actually be capable of what you're experiencing.

It is then that Jason and I are finally able to relax and take a much needed respite after another stressful and exhausting day.  Day to day life parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder can easily be compared to being a combat soldier in the middle of a war zone.  Studies have shown that the stress experienced by a parent of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is equivalent to that of a combat soldier.  Except that you're alone.  

The loss of friend and family support a caregiver experiences due to the behaviors of the child, the need to protect and keep everyone safe, and the backwards parenting techniques that must be used is unimaginable.  It takes it's toll, in one way or another.  

For me, it's affected my weight and sleep patterns.  For others it causes anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, PTSD, and/or depression.  The constant prison guard like patrolling to ensure safety never ends.   Down time on a regular basis is crucial to keeping your sanity.

When Jason and I go to bed, we turn on our ADT alarm system downstairs, with alarms on each of the doors and a censor in the living room, making it impossible for anyone to exit the house, or enter the kitchen without tripping the alarm and immediately initiating safety protocol.  

And then we sleep, wake up and do the same things all over again because we love our daughter.  We want her to succeed and are willing to do whatever we must to make that possible.  There are precious moments when all is well.  She is smiling and happy.  Everyone is safe.  Reactive Attachment Disorder seems to have disappeared.  It's those moments that keep us fighting.  

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This post is part of the Parenting Children with Special Needs Series. For more posts about daily living with various special needs, please enjoy the links below!
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Montessori-inspired Bird Gifts and Resources for Children

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More Montessori-inspired Bird Math Activities

My kiddos can't get enough bird activities, especially math ones.  Obviously when a child asks for more learning you kindly oblige.  This is the case even when you've already created three entire unit studies dedicated to birds.

I must say these are pretty fantastic activities.  If you need more Montessori-inspired bird math activities, you're in the right place!

Montessori-inspired Bird themed Math Activities with Free Printables
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Just check these out!

Counting Birds
Counting Birds Clip Cards (Free Printable)
Sunshine loves to count right now.  I'm thrilled about this, especially as it took her so long to understand the concept.  I couldn't help but create some bird counting cards for her.  She can't wait to get her hands on them!

Source:  I created the printable for this activity as part of my Bird Unit Math Printable Pack 2. This is a Subscriber's Only Freebie. For your free copy, follow the directions at the bottom of this post.

Odd and Even Numbers with Birds
Odd and Even Numbers with Birds Activity (Free Printable)
Dinomite was completing a workbook page yesterday having to do with odd and even numbers.  It was inspiration for this activity.  The older kids can always use a little review, but Sunshine is also ready to be introduced to odd and even numbers.  What better way to practice than with bird figures from our Safari Ltd Exotic Bird and Backyard Bird TOOBS.

Source:  I created the printable for this activity as part of my Bird Unit Math Printable Pack 2. This is a Subscriber's Only Freebie. For your free copy, follow the directions at the bottom of this post.

Multiplying Bird Eggs
Multiplying Bird Eggs Clip Cards (Free Printable)
Bulldozer LOVES multiplicaiton right now. He literally asks me several times throughout the day to give him a multiplication problem to solve.  Obviously we needed to create a bird themed multiplication activity just for him.  Robin Eggs are our favorite egg counters to use in activities like this one. The kiddos love to eat an egg for every problem they answer correctly.

Source:  I created the printable for this activity as part of my Bird Unit Math Printable Pack 2.  This is a Subscriber's Only Freebie. For your free copy, follow the directions at the bottom of this post.

Dividing Worms
Dividing Worms Clip Cards (Free Printable)
Bulldozer also loves division.  He's good at it too!  Dinomite is all about using gummy worms as counters.  I really couldn't go wrong here.  So for all those looking for fun ways to practice division, this is for you!

Source:  I created the printable for this activity as part of my Bird Unit Math Printable Pack 2. This is a Subscriber's Only Freebie. For your free copy, follow the directions at the bottom of this post.

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Montessori-inspired Practical Life Camping Activities

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Technically, we have been taking a break from homeschooling this summer, or at least the kiddos think so.  I on the other hand have been sneaking in as much learning as possible without them knowing.  And let me tell you, it's going very well.

Last week we went camping.  We'd practiced camping in our living room and in grandparents' backyards over the past year.  But this was the real deal, at a local state park camp site.  Our camping experience provided so many practical life learning opportunities.  I just couldn't resist sharing

How to Set Up a Tent
Jason has always been the one to set up our tent when we've practiced camping.  This time the kiddos wanted to help.  Before leaving we watched a youtube video about how to set up our specific tent and then practiced the steps using a sequencing activity.  
Both preparation activities were part of an amazing therapy camp activity pack for children with autism from And Next Comes L.  

Once we arrived at camp, the kiddos took turns helping Jason and knew exactly what to do.
Everyone's favorite part was hammering in the stakes.  Little did they know how challenging this would be with such dry ground.
This didn't stop them from trying though.  I love how Bulldozer sticks his tongue out when he's concentrating.

Building a Fire
On our camping trip, Bulldozer was absolutely fascinated about the process of building a fire.  He begged to help Jason every night.  Bulldozer gathered sticks. He helped place the logs where they needed to go.  Our last night, after watching Daddy several times, Bulldozer even lit his first match.
As you can see, Bulldozer was closely supervised the entire time.

Cooking Over a Campfire
Princess was all about preparing and cooking dinner over the fire each night.  Whether it was helping to prepare a foiled dinner or cooking hot dogs and bacon on a stick, she was all for it.  She had such an enjoyable time doing this.

Making S'mores
Our kiddos love S'mores, but usually they don't get involved in the process further than roasting their marshmallows.  This time, they did everything from start to finish.  Before leaving, Sunshine watched a step by step video about making a S'more found on youtube.  Then we practiced sequencing the steps of the activity.  Once again these two preparation activities were part of a therapy based, camp themed activity pack for children with autism from And Next Comes L.  (I can't recommend this enough!)  While at camp, everyone had their chance to make their own S'more from beginning to end, with close adult supervision.
If you think about all of the steps involved in making a S'more, each and every one one is a fabulous practical life activity.

Washing Dishes
What better way to practice washing dishes then outside while camping!  Dinomite, who usually despises the chore of washing dishes, asked to help every day.  Sunshine was his side kick each and every time, rinsing each dish before being dried.

Hanging Clothes to Dry on a Clothesline
Camping provides plenty of opportunities for hanging clothes out to dry.  Sunshine and Princess loved helping me put clothes on the clothesline.  They became quite proficient at it!  Such a great practical life skill to learn.

Changing Batteries in a Flashlight
You never know when you're going to need to change batteries in your flashlight.  It's best that you know how when the time comes while camping! The boys did well with this.

Zipping and Unzipping a Tent (or Sleeping Bag)
If there was one practical life skill that the kiddos practiced over and over and over while camping, it was zipping and unzipping.  Whether it was the tent or their sleeping bags, they clocked in so much practice!  The best part was that it was fun, because we were camping!

Practical life experiences can be incorporated into any vacation or adventure you decide to go on with your children.  You just need to look for the opportunities and be willing to take the time to allow them to watch you, then teach them, and then help them practice and succeed.

For more outdoor activities be sure to visit this post!
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A Birth Mother's Love

There's much to be said about a mother's love.  The words sacrifice and selflessness come first to mind.  A mother's love can be expressed in so many ways.  It invokes all of the senses and is something that extends beyond life itself.  Life would not be the same without the nurturing love of a mother.

These are my thoughts on a mother's love.

Princess on the other hand has a completely different take on a mother's love.  She has had two mothers in her life.  There is me, her adoptive mother, and then there is her birth mother.  It can be difficult to imagine how much a birth mother's love can impact the life of a child.  Here is just a glimpse of Princess' story.

The story of how one girl begins to understand her birth mother's love.

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Background Information

Princess' birth mother hurt her.  She definitely invoked all of the senses, but not in positive ways.  And then, she "left."  Princess' life has forever been altered.  Her brain has permanently changed.

Princess has vocalized on many occasions that she hates her birth mother, and because I now fill those shoes, the hate is projected on to me.  Such is the reality of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I've often found myself in the middle of quite the dilemma, knowing that Princess' birth mother did the best she could, a young single mother of 18 with emotional disabilities of her own.  There were six months of weekly supervised visits, some of which I attended, all the while Princess was in our home as a foster child.

I remember the day when Princess' birth mother called and asked if we would adopt her daughter.  The day Princess' birth mother surrendered her rights will forever be etched in my mind.  And the final goodbyes...  Unless you were there, it's so hard to understand all of the emotions flowing freely as a mother gives her daughter to you.

You see, I know Princess' birth mother loved her.  I know she did her best.  I know that giving her to us was the hardest decision she's ever had to make, but by doing so, she made the ultimate sacrifice for her daughter.

It pains me to see the hurt, anger, and fear that Princess still has for her birth mother.  I wish I could take it all away so she could begin to heal and progress.  (Mind you she has every right to feel hurt, anger, and fear.)

A Doll Named Anna

Watching Princess grow and learn has been fascinating.  Understanding interests and objects she gravitates to, compared to those I had as a little girl has taken some effort and examination.  One thing has remained consistent since the day she arrived.  Princess does not like dolls of any kind, especially those with hair.

One can imagine how surprised Jason and I were when at Christmas time this past year, Princess asked for an American Girl Doll, not the typical dolls, but one of the itty bitty twin dolls.

Jason and I discussed the gift choice for a couple of months before we decided to purchase a set of twins to split between two children in the family.  We both knew it could go one of two ways.  She would either love the doll to pieces or she would destroy it, maltreat it, and/or use it in very inappropriate ways.

When she received the doll at Christmas, we were very detailed with rules and expectations, making it clear to Princess that she was to care for "Anna" appropriately.  (Princess named the doll.)  Things went well for about a month and then we noticed that Anna wasn't being cared for.  She was being used inappropriately during play.  Princess was tying knots in her hair.

In reality Anna was being abused and neglected in many of the same ways Princess had been.  It's often so difficult to watch Princess sabotage a good thing.  Jason and I ended up having to remove the doll from her room.

At that point, I was so frustrated with the constant push and pull of giving and taking.  The doll was the last straw for me.  We'd had so many incidents this year with Princess maltreating and destroying her things.  I wanted to change things up.

Lessons About a Birth Mother's Love

I felt inspired to use this experience as a teaching tool, and possibly help Princess process through a part of her story that she didn't quite understand, the part of her life when she had been taken from her birth mother and was in foster care.  The parts of the story where her birth mother tried to get her back, and ultimately surrendered.

Perhaps then, Princess would begin to understand the love her birth mother had for her, or at least fill in gaps of her story.  It still wouldn't take away all of the horrible things that happened, but at least it would be something.

Adoption is so complicated when trauma is involved.  I wondered if my idea might help her realize that her birth mother really isn't going to try and take her back.  This has always been a fear that Princess just can't move past and causes serious behavioral issues, especially around certain peak times of year that trigger her.

After discussing the idea with her therapists, I went to work.  I wanted the experience to mimic that of her birth mother's as much as possible.

Princess had already confessed to not caring for Anna appropriately.  She admitted that she'd done the opposite.  Jason and I created a contract or service plan for Princess, outlining all she needed to do to earn Anna back.  We reviewed it with her.  Her therapists reviewed it with her.  Everyone signed the plan at the end of February.  And then, it was up to Princess to decide whether or not she wanted to do what it took to earn Anna back.

If she succeeded in earning Anna back, she would learn that she was not like her birth mother, and this would be a fabulous thing, since she often thinks that since her birth mother was "bad," she must be "bad" too.  If she failed to earn Anna back, she'd go through the same experience her birth mother did, and through the process, learn more about her birth mother and how she felt, and about herself.

Sadly, but completely expected, Princess did not make it through phase two of the plan.  On June 15th, we came to a point that no matter how hard she worked, she could not complete the plan by July 31st and so she went through the process of selecting a new home for Anna, and said her goodbyes.

But here's the thing, Princess learned A TON about herself, and about her birth mother.  When all was said and done, Princess was extremely upset that she hadn't worked through her plan, and would need to give Anna away.  Yet at the same time she felt such relief because the ordeal was over.

She was very vocal, explaining that the process of earning Anna back was too hard, and that she wasn't ready for that responsibility.  Caring for a doll was too much work.  When I asked her to pick someone she'd like to give Anna to, she didn't hesitate at all.  She chose the most kind and loving little girl she knows.  And when I asked her if she still loved Anna, she was quick to reply yes.

Lastly, I asked Princess if she would try to get Anna back from her friend.  Princess literally gasped and exclaimed that she would never dream of doing something like that.

Filling in the Gaps

Then I started asking her about her birther mother.

1.  How did your birth mother feel as she was trying to follow her service plan?

2.  How did she feel when she knew she couldn't complete it?

3.  Who did your birth mother want to take care of you?

4.  Did she love you?

5.  Is she  going to try to take you back?

It was as if a light bulb went on in Princess' head.  She answered every question correctly and accurately, with sincerity.  Her understanding of a part of her life that had made absolutely no sense before, was so much more complete.  We were able to talk about her birth mother's circumstances which included homelessness, lack of support, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc.

Princess' feelings about her birth mother have started to change, which means feelings about herself will start to change.  To understand and acknowledge that her birth mother did love her is a HUGE step.  And to finally grasp that her birth mother isn't coming back to take her...  So much healing has taken place.

Though Anna didn't stay long, she was definitely worth the adventure.  The therapy that she provided was like none other.  Anna taught Princess about her birth mother's love.  And though it's complicated and messy in every sense of the word, Princess loved Anna, just like her birth mother loved her, though neither were ready for the responsibility of caring for another.

They loved to the ability they were capable, just like every other birth mother I have ever met.

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A story about a birth mother's love for her daughter.

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