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I Just Want to Feel Safe

I was confronting Princess about her post holiday behaviors.  Quite exasperated after listening to her carry on with no explanations, it was my turn to talk.

"No matter what we do, you can't accept it.  You either destroy it or sabotage it.  What is it that you want from us?"

She dropped her head and cupped it in her hands, shaking it back and forth.  After pausing and taking a deep breath she looked up at me with tears filling her dark brown eyes.

"I just want to feel safe."  Her voice was faint and quivering.

Safe...

What does that mean?  I was silent for a moment, trying to wrap my head around what she had just said.

Such incredible words spoken from such a little girl.

I Just Want to Feel Safe-Tips on how to help a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder
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 Weeks later the words continue to echo in my head.

"I just want to feel safe."

I think about them as we enter every new part of the day.  I reflect on so many behaviors from the past and analyze each and every situation.  What caused her to feel unsafe when this happened?

Then the conversation in my head ultimately comes down to the same question.  Is it really just all about safety?

I don't know if I'll ever know the full answer to that.  Reactive Attachment Disorder is such a complicated thing.  There are so many aspects about it that I don't think anyone will fully understand in this lifetime. But for now, focusing on helping Princess feel safe in the ways she needs seems to be the perfect place to start.

Since our conversation, when Princess is at her best, I'll slip in a question or two about what makes her feel safe, and how specific situations make her feel unsafe.  Her answers have been incredibly enlightening and confirm so much of what we've learned.

What does safety mean and what does it look like?


1. Knowing what to expect

Whether it's daily routines, weekly schedules, monthly rituals or holiday traditions, knowing what to expect brings a sense of safety that nothing else can.  If Princess knows what's next, she doesn't have to worry about the chance of something going terribly wrong or worse, being hurt.  She can let down her guard and focus on the current task.


2. Regulation of the Senses

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder often has significant sensory issues.  When sensory needs are not met a child feels off balance, unsatisfied, unsafe, and at times in pain.  If Princess' sensory needs are met, her ability to make sense of how her body is feeling improves.  With this comes an opportunity to relax which is always a good thing.

3. Less is Better

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder struggles to handle even the simplest day-to-day situations.  The more that's added to Princess' life, the more unsafe it becomes, which then results in more negative behaviors and safety issues.  Whether it's toys and other belongings, schedules and routines, holidays and other events, special occasions, and even where she lives (city versus country).  Less is always better.  Minimalism is Princess' best friend.

4. Clear and consistent boundaries and rules

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder takes a thousand times longer to trust anything and anyone, if the child can learn at all.  No matter how many times the same thing happens, Princess still wonders if it will be the same the next time and has to challenge it or try to control it.  Clear and consistent boundaries and rules take away the fear of the unknown.

5. Staying Healthy

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder experiences pain and sickness differently than others.  A child may have an incredible tolerance for pain.  Princess has taught her body to ignore pain and push through no matter what for survival.  When a child with RAD feels sick or ill, their initial response may be the same, which causes significant health risks and behavioral issues.  Helping Princess to remain as healthy as she can be makes a world of difference in her every day functioning.

6. Being Present and Visible

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is always afraid of losing everything, including caregivers and family members.  By being visible and present as often as possible, that fear slowly begins to diminish over time.  Princess knows she's going to be okay so long as we are with her.

Note: This does not mean giving hugs, kisses, snuggles etc., because in most instances this feels very unsafe to a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.


We all know when a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder feels safe, the fight or flight response lessens.  The frequency and severity of negative behaviors diminishes.  Safety can blossom into trust.  With trust comes the ability to form a secure attachment.  In some cases, when a secure attachment is formed, love is possible.

Without safety the world is too scary.  It's a dangerous place that's too big to conquer.  A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder would much prefer to rely on herself and challenge the world head on than try to function with others without safety.

Though there are many techniques and therapeutic approaches out there that may or may not benefit a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, improvement is more likely when caregivers are working to help the child feel as safe as possible. It's where to start first, when everything seems to be falling apart.

And as for Princess, creating a safe place has meant everything.  She still has Reactive Attachment Disorder. There are still negative behaviors.  But, she's ever so slowly making improvements, that we otherwise wouldn't see.  Providing safety is most definitely worth it.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.

When Nightmares Become Reality Day to Day Life Parenting A Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Reactive Attachment Disorder
I Just Want to Feel Safe-Tips on how to help a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder

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