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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.

Day to Day Life Parenting a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder

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.  

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!

A Day in the Life of a Special Needs Mom| The Chaos and The Clutter

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy the resources below:

What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder To Be a Mother of a Young Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder What NOT to Do with a RAD Child How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Must Have Safety Resources When Parenting a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder


  1. I want to give you a hug and take you out for coffee. Thank goodness you are lucky to have your husband home to help. I am sure there are many times during the day where life is happy and relaxing but I definitely can see how it's nice to get the occasional mental break as a mom. You Rock!

    1. Awe, thank you my dear! As long as there's hot apple cider, I'm totally in! It is most definitely a benefit to have two parents in the home full time. I seriously don't know what I'd do without Jason home, especially since we have two daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

      You are right in that there are happy times. Some days are better than others. Homeschooling Princess has been THE BEST decision I've made, as our post positive interactions occur during that time. I love watching her learn and grow, especially when she allows me to teach and help her.

      We've learned that sticking together as a family, whether at home, or on vacation has brought great experiences and memories for everyone. There's always the safety factor that we have to remain vigilent about, but it tends to be easier in small spaces and on vacations, or while traveling, which is when the relaxation comes in. Odd, but so true. Thank you so much for your kind comment. <3

    2. Awe, thank you my dear! As long as there's hot apple cider, I'm totally in! It is most definitely a benefit to have two parents in the home full time. I seriously don't know what I'd do without Jason home, especially since we have two daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

      You are right in that there are happy times. Some days are better than others. Homeschooling Princess has been THE BEST decision I've made, as our post positive interactions occur during that time. I love watching her learn and grow, especially when she allows me to teach and help her.

      We've learned that sticking together as a family, whether at home, or on vacation has brought great experiences and memories for everyone. There's always the safety factor that we have to remain vigilent about, but it tends to be easier in small spaces and on vacations, or while traveling, which is when the relaxation comes in. Odd, but so true. Thank you so much for your kind comment. <3

  2. Poor, sweet little girl. I am so glad she has you two as your parents! It breaks my heart that other children have to go through this without all the support she gets from you. XXOO!!

  3. You are amazing. I have worked with a lovely (yet difficult) girl with RAD and watched as foster families promised she would stay with them forever only to have them give up and pass her to another family. This cycle repeated itself. There should be more families like yours 💜

  4. I clicked on your site and saw the picture of the soldier and wondered what the newest Montessori unit study could be. Then I read the title and I felt a click of recognition.

    Today I was trying to describe my husband's and my attempts at parenting our rad kids to another mother. I was at a loss for words trying to explain the overwhelming multitude of problems we deal with. Then I had a visual picture and I told her that it is as if we are in a war.

    As I read your excellent post, I only made it through the question of "Why mealtimes can become battlegrounds?" before I decided I had to stop and read it when I am not so exhausted. It was bringing back too many memories of the many destructive things my children have done and continue to do.

    So far it really sounds like an accurate description of life.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful comment and encouragement. I'm sorry it brought back so many difficult memories. My goal is always to be honest and promote awareness.

  5. Wow! I just can't imagine. You all are doing an amazing job!!

    I do have a question, just as an interested parent. Will Princess ever grow out of this disorder? You mentioned she chooses to have you there with her in the bathroom. Will she mature to be able to handle herself appropriately?

    You have been in my prayers constantly for as long as we have known each other. Thank you so much for sharing your story. You make me a more educated parent and friend to others.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Reactive Attachment Disorder is not something that a child can outgrow, but they can learn to cope with it. It's a choice though, and it is a very difficult journey.

  6. Hats off to you Renae for all the love and care and support you are giving to Princess and all your kids. It cannot be easy (that has to be the understatement of the year!) but your determination and attention will give her the best chance for a fulfilled life. Thanks so much for your honesty in sharing this Renae x

  7. Kudos to you and for the bravery and honesty that you share with us the world. I am a mom of 3 year who has recently been diagnosed with ASD but he has Down's and who possible has ADHD as well. I myself have Bipolar type 2 with BAD (Borderline Personality Disorder) as well as ADHD. So life is always moving and I applaud your willingness to be transparent for us - it helps more than you know

    1. You're very welcome. I applaud you for working so hard to be the best you can with the challenges you've been given.

  8. You are doing so amazing! From a fellow RAD mom, never let that guard down and keep on fighting the good fight. Much <3

  9. While I recognize that mental disorders are very real and require significant attention, I can't help but wonder- do you feel like this type of security will ever allow your child to grow? Do you think that your children will be able to interact with others in a "normal" fashion if they are not allowed to have any freedom in their lives whatsoever? Also, have you considered looking for the root of the problem? I think it might be important to ask why your children was diagnosed and allow them to work on the problem with you.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. You ask some very important questions. I appreciate you desire to learn and understand. In answer to your questions.
      1. A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder desires more than anything to feel safe. It's the hope that by providing the security she needs in these early years that she will be able to eventually feel secure and attach so that she can blossom in the future. It's a process of many baby steps.
      2. Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are unable to have healthy relationships in most cases. It's part of the diagnosis. In many instances they are a danger to others and/or to themselves. If we could allow more freedom we would, but doctors, therapists, and specialists require the supervision discussed in this post out of necessity.
      3. We are very aware of the root of the problem. Reactive Attachment Disorder is caused by trauma that occurs in the first months and years of life, to the point that permanent brain damage occurs. Princess was adopted through the foster care system, and experienced significant hardships in the first six months of her life. My husband and I feel it extremely important to be honest with her and include her in as many decisions about her life as possible. We want to her know she has the freedom to be who she wants to be, that we will keep her and others safe in our home, and that we know she is amazing and loved.

  10. I just found your website today searching how to discipline a child with RAD. Our daughter is 12 about to be 13 and was diagnosed at 5 years old. We are in a "regression" period right now with her, and it is affecting my 2 older biological children. I'm not surprised and we've been through this a million times, just venting and thankful to find your website and know we are not alone. We are exhausted physically, emotionally and financially right now as this regression has hit me hard, mainly because I am grieving so much right now that has been "missed" with my high school junior and knowing I have less than 2 years left with him at home. This period too will pass, but then she will regress again when something else triggers her. Christmas is always hard, and doesn't help that her birthday is February 2, so that begins another period of backsliding, then mother's know it all. I too home school all 3 of our children. I will be following your posts and website now that I have found you. I printed some of your posts for our older bio children to read. It is so hard for them to understand why we have to instill the "5 foot" rule when our RAD child begins acting out, stealing, breaking EVERY rule, just to get a reaction, so she has to remain with us ALL the time - never a break. I fail every day with being "reactive" myself because sometimes I'm just done and tired and want my home to be normal with our older 2. Like I said, I am grieving a lot of their childhood right now with them growing up and being in high school. With all of this said, heavy hearted today simply because we are having a regression period, I cannot imagine our lives without her. Sorry for all of this rambling - you are helping so many like me just by putting yourself out there, being honest, real, and providing all of the resources for us to seek and find answers and help. I too have a vast library - probably everything written on RAD, ADHD, strong willed child, etc. We do not have local resources that are experienced with RAD. We have spent 1000's and driven hours per week to different therapist, most have done more harm than good because they do NOT have a clue, but want to "learn" about RAD and help us. But when the RAD child is breathtakingly beautiful, deceitful, master manipulator/triangulator, you eventually stop looking, just do your homework and plow through it together as a family, doing the best you can. Thank you for your raw honesty. I could write a book here, but have to go now deal with my RAD daughter who has been throwing a tantrum the entire time I've been writing this, disrupting in every way that she can. Prayers to you and your family.

    1. Oh how I wish you I could give you a great big hug and we could grieve together. This stuff is not for the weak. You are not alone in so many of your experiences. I hope you can continue to find hope and comfort as you follow my blog. May it bring you strength as you strive each day to do the best you can.

  11. Oh how I wish I knew this before we got our two princesses. we are nineteen years into our journey with RAD. Like you one is the in your face violent girl and the other a manipulator. We also have been to many doctors therapists. etc.. It is exhausting, we thought we were ready for this challenge having dealt with our own biological son's ADHD. Wow, we were wrong.
    Somehow we need others to realize we are not the cause of our kids problems, we do our best to discipline our kids and love them the best we can. I can't count the many times my oldest rad threw a fit on the Walmart floor and people passing by say things like "I know what I would do" inferring that spanking is the answer to everything. It doesn't work! Hitting only causes more violence in these kids. We have tried most everything, we do have consequences believe me or not. My own beloved mother-in-law and I truly mean that, said we spoiled our kids. What she saw as spoiling was us trying to enjoy our kids, things like taking them to the play area at the mall.
    Well I guess what I'm trying to say is your help is much appreciated, it almost made me cry when I read that nothing works. I have felt like I've failed as a parent. you have validated my parenting here. thank you, God bless

    1. Sending hugs your way! This road is so hard. I love that your mother-in-law accused you of spoiling your kids. So many times parents receive the opposite response, that they are too strict etc. It just goes to show what an incredible job you've done! My hat is off to you!

  12. My eyes instantly fought through tears reading this article. This is our life. I am failing and angry and feel like sometimes I'm fighting an uphill battle trying to put out fires that have not yet ignited. I'm exhausted as as I read this I kept thinking she gets me she understands. I was not like this with my biological children and I feel so guilty knowing I have PTSD and depression due to our adoption and the trauma of having a child with RAD brought into the home. We were blindsided because all of the RAD symptoms took a little while to emerge. One day I had a helpful delightful child and the next suddenly I had a daughter who self harms, manipulates situations, lies, steals and is always in fight or flight mode. I feel so alone in this battle and your 2 articlesI read just made it seem a little less lonely and like I'm a little less crazy.thank you for your honesty when you write.