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Reactive Attachment Disorder: How to Address Behaviors

Addressing behaviors and setting boundaries with a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or complex trauma are some of the most dreaded responsibilities of caregivers.

It's rare that a battle doesn't follow, which can lead to some pretty significant consequences for everyone in the home.

At times caregivers tend to let things go, because they're already walking on eggshells and don't want more issues. 

The trauma is real.

Over the years we've discovered some ways that help when addressing behaviors and setting boundaries. 

We have two children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, total opposites of each other in the way they present. This method has worked with both of them.

We hope it can help you too.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: How to Address Behaviors

Please be aware, that the method in this post is for addressing behaviors and setting boundaries in situations where behaviors have already occurred and all parties are calm and regulated.

If you're looking for guidance in how to handle situations that arise in the moment, be sure to check out the post below.

4 Steps to Managing Aggressive Behaviors in Children

4 Steps to Managing Aggressive Behaviors in Children

There comes a time on almost a daily basis that a caregiver realizes a child with RAD or complex trauma has done something that needs to be addressed, with a new boundary often needing to be set.

In these circumstances, we have found that there many approaches that do NOT work, and one that tends to yield the best results. 

Here's how it works.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: How to Address Behaviors

 1. It Happened

Instead of confronting a child with RAD about a specific behavior or action and asking them why she did what she did, simplify the conversation.

Just state that you know the child chose a specific behavior or action and leave it at that. If there's away to leave the child's name out of it and just focus on the behavior or action, do it.

Asking why a a behavior or action has occurred leads to a RAD child becoming defensive and sometimes combative.

As a caregiver, you will not receive any response to the question "why" that is helpful. 

Once the question "why" has been asked, the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder starts to calculate responses, figuring out which ones will benefit her most. An honest and open conversation will most likely not be possible once this process begins.

The calculating of responses by a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is a trauma response. 

Though the situation may not feel like it to caregivers, being questioned feels like a life or death scenario for the RAD child. 

The child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is triggered and feels like she needs to find a way to survive at all costs.

If the RAD child tells the truth, what happens next?

If the RAD child lies, what happens next?

If the RAD child doesn't give the answer the caregiver is looking for, what happens next?

Is the caregiver going to provide a safe enough environment for the RAD child to know, that no matter what she says or does, she will still be loved, even when she chooses negative behaviors?

As the caregiver states calmly what happened in a matter of fact way, without questions, the caregiver is helping the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder feel safer than she would during a confrontation and questioning.

There may be times a caregiver may be wrong when stating what has happened. When caregivers know their RAD child well, this will happen rarely. 

When it does happen, modeling how to apologize and make amends goes a long way.

An example of stating it happened is as follows.

"Sunshine, the carpet near your bed smells like pee."

Once a statement is made common responses from our RAD kids in this house are,

"I didn't doit!" or "No it doesn't!"

"It was an accident."

"It's not my fault."

"I don't want to talk about it."

When these responses come, I respond.

"None of that matters. It happened. So let's deal with it, and move on."

I remind them of something positive that's coming up next after our discussion and continue.

In the situation regarding the carpet, I respond with,

"I'm not concerned about the details. The carpet smells like pee. Let's do something about this."

2. Deal with It

Once a statement has been made by the caregiver to the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, it is followed with a natural or logical consequence, and/or an explanation of what will happen if the behavior continues.

I do not initiate this process of addressing behaviors until I have come up with a natural or logical consequence and/or an explanation of what will happen there is another occurrence. 

In the instance regarding the carpet smelling like pee, I ask Sunshine to go get the carpet cleaner and washcloth so we can clean things up and get rid of the smell. 

So long as Sunshine doesn't feel threatened or defensive, she usually complies. If she doesn't, time stops until the carpet is cleaned. This means nothing else happens until it is done. 

After the carpet is clean, which may or may not require my help, I explain that peeing on the carpet is considered destruction of property in our home.

If Sunshine chooses to pee in her room, instead of in the bathroom on the toilet, her carpet, stuffed animals, and clothing will be removed from her bedroom, to ensure that they aren't ruined and are clean when she needs them.

All of this is stated very calmly and matter of fact. Once I know that Sunshine understands what happens if she chooses to pee in her room again, we move on.

3. Move On

Choosing to move on once a behavior is addressed can be the hardest part of the process, especially if emotions are still big and/or the RAD child denied the behavior all together.

It may feel necessary to demand an apology or amends, but that usually only leads to more battles. 

If the RAD child is capable of feeling remorse, an apology will come when she's ready, sometimes completely out of the blue in a day or two.

If a RAD child is not capable of feeling remorse yet, an apology is just two words that are said because she has to say them. They mean absolutely nothing.

Some caregivers may feel compelled to dish out punishments, lecture, or pile on consequences unrelated to the incident. These responses only create more battles in the end.

Instead, state that it's time to move on. Invite the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to do something with you that shows no matter what, you still love them.

The invitation could be as simple as asking if the child would like to listen to music while finishing a routine and letting her choose the tunes.

In some cases, moving on may require more effort. When this occurs, go along with your child's most preferred love language and start there.

Extending an outpouring of love after a behavior may seem backwards or like you're rewarding negative behaviors, but with a RAD kid these actions do the opposite.

You are teaching her that a caregiver's love is not conditional and related to behaviors.

You are teaching her to move on, which is extremely important.  A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and complex trauma becomes "stuck" very easily, which leads to more behaviors.

Moving on also shows your child with Reactive Attachment Disorder that you're moving on, which is incredibly important.

Moving on takes so much pressure off of the child. 

Defenses lower. 

The chance of a fight, flight, or freeze response lessens.

When a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder senses that it's safe to talk about anything and everything she will because there's no fear of "What happens if?"

Positive experiences after addressing a behavior provide these opportunities.

More than anything a caregiver wants to know what's going on in a RAD child's head.

Be ready to listen without judgement.

Don't try to fix things.

Validate feelings even if you feel they are backwards or wrong.

Be prepared to hear some pretty unhealthy thoughts.

Behaviors are communication. 

When we provide opportunities for safe communication, negative behaviors lessen.

And that's what we want as caregivers more than anything!

Acknowledge that a behavior happened. 

Deal with it as quickly and kindly as possible. 

Then move on!

Though all of this may be incredibly difficult to do, it's possible and helps so much!

For those who would like more resources when caring for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, be sure to subscribe to our free newsletter by clicking the link below.

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

Internal Family Systems: A Child's Parts Breathing Exercises for Kids with Free Printables What NOT to Do with a RAD Child Anger Management for Kids Four Prompts to Encourage Mindfulness in Children How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Must Have Safety Resources When Parenting a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive Attachment Disorder: How to Address Behaviors

1 comment:

  1. How can I move on really when my RAD kid does to me what their abusive father did to me before i had to remove him from their life (6 years in court... and now single parenting our RAD kids) and the only way i rebuilt myself was to set a boundary by which such thing would never ever be in my life again, when I reclaimed myself by clarifying and holding on to my values, the ones that my teen RADdies tread on left and right behaviorally and verbally? I.e. attending to their trauma negates mine and my healing? Ideas? (and no, no emergency team on hand, I would dream of it like a prayer if only i was religious)