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How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder struggle giving holiday gifts to others for many reasons.

This struggle can cause significant stress and tension for friends and family.

Feelings get hurt.

Everyone experiences trauma. 

There are ways to make the gift giving experience more pleasant for everyone while helping the child with RAD.

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

Warning: This page contains content related to Reactive Attachment Disorder that may be triggering to some.


Important: Children with RAD are victims of abuse and/or neglect. Behaviors associated with Reactive Attachment Disorder are due to how the brain forms while the innocent child is surviving trauma. It is our goal to support healthy and loving families where children with RAD can heal, if possible.

In order to understand how to help a child with RAD give gifts, it's important that a caregiver understand why the process is such a struggle.

I want to thank my adopted daughter Princess for helping me with this post. 

She is currently in a place of healing where she is able to discuss these things freely and loves to help others who may also be struggling.

5 Reasons Why Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder Struggle with Holiday Gift Giving

1. A Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Doesn't Know a Person Well Enough to Select a Gift

A child suffering from RAD does all she can to push people away and keep them at a distance.

The process of holiday gift giving is the ultimate reminder of how much a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder chooses not to attach to caregivers and other family members.

Caregivers that expect a child with RAD to know about the interests and passions of others in the family in order to select a gift are setting themselves up for disappointment. 

Connecting with family members is scary. A child with RAD will avoid it at all costs.

It's far more comfortable and safe for a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder not to get to know family members, than to become close enough to know what to give them as a gift.

When a child with RAD has no idea what to give another person in the family, or would rather choose something they like themselves, understand this is not a purposeful act of hate or dislike,

There's a good chance the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder really doesn't know how to select a gift.

The RAD brain does such a fabulous job of protecting the child from further hurt and pain. 

Be empathetic in these situations, even when they make absolutely no sense.

2. Holiday Gift Giving Brings Up Memories of Trauma and is Triggering

There is a good chance as a caregiver, you have no idea what gift giving experiences were like for a child with RAD, previous to placement and adoption.

Gift giving may bring up memories filled with trauma and can trigger PTSD episodes.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: Tips for Handling Past Trauma During the Holidays

Be understanding and forgiving if your child with Reactive Attachment Disorder feels uncomfortable giving gifts.

Over the years as healing occurs and she sees by example how things are done in your family, she may feel more comfortable.

Forcing the idea of gift giving may do more harm than good.

3. Giving Gifts is a Sign of Love Which is Absolutely Terrifying

During the holiday season people give gifts as a sign of love and affection to others they care about.

This idea is so frightening for a child with RAD.

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder may believe that if she gives love, she will only be hurt and betrayed.

It is so much easier for the RAD brain to push away before something bad happens.

4. The Act of Gift Giving Feels Like an Obligation

A child with Reactive Attachment Disorder does not like to do anything that she doesn't want to do.

There are many reasons a child with RAD may not want to give gifts to others.

If this is the case, and the act of gift giving is forced, it will feel like an obligation.

When a caregiver requires a child to give gifts to others, there will be push back and behaviors.

Sometimes these behaviors are aimed at the caregiver requiring the gift giving.

Other times behaviors are aimed at those the child with RAD are required to give gifts to.

Tread lightly and only pick battles that are worth picking for the sake of everyone's sanity and safety.

5. Gifts Don't Mean Anything Due to a Lack of Trust

For a child with RAD who hasn't attached and fears love, gift giving may seem quite silly.

Why give someone something when the RAD brain has closed off all possibilities to trust and form relationships?

RAD: Trust and Parenting

RAD: Trust and Parenting

Gifts will only cause others to try to grow closer to the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

The RAD brain does not want this in any shape or form.

Then what?

There is only so much a caregiver can do to help with the process of a RAD child giving gifts to others during the holidays.

So much depends on the healing journey of the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder and brain development.

RAD Treatment for Children

That's not to say nothing can be done.

There are ways to help a child with RAD give holiday gifts.

Here is what we've found has helped in our home.

4 Ways to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

1. Don't Force a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder to Give Gifts to Family Members

Follow the lead of your child with RAD.

Give the option to give gifts each year.

When she's ready, she will do so. 

Until then respect that the experience is too uncomfortable and will most likely hurt others.

Healing doesn't happen over night.

It will most likely take years.

2. Purchase Gifts for Others and Let the Child with RAD Choose Which One She Wants to Give

Instead of the overwhelming experience of finding the perfect gift, a caregiver can purchase two or three gifts ahead of time and let the RAD child choose which gift she would like to give.

This lessens the pressure put on the RAD child to perform, and all parties may be much happier.

We have done this several years now and it seems to help our adopted daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder and my budget so much.

3. Help a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Choose an Experience the Whole Family Can Enjoy Together as a Gift

Experiences can be less threatening than gifts to some children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, especially if the child helps pick the experience.

Giving Family Experiences: Our New Christmas Tradition

When the child with RAD picks out the experience there is a lesser chance that she will self-sabotage when it comes time to enjoy the experience.

Just like all holiday gifts, experiences should never have to be earned through appropriate behaviors.

Select an experience that will work for everyone and most likely one that doesn't have to occur on a specific day, just in case there are struggles.

4. Make the Gift Giving Experience More About the Child with RAD Instead of Others

When my adopted daughters with Reactive Attachment Disorder were really young and unable to understand money, we would have one on one Mommy and Daughter Christmas Dates.

Each child with RAD would get to pick out the restaurant we'd eat at, picking out anything she wanted to eat.

Shopping would include gifts for others which we would discuss at dinner AND shopping for anything my daughter may need.

Pairing an undesired experience with an experience that my daughters wanted worked out well for a while.

There would almost always be behaviors the next day, because spending time with just Mom was triggering, but neither daughter could take back the positive memories we had shared.

They were worth it in my book.

To the Caregiver of a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Who HAS TO Give Holiday Gifts

Every child with Reactive Attachment Disorder is different. 

There are those who hate giving gifts and then there are those who HAVE TO give gifts.

We have one of each.

Our youngest daughter feels like she HAS TO give holiday gifts.

This is something she perseverates on during the holiday season.

The sooner we purchase gifts she wants to give, the better.

Due to her past trauma and neglect, giving holiday gifts is a need.

She worries so much about what will happen if she doesn't give gifts.

Her anxiety soars.

When working with a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder like this, be just as patient and kind as you would with a child who hates giving.

Follow the child's lead.

Set rules and boundaries so gift giving doesn't get out of hand.

Over time as healing occurs, she will learn that giving isn't a NEED and things will get better.

Just be prepared for this process to take years.

There are so many challenges when raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder during the holiday season.

Pick your battles.

It may be that just by understanding the why behind the struggles of giving gifts that things improve.

Or you may need to lower expectations because your child with RAD just isn't there yet.

Educate other family members on Reactive Attachment Disorder and what your child may be experiencing this time of year.

Teach compassion and acceptance.

Things can get better over time.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the resources below.

Reactive Attachment Disorder: Tips for Handling Past Trauma During the Holidays How to Help a Child with RAD Receive Holiday Gifts 7 Reasons the Holiday Season is Difficult for Children with RAD 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

How to Help a Child with RAD Give Holiday Gifts

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