Parenting has its up and downs, especially when you decide to adopt a child. Of course, parenting experiences are subjective and what has worked for my family and child might not be suitable for another family and vice versa. The truth is that there’s no fairy tale adoption and each has its own unique challenges.
Take our story for example. Almost two decades ago, my wife and I decided to jump into parenthood via adopting. That’s how our son, Bracken came into our lives at the age of six. I was excited to be a father and planned all kinds of bonding activities to do. I loved my son dearly, hugging him every opportunity I got, planning all kinds of outings.
After a while, I noticed the love wasn’t reciprocated. My son was detached and unresponsive to our affection. In addition to not showing attachment to anyone, he also had trouble asking for or receiving any kind of comfort.
Fearing that we were somehow terrible parents, we sought help. The first pediatrician we went to assured us that our son was okay, he was just having trouble adjusting to his new life. He recommended patience. Unfortunately, my son developed several problematic behaviors such as unexplained irritability and withdrawal. He was finally diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) at eight years old.
Raising a Child with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)
Children with RAD have difficulty connecting with others and forming meaningful affectionate relationships with family or caregivers. Psychologists think this has something to do with trauma these kids experienced early on in their lives, e.g., separation issues, abuse, neglect or inconsistent/inadequate care. Due to this, safety becomes the primary issue for them and love is seen as an unnecessary extravagance.
Raising our son has been a trying, frustrating and incredibly rewarding experience. We have had to change our parenting style to get through to him. For instance, kids with RAD often try to manipulate or control their parents to feel safe. Once we learned this, we decided not to be overly emotional whenever our son acted out. He also initially had difficulties linking his actions to consequences as well as recognizing his feelings. This made disciplining and setting boundaries a challenge.
We found that outlining consequences of behavior and letting him know how his actions will affect him beforehand helps. For instance, if he didn’t study for his tests, he would fail. It took time before he made the connection but experiencing some of this consequences, e.g., getting a failing grade and therefore no reward, really drove the point home.
Patience Is Key
When it came to physical touch, we just had to be patient. We looked for opportunities for physical touch during calmer moments, without being forceful about it and eventually, he learned to relax and even ask for hugs himself.
Now that he’s in his teens, we still have challenges, but we work through them together. Although parenting a RAD child was never in our plans, I am glad we did it. With lots of patience, love, flexibility, and willingness to learn and change, things have gotten better.
Tyler Jacobson is a proud father, husband, writer and outreach specialist with experience helping parents and organizations that help troubled teen boys. Tyler has focused on helping through honest advice and humor on: modern day parenting, struggles in school, the impact of social media, addiction, mental disorders, and issues facing teenagers now. Follow Tyler on Twitter and Linkedin.
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