January 23, 2018

How to Deal With the Heartbreak from a Reactive Attachment Disorder Teen

The title of this article is an exact phrase that someone typed in to Google and ended up on our website. When I saw this it broke my heart – because my wife and I know exactly how that person feels. I don’t know them, I don’t know their story or their child, but I do know what it’s like to have a RAD teen. And at times that can be heartbreaking – in fact, most of the time it is.

In our situation, our RAD teen is adopted, though that doesn’t have to be case. Adopted kids do have a greater chance of being RAD, because of the trauma of being separated from their birth mom, in addition to any abuse or neglect that may have happened to them in the first 3 years of their life. When the child gets to be a teenager and they still suffer from RAD, it’s very difficult for them to get better. Not impossible, but difficult. The reason for this is that they are at that age where they’re supposed to be separating from mom and dad anyway, not reconnecting.

The RAD teen wants the love of their parents, but they are deathly afraid of that love so they push it away in any way they can. They can be verbally or physically abusive, they tell you they hate you and never want to see you again, and they run away. As a parent, this is very hard to handle. After all, when you got (or had) this child, you were determined to love them no matter what, and you rightfully expected the same from them.

So what do you do to deal with this heartbreak?

Two things have helped me. First, I’ve realized that she’s sick. Our family therapist said if she was in a wheelchair and she was bouncing off a door frame because it wasn’t wide enough, you’d know you have to do something to help her. RAD kids don’t look sick, and because of this you tend to think they’re not, but they are. They need their parent’s love, especially their mom’s. When you think of it in these terms, it somehow makes it easier. She desperately wants your love, more than anything, but because of something that quite possibly wasn’t your fault she is desperately afraid of accepting that love.

The other thing that’s helped me is to realize that I am to actively love that child. And that doesn’t mean an emotional, sentimental love, but a sacrificial, purposeful love. Here’s a video I found from a RAD mom named Christine Moers that talks about this much better than I can.

How to deal with the heartbreak from a reactive attachment disorder teen? I don’t know. We grieve, mourn, struggle, and get mad every day. There aren’t any magic solutions, but hopefully realizing that it’s not your fault and you can love them anyway will help you like it did me.

How do you deal with the heartbreak?

Please leave a comment below to share with other readers. We can’t do this alone!

About the author: By

Matt is the parent (along with his wife Julie) to five wonderful kids. He has been self-employed for 25+ years and is the owner of the Parenting Allies website.

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  1. I listened to the video and am completely aware of corithians 13:4-7. But how does one love at RAD child when the child constantly rejects any shred of 13:4-7? I understand each child and situation is different, but how is one to be kind when the kindness is perceived by the RAD child as paranoia or as mean? This perception is then retaliated against violently? How?

    • That is so hard Krysi. Being rejected by anyone but especially the ones you love hurts deeply. Acknowledge that, then realize that their rejection is out of fear of being loved. They feel unlovely, unwanted and are afraid to experience the rejection that caused them to feel this way in the first place. Sometimes taking our personal feelings out of the equation for the moment, gives us a clearer view of theirs. That being said, violence should not be tolerated ever. That is them forcing you into their safe place, which is not really safe and must be dismantled and rebuilt into a healthy, true safe place. Allowing violence perpetuates the trauma from which they must heal.
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  2. I have a niece who I believe to have rad/attachment disorder. She is virtually impossible to care for. She’s a molester, a liar, manipulator and cannot be trusted whatsoever. After several violent episodes, I absolutely loathe this 15-year-old.
    I feel continual fear for the people around her. I truly believe she needs residential treatment but her adoptive parents are having a difficult time looking at the situation pragmatically.

    • It is hard to admit as parents when you are in it that your child needs help. There is a underlying feeling of failure almost constantly. At this point, can you find ways to support her parents, that don’t involve respite care from you? Maybe they just need a rest and to rejuvenate to see things more clearly. If not, you just listening (and not offering advice unless asked for it) and offering encouragement is one of the things you can do that would be certainly helpful. Don’t be afraid to point out your fears with tangible examples of what is going on.
      Matt recently posted..My Children Keep Making MistakesMy Profile

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