What It’s Like to Parent a Child With Reactive Attachment Disorder

Dressed in a black suit and purple shirt and tie, my son looks adorable on the last day of the school year for his elementary school graduation.

He didn’t walk in and out with his class since we couldn’t trust his behavior. My husband and I sat in the front row and he sat with us, then walked up, got his diploma and sat back down.

We went outside, grabbed a cookie and walked home. We were there maybe 45 minutes total.

Then he came home and raged for 2 hours.


Out of Options

The police have been to the house multiple times, and he’s always calmed by the time he hears them pull up. (He’s smart that way.)

The police have been giving us a hard time. They were nice at first but now it’s a “family issue we need to deal with.” They don’t get the amount of danger in which this child places our family.

We have taken our child to walk-in mental health crisis centers, to the Emergency Room, and once an ambulance took him there.

He has spent time inpatient in the hospital for mental health treatment.

My husband and I have been hit, kicked, bitten, spit on, and dodged objects thrown at us.

I go into my son’s room to get him up. “Good morning, sweetie. Time to rise and shine!” He looks at me out of the corner of one eye. “F— you, mom.”

Our therapist says to call the police.

One of the police officers suggested holding or restraining him, but this is a tricky issue. Our child will keep going for 30-60 minutes of twisting and attempting to bite and hit us, until we are all sweating and exhausted. It takes 2-3 people to restrain correctly and even then it’s dangerous both physically and emotionally. What about when I’m home with him alone?

We have decided restraint is not right for us.

We’ve tried holding the door to his room closed while he is raging (you cannot lock a child in a room) and he kicked the door off the hinges.

What options are left?

Parenting With RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a brain disorder that is caused when a child is not nurtured in the first few months of his/her life.

Our therapist put in a referral for our son to attend day treatment. He would be part of a program where he would receive therapy every day and careful supervision.

Medicaid denies our request, saying his behavior issues do not meet the requirements.

I am running my own day treatment program.

In addition to our 10-year old, our 8 year old’s behavior has been deteriorating rapidly. He doesn’t have the same behavior issues as our older adopted son, but he has some. He is also developmentally delayed and he copies what he sees. Plus, living with an older brother who rages has been traumatizing for him.

This summer, we develop a strict daily behavior plan with the help of Nancy Thomas via conference call, and a friend who has attended one of Nancy’s attachment camps.

What do our days look like?

  • Every moment of the day is planned.
  • No TV.
  • No computer games.
  • I choose the activities, and these are very simple — a box of Legos. Blocks. Coloring. They sit in one designated place and play quietly.
  • I read them books and we go to the park.
  • We go to piano lessons, Sunday School or church, and Tae Kwon Do. I go with them to these activities, not just drop them off.
  • They do chores.
  • The younger boys don’t play together. (They can’t handle it right now.)
  • They are always in the line of sight of an adult.

If you walk into my house, would have been shocked at what we have done. I felt like we don’t even live in a home anymore. The closets are locked. The garage is locked. There are padlocks on the kitchen cabinets. The bathrooms have nothing in them — not even soap. The 2 younger boys bedrooms have a bed, one pillow and blanket, one stuffed animal, and alarms on the doors. The windows have sliding locks.

I lock up their shoes and only take them out when I know it is safe to do so. At least if my child runs away, it will be without shoes!

More than one person has seriously suggested we let our son go run in the neighborhood so the police will pick him up (forcing him to be placed somewhere safe), but I can’t do this. How could I?

I have to do what is in my power to try.

But my energy is running out.

What’s so crazy is I LOVE this child to pieces.

He is driving me totally nuts and I am so exhausted and angry with him, but I will do anything in my power to help heal him.

People ask how things are going.

My answer is always, “Oh, hanging in there,” with a bit of weary smile.

How else do I begin to explain?

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12


This article originally appeared at SaraBorgstede.com.

Sara Borgstede
Sara Borgstede
Sara Borgstede is a 100 lb weight loss success story, real wife, and super real mom. She is a triathlete, motivational speaker, and writer. A mom to 5 kids through birth and special needs adoption, Sara and her husband Mike were foster parents to 35 children. She blogs at www.saraborgstede.com and runs an online faith and fitness program at www.faithfulfinishlines.com. She lives in Aurora, CO with her husband, children, and three cats who eat potato chips.

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