RAD and the Importance of Touch

In my last post, I wrote about Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in children. Children with RAD are extremely difficult to parent or care for as they appear not to need anyone or anything because they do not react to stimuli in the way a child would who does not suffer RAD. The difference from other children who do not have this syndrome is remarkable. So how does one help a child diagnosed with RAD? …With healthy, nurturing touch.

RAD and touch in a touch-phobic society

mother's hands and infants feet
Touch can be a source of healing.

Touch can be a source of healing. Unfortunately, we live in a society that has become almost touch-phobic. Nurseries, day care programs, early childhood education centers and schools often have stringent policies that restrict or prohibit the touching of children. These policies stem from strong reactions and legitimate concerns about inappropriate touching.

Of course, infants and children of every age need to be protected against inappropriate touching, but let’s look at the opposing side of this issue. Some parents and caregivers have become hyper-vigilant about inappropriate touching in an attempt to avoid any touch being misinterpreted. When this is in force, children do not receive the advantage of appropriate touch that both nurtures the child and helps him/her form relationships.

Blanket restrictions often hurt those whom they are meant to protect

caregiver and infant
Children should not be deprived of an abundance of nurturing touch.

The problem with blanket restrictions concerning touching infants and children is that these policies prevent appropriate nurturing that can only occur through touching and other forms of sensory stimuli that is so critical to human growth and development. Children should not be deprived of an abundance of nurturing touch. A crying infant could be held and rocked instead of allowed to remain in a crib. Or a caregiver could put a comforting arm around a child who feels frightened or sad.

When it comes to protecting children from inappropriate touch, there are no easy answers. However, it certainly needs to be understood that the simple fix of a blanket restriction prohibiting touching is a “solution” that can have extremely negative, long-term consequences for infants and children. The consequences show up negatively in adults as they attempt to form (or lack the ability to form) relationships.

How do we appreciate the importance of safety and nurture?

Nurturing touch helps children feel safe and secure. It gives them impetus to grow and develop positively in emotional and relational health.

We need to help parents and caregivers better appreciate the importance of appropriate, abundant nurturing touch. We can encourage parents to address issues around maintaining the safety in the care of their children while simultaneously finding appropriate ways to incorporate touch.

Thorny issues—such as touch—require a parent’s intentional consideration. All children benefit from nurture, but children who have been diagnosed with RAD especially need the natural intervention of healing touch. Nurturing touch helps children feel safe and secure. It gives them impetus to grow and develop positively in emotional and relational health. 

Do not underestimate the powerful force of loving touch to a child and the safety he/she gains within a caring home. It is critical for infants to be touched, cuddled and cared for in nurturing ways. It will also give them stability, security and resilience as adults.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008.  All rights reserved.  Licensed materials.

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