Lakeside

When a Child Cannot Form a Lasting Relationship

We have discussed the issue of attachment in children as a measure of their ability to have resilience to traumatic events. However, some children are unable to form basic relationships. In the past few years, we have discovered much about attachment in children and its impact in later life, including a specific disorder known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). 

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

angry hispanic boy
Reactive Attachment Disorder is a serious condition in which a child has great difficulty forming lasting, loving relationships.

According to Ken and Michelle Anderson on their website www.radkid.org, “Reactive Attachment Disorder is a serious condition in which a child has great difficulty forming lasting, loving relationships. Due to neglect, abuse, or for other reasons, the child has not formed a bond with a parent or primary caregiver and is left unable to sustain a healthy relationship with anyone.”

Further research that describes the behavior of children who are struggling with this severe form of an attachment disorder comes from Dr. Walter D. Buenning. He specifically describes how RAD children differ from other children who display normal but challenging behaviors.

  • All RAD children display difficulty in giving and receiving love.
  • No matter the level of severity, RAD children will have difficulty accepting or seeking out physical affection and touch. If you touch a child with RAD, often he will recoil or flinch and say, ‘Ouch,’ even though your touch is gentle and should produce no pain.
    defiant girl
    The child with RAD is oppositional, argumentative, disobedient or often defiant.
  • All children with RAD have control issues. The child with RAD is oppositional, argumentative, disobedient or often defiant. The child with RAD can be exceedingly strong-willed and will go to great extremes to be in charge. The need to control comes from the intense fear that further harm will occur if he is once again as helpless as he was as a baby.
  • Most children with RAD have problems with anger. Many will express their anger overtly, having frequent temper tantrums and a short frustration tolerance. A smaller percentage of children will be passive-aggressive and engage in annoying, frustrating, and aggravating behavior. Often this is disguised by a facade of innocence or hidden in socially acceptable behavior. For example, a child with RAD can physically hug a parent so hard it hurts. To a casual observer, it would seem that the child acted lovingly. In reality, the child inflicted pain, a hurtful act, within a hug, a loving act. This is the hallmark of passive-aggressive behavior or indirect anger.
  • Angry_Child
    Children with RAD have problems developing a conscience.

    Children with RAD have problems developing a conscience. In the most severely affected children, conscience is entirely absent. They have no remorse, regret, or guilt when they violate their parents’ or other’s rights. In the milder instances of RAD, the conscience is underdeveloped.

  • All unattached children have trust issues. They do not trust their parents and the parents cannot trust their children. The severity of trust issues is directly related to the severity of the RAD condition.”

For parents, caregivers, professionals or foster parents who have seen children who have demonstrated some of these behaviors, it may be extremely helpful to understand how to deal with children who have this severe form of an attachment disorder.

In the next few posts, I will continue to discuss some ways to help children who fall into this category of attachment disorders.  Stay tuned. 

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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