So you may be wondering “how do I know when these little people have RAD?” I listed the symptoms in my last post. We also consulted professionals so that we could understand exactly what we are dealing with. We have a therapist involved who coaches me on how to deal with the overwhelming behaviors.
There are several things that are very important to help them heal. We use all of these (and are working closely with a therapist and following all recommendations that she makes)
- Structured play time: In our home this means that we have a schedule of things that we play with such as blocks, lincoln logs, etc. They play in a small area (in our case a playmat) and must keep themselves and their toys on the mat. These serves a few purposes, one of them is that it gives them boundaries that they understand and they then are able to learn to control themselves. Another purpose that it serves is that it protects others in the home. My bio children have been punched, spit on, kicked, you name it, so we have to be diligent to keep everyone safe, including our animals. They earn the privilege to play with the other kids and the freedom to move out of the defined area based on how well they control themselves.
- Love, and lots of it: Each encounter with our child is an opportunity to solidify the belief that we are not trustworthy or to help them learn that we are safe. We must always be gentle with our words and look at them with love despite what they may have just done. In therapy we often talk about neutral parenting. You will often hear me saying under my breath “I am Switzerland, I am Switzerland”. These are my only two options: I must be loving or I must be neutral. They want me to be angry, that is what they understand and they are desperate for control. Even they know…if they can make me angry they can control me. It is so important for them to hear that they are valuable, they are loved and that their behavior does not define them. However, their behavior is extremely difficult and trying at times, sometimes all the time. This is not normal childhood behavior. These children, as important and precious as they are, do unthinkable things at times. At best, they oblivious to the feeling of those around them and at worst they are intentionally inflicting pain. This is not for the faint of heart. And, I’ll admit it…try as I might to remain neutral or loving at all times…I sometimes lose it. Thankfully we see out therapist weekly and she gets us back on the right track! interesting note: I learned just this week that attachment not all happens with hugs and kisses but also when we provide safety, which to a child means boundaries. There are days when all I do is correct, there are no (what I considered) positive interactions (cuddling, reading a book, etc)…I have learned this is not failure but part of the process. Each time I establish and maintain a boundary that can still be considered positive.
- Taking Control: these hurting ones like to control their environment and those around them. It is important to them because it seems to be the only way they can stay safe. At first glance it would appear that since letting them have control helps them feel safe that it would be the thing to do. Unfortunately this is a band-aid on a gaping festering wound. As long as they are in control they will not learn to trust. When the only person you trust is yourself you are never able to form healthy relationships. This means we must take control. completely. This is hard for them, especially at first but it is essential for them to build a healthy relationship with the people who love them. In practical terms that means that we are strict. Very strict. We decide what they do and when they do it. The rules are clear and the consequences are also. I will seem very controlling because I am. As they heal and learn to control themselves and trust the people they are close to this will lessen and in time we will appear normal; but for now I seem like a Nazi. I am okay with that….it is what they need.
- Clear boundaries with others: They have learned two things in their short life. 1. No one is trustworthy. 2. Manipulate everyone you can. They are masters at triangulation (pitting adults against each other, usually against the mom) Here is an example to illustrate what I am talking about:
We went to a local restaurant for a meal with all of the children. The dining area was full and several people stopped to comment on how cute my RADishes were (they are a different ethnicity so it is clear that they are not bios). I knew this was going to be a difficult evening but I put a brave smile on my face and ordered water for everyone to drink. “Mom!” the older of the two yelled loudly (at the time he was 3) “We get water? We were good enough for water?” He wasn’t teasing. He was dead serious. And no, I don’t withhold water or food when they don’t behave but he got the response he hoped for…people stared daggers at me while we finished our meal.This is by no means an exhaustive list. We have to be creative. What we do one day may not work the next. For instance a temper tantrum (for lack of a better word, this is not a typical temper tantrum) may be dealt with by walking away and leaving them in their room, or we may do jumping jacks until we calm down or walk around the house. I never know how the day will go or how things will work. Sometimes it seem like nothing works and I find a place to huddle up and cry. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloomyish but I do want to be real. It is my sincere hope that we can become more aware of this disorder and have the tools we need to reach out to these broken hearts.
Helpful suggestion #4: Please respect the boundaries. These precious souls do not understand stranger danger and we must teach them that. Do not tell them they are cute, offer them sweets of any kind or show them extra attention. Every single time you allow them to manipulate you, you have contributed to their illness. Every time you question us in front of them or look at us with disapproval (yes, they notice) you have sent a message that manipulation works and you make our job more difficult. I understand that this in uncomfortable and leaves you with lots of questions. Please ask! We will explain….away from the children.
- so anyway…..we have clear boundaries. They may not talk to or even look at someone they don’t know unless I say it is safe. They may not hug you unless they know you AND then only when they have my permission and then your permission. They may give one hug only, no kisses or climbing all over you. They have specific things that they can talk about when we are in public. If they do not obey this rule they lose the privilege of talking. They will use every tool in their arsenal to gain your attention, your pity and your support against me. I have been accused of slamming a head against the bed (always in a public place with a large audience) and all kinds of specific abuse. (When the accusations come we quickly take them to see their family doctor so that she can examine them to be sure they are not abused in any way and alert the social worker to the incident so that we are safe.) The sad fact is that I must protect these children and I must protect myself from these children.
One final thing: I feel it important to mention the ones that are forgotten in this….our bio children. Many families who adopt or do foster care also have children that have come into their home the natural way and these children are often silent in the background. In our home my bios are older by several years but they are still deeply affected. They love their soon-to-be-adopted siblings but have endured a lot in the process. Many a time they have stood quietly in the background ignored while well meaning people have fawned all over the RADishes. Please love all of our children equally