Not the Life I Expected-Parenting A Child with Attachment Disorder

Dawn Davenport


adopting a child with reactive attachment disorder

Being the parent of a child with an attachment disorder is a lonely place to be.

Most of us didn’t go into foster care or adoption expecting to parent a child with significant attachment issues or Reactive Attachment Disorder. Even if we adopted an older child who experienced abuse or neglect, or a child from foster care, or a child from one of the many understaffed and underfunded orphanages throughout the world, we didn’t think that our precious child would be one of the ones with long-lasting devastating damage from failure to bond.

This life you are now living is not at all what you expected. Every day is hard for your child, and that means every day is hard for you.

No One Else Understands

Compounding your struggle as the parent of a chid with an attachment disorder is the total lack of understanding from family, friends, teachers, and ministers. They often see a child that can be charming and wonderfully quirky. They think a little more firmness would do the trick… or maybe a little less firmness? They think your expectations are too high… or maybe they are too low?

Deep down they wonder if the problem is you. You sometimes wonder this too.

Most older children who are adopted thrive in their new adoptive homes. They have been hurt and their attachment has been damaged, but they are able to slowly and surely start healing. Some children, however, continue to struggle and so will their parents. This is not the life either the parent or child expected.

Explaining Attachment Issues to our Family, Friends, and Teachers

As the parent of a child with attachment issues or Reactive Attachment Disorder, you are often in the position of having to explain this “invisible” disability and damage to others.  The folks over at Attachment & Trauma Network have created resources to help you. If you are parenting such a child, I promise you will see yourself and your child in this 4-minute video. They also have a letter to explain attachment issues that you can adapt and give to family and friends.

P.S. Creating a Family also has many many resources to help you help you child and to help you feel less alone, including:

Do you feel misunderstood as the parent of a child with an attachment disorder?

Image credit: JBLM PAO

01/07/2014 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Not the Life I Expected-Parenting A Child with Attachment Disorder

  1. Avatar Dr. Aimie Apigian says:

    As a parent of a child with severe attachment disorder, I felt very misunderstood, and did start to find it easier to isolate to avoid the stares, the questions, and even accusations of other parents who did not understand. Thankfully, we pulled through and my son healed, but that was one of the darkest times of my life. We have started to compile family testimonials, and individually I asked the parents what it was like for them, and on their own, they each came up with various words and descriptions for lonely. I love to join communities around attachment parenting to break through the misunderstanding and loneliness!

  2. Avatar cb says:

    I think each case is different. There are also different types of attachment disorders and reasons for lack of attachment.

    Most of the above listed resources sound good. From what I’ve seen of Karyn Purvis, her methods would work on a wide range of chidren so even if the child weren’t attachment disordered, they would do no harm. One can’t say that about all attachment programs.

    As for the letter, one thing did stand out:

    “The standard, traditional disciplinary approaches used by my parents were obviously tried first and were an instant failure.”

    I thought that interesting. Why would you try those first? Right from the start, any half-bright parent would realise that the behaviours are not just from plain naughtiness.

    I’ve read a lot of forum and blog posts by those with “RAD” children – I have a great deal sympathy for many of them, yet for others, one can see that there will be a trainwreck waiting to happen even before they adopt a child. Sometimes the parents do contribute to the problem – sad but true.

    I will admit there is one thing that irritates me and I saw a lot of it during the time the “rehoming” articles came out. Every time those articles were discussed, there was the automatic assumption that the children in those articles must have had RAD and all the sympathy was towards the parents. I always feel “less than human” when reading those types of comments as I was a difficult preteen and it pains me to think that *if* I’d been growing up today and *if* I had been murdered by my parents, there might have been peope out there who went “Oh, those poor parents, their child must have had RAD”.

    • cb,[“The standard, traditional disciplinary approaches used by my parents were obviously tried first and were an instant failure.”…Why would you try those first? Right from the start, any half-bright parent would realise that the behaviours are not just from plain naughtiness.]

      Disciplinary methods (not a term I would have used) at their best are teaching tools rather than punishing tools. If a child destroys his video game intentionally, then he is without the video game. If a child lies about having completed homework, then you and the teacher create a homework log that both of you sign daily for a while until she earn back your trust in telling you if she has homework. These techniques work with most kids, and are the logical place to start. It is only if they don’t serve to “teach” or improve the behavior that parents start considering other methods.

      You are right that some “attachment therapies” are pretty harsh, but most of them now are not. Parents need to be wise and kind when making their choice of who to follow. I can’t stress enough how important I think it would be to first listen to several Creating a Family shows where we have interviewed all the top attachment experts. By listening, you can get a feel for whose method would work best for you and for your child.

  3. Avatar Sandy Mitchell says:

    None of the above links worked for me, so I couldn’t access the interviews.

    • Sandy, did you mean that the links to Creating a Family resources did not work? We had a hiccup on the backend of the site a few weeks ago and if you are getting that message it means that this messed up page is stuck in your history cache. You will need to go to the setting of your browser (Chrome, IE, Firefox, Safari, etc.), go to “history”, and then click clear cache and cookies. It’s super easy and I’m told we should do it periodically anyway, but still, I’m sorry about that. If that doesn’t work, please let me know ASAP.

      We are very close to launching our new site. Until then, this old site is cranky and it is making me cranky too!!

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