For two of my daughters, inconsistency in needs being met and the rotating caregivers that provided for those needs made up the incubator that caused RAD child development to thrive.
Reactive Attachment Disorder: Why Can’t She Trust Me?!
I’ve read all the books on Reactive Attachment Disorder. I have done all the right things. I have been patient. I don’t expect too much; only the bare minimum. I NEVER fail her. Well, “never” is a strong word, but I realize the importance of consistency with this child so I am more careful than anyone I know about failing my child. I have never given her reason not to trust me. It seems so hopeless. Is it even possible to reverse the early RAD child development that programmed my child?
Those are the questions that ran through my mind when Sarah wiggled off of her new mother’s lap to cuddle and charm a Sunday school teacher whom she had barely met. That woman had done nothing to earn my daughter’s trust and my wife and I had done everything; to no avail. It seemed that the more someone tried to attach to my daughter, the less she wanted to attach to them. The less they tried… well, why was my daughter trying to attach to anyone if she wasn’t trying to attach to us? That subject was so confusing because our interpretation was so wrong. Sarah’s actions that we understood as attempts to attach to others were nothing of the sort. RAD child development programs the person to avoid attachment to anyone, not just parents. Sarah was using a survival skill to charm other people into being available to provide for her needs when parents didn’t do that (just like other times). The charm she so freely gave to others had nothing to do with a desire to attach.
In order to understand RAD child development it’s easiest to look at the norm; places where Reactive Attachment Disorder doesn’t develop. Few people realize the monumental efforts that go into building attachments between parents and children. That’s because those efforts are not carried out with the designated purpose of building attachment. Some would say the service that parents render to their children is out of love. Perhaps. Since we are mammals, it is also instinctual. We breathe air, we’re warm-blooded, we have backbones, we have hair (at least at some point and to some degree) and our species reproduces via live-birth. Therefore… we have an instinct that drives us to take care of our young (at least when compared to catfish). Of course that instinct helps to keep our offspring alive and healthy, but what does it do to encourage attachment and to thwart RAD child development?
You have read the books too, so there’s no sense in me trying to condense the incredibly complicated aspects of attachment theory into two sentences in this blog article. Even so, we all know that when a child has a need, expresses it, and we provide a solution to the need, the child produces a tiny brick that it uses to build and attachment foundation and wall. So let’s look at the first day in my first biological son’s life. He came out crying like a St. Bernard that had been shoved through the cat door. I’m guessing he was experiencing some discomfort. Within no time the nurse handed him to his mother who held him in a warm blanket and made soothing noises. While she was doing that, the discomfort (perhaps pain?) went away. Then that scary environment of cold air, limited suspension outside of the womb and strange, loud noises was replaced by a near replication of what he felt in the womb. Wow. The first little brick for the attachment wall was created. Over the next 24 hours, Mike was fed 12-15 times, burped 12-15 times and had his diaper changed 6-8 times. I can’t begin to guess how many times he was cuddled, given soft comforting words, and several other things that each would have created and placed a tiny brick. So, without trying, I can come up with about 50 little bricks that first day. Nothing, not one thing happened that would have destroyed one of those bricks.
Those situations continued on for months. Then they increased and continued on for years. Parents not only met dire needs, but we gave support, encouragement and love while that child was pumping out tens of thousands of bricks for the attachment wall, every year. Granted, by the time he was five, he wasn’t being fed ten times a day, but by then, smiles and words of encouragement also produced bricks. When it came to building bricks for attachment, Mike was the Great Wall of China!
Inconsistency in needs being met and the rotating caregivers that provided for those needs made up the incubator that caused RAD child development to thrive.
Nothing could have been further in comparison when it came to our daughters who suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD child development took them the other way. When they cried they were drawing from a deck of cards for a reaction. Maybe they would be fed. Perhaps they would be beat. There was a chance their diaper would have been changed while more often they would have been ignored. Is it any wonder that RAD child development seeds were germinated? Their actions had nothing to do with responses. Sometimes mom or dad were there. Often they were left for days at a time, never knowing when or if parents would return. Those girls were taught from the very first moments that they were on their own and that attachment brought only disappointment. When they truly needed someone, they might or might not be there. Inconsistency in needs being met and the rotating caregivers that provided for those needs made up the incubator that caused RAD child development to thrive.
When we brought a five-year-old into our home, fed her five times (with meals and snacks) and smiled at her a couple of dozen times every day, it didn’t make up for what she didn’t get, that my older son did. Buying her new clothes and toys and putting Band-aids on scratches were nothing more than what she got in the orphanage where RAD child development ran rampant.
My oldest son learned that when he had a need, his parents took care of it, almost without exception. That created a fertile garden for more and more attachment. My daughter learned that she was on her own. That fact fostered RAD child development. Now, even if my wife and I are perfect in our providing for Sarah’s needs, we can’t take away the fact that Sarah knows that sometimes parents don’t take care of needs. Sarah’s world where parents are irregular is every bit as real as Mike’s world where parents almost never fail. Because of Sarah’s RAD child development, all we can do is whittle down the percentage of good vs. bad. When compared to Mike, it will always be more difficult for Sarah to attach to others than it is for her older brother.
The math works. I get the logic. That doesn’t make it easy to accept the conditions that RAD child development threw into my relationship with my daughter. The difficult days are exhausting. But the good days, taken alone, are exquisite. For a brief moment when Sarah lets down her guard enough to tell me I’m the best dad in the world, I know how hard it is for her to provide for that need of mine.
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