RAD punishment is something that must require our utmost planning and introspection. To do more good than harm, there are many things to consider.
What do Our Actions Speak When we Punish RAD Kids?
One of my dad’s customers spent several hours watching my brothers and me clean up clippings from hedges, bushes and trees that my father had trimmed. Then she approached him with a sincere question. She wanted to know how he got his kids to work so hard. “I use a belt on them,” he said with a chuckle. Dad always did have a weird sense of humor. The well-to-do old woman knew my dad’s sense of humor, but she didn’t approve. “Oh! You do not!” she gasped. “They’re too big for that!” Not being one to miss getting the last word in, he continued. “Oh, no, ma’am. When they get too big for one end of it, I’ll start using the other!” She stomped into the house, offended at his bad sense of humor. What she didn’t know was that only the second part of my dad’s banter was joking. My brothers and I were raised with the rod. While I don’t use that form of punishment (though I would be lying if I said I never had), I never felt like my brothers and I were abused. But even if corporal punishment could be considered appropriate in certain situations, it definitely isn’t in circumstances where children suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder. Heavy-handed or severe punishment doesn’t work with these kids. RAD punishment is something that must require our utmost planning and introspection.
When the belt comes in contact, when I’m stripped of privileges, when I’m ostracized from others, you can call it whatever you want. I’ll learn what you’re trying to teach me. RAD punishment is not so universal.
Those of you who are well studied in Reactive Attachment Disorder are already shouting out my first mistake at your computers or handheld device. “YOU DON’T CALL IT PUNISHMENT!” They are consequences! Right. Call them consequences with your children so that they can apply the words, and so they can begin to understand the concept of cause and effect, which is almost inconceivable to their minds. But for me, talking to you, it’s an argument of semantics. When the belt comes in contact, when I’m stripped of privileges, when I’m ostracized from others, you can call it whatever you want. I’ll learn what you’re trying to teach me. RAD punishment is not so universal.
I know… we have all been told what NOT to do when it comes to RAD punishment, but what DO we do?
For punishments with children from Reactive Attachment Disorder to have a positive effect, there is a very narrow window where more good comes than bad. Karyn Purvis talks about a large percentage of children who will turn out well with wide variations in parenting. Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder don’t fall into that group. However, best practices for punishment with these kids still work with other children. These principles are just good parenting. I know… we have all been told what NOT to do when it comes to RAD punishment, but what DO we do?
For my family, there is a most effective RAD punishment and it’s not exercises.
We have used physical exercises such as pushups and sit-ups with our children and that has worked pretty well for us. My eleven-year-old son who has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder has a six pack on his stomach that could rival a cage fighter. (Did I tell you my dad was a veteran? I know, I know, “the sins of the fathers are the sins of the sons…”) We still use that RAD punishment because it is good to mix it up with children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder. But for my family, there is a most effective RAD punishment and it’s not exercises. Like many of you, with my first children who came to our family biologically, we found great success in using “time outs.” For a highly social species like ours, being kicked out of the herd for a little while brings submission quickly. But this type of punishment is often extremely detrimental when it comes to working around Reactive Attachment Disorder.
To me, using time-outs as RAD punishment only increases the foundation of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Several of my favorite professionals who teach about children with Reactive Attachment Disorder and other children from hard places, have been teaching parents like us to use “time-ins.” You see, many of our children have been kicked out of “herds” permanently. They fully expect to be kicked out of their current “herd.” In fact, that is the entire foundation of Reactive Attachment Disorder. (Why attach with members of the herd, when you’re going to be kicked out, anyway?) When we send a child with such a history to their room, when we separate them from the rest of the family, they see it as foreshadowing of imminent, permanent separation. When we send them away to “think about what they have done,” they don’t. They think about how they don’t belong in the “herd.” To me, using time-outs as RAD punishment only increases the foundation of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
When we use “time-ins” as RAD punishment, we can spend that time reinforcing with words and actions that our child is worthy of us, our attention, and family.
When we give a child a time-in, we tell them that they need to stay within arm’s length of us. We help them to understand that their actions are not good for them or for others, but that we still love them and we still want them near us. We are telling them that we will protect them, even from them. (I won’t go into details of a time when we made the mistake of using a time-out with one of our daughters who had a history of self-harm. How didn’t I see that coming!?) With time-ins, we have a much better chance of helping our child to control their thoughts. Rather than stewing in a room by themselves, reworking damaging or violent thoughts, we can talk about how we love them and want them close to us. We can talk about a need to keep them, or siblings, or friends safe. When we use “time-ins” as RAD punishment, we can spend that time reinforcing with words and actions that our child is worthy of us, our attention, and family.
As with anything in homes that deal with Reactive Attachment Disorder, there are going to be exceptions. What works well for some might be very detrimental for others. No one solution is right for every child and every family. But as you find yourself needing to use punishments to teach your child who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder, always consider how to make them feel that they deserve to have a family, that they are loved, that they are safe, and that there is cause and effect when it comes to their actions.
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