Sometimes RAD stealing is a godsend. I heard you gasp, just now. I also saw you roll your eyes. Think about it, though.
When Stealing Makes no Sense
Do you need to retrieve a key every time you go into your own bedroom? Do you hide your valuables in your own home even though you have little fear of an outsider breaking in? Do you even lock your pantry and wish to heaven above that they made a refrigerator that you could lock with a code rather than wrapping a chain around it? Yeah… me too. If you have a child who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder, then RAD stealing is nothing new to you.
All children go through a phase of taking things that don’t belong to them. In fact, ownership is a principle that must be learned. That might sound strange, but our brains immediately understand possession while having no concept of ownership. We take things. Other people take things. We hope that at any given moment we have the strength or wit to take what we want, when we want it, and to keep others from taking something we want from us. The idea that there can be ownership takes time. Most children come to a real understanding of ownership in early school years and thereby associate stealing with something that is “wrong.” Not so for RAD stealing.
RAD stealing is only one of the sharply honed skills that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder tend to develop.
Very early on, a child that is in an environment that fosters the development of Reactive Attachment Disorder learns two things. First, they cannot handle the pain that goes with repeatedly attaching to parents or other caregivers and then losing them. This is the reason that any relationships they form tend to be self-centered and shallow. Their brains don’t allow them to invest more in a relationship than their heart can afford to lose. Second, the child learns that it cannot depend on adults to always be there to provide for her. So, she begins to develop skills that will ensure that she can care for herself. RAD stealing is only one of the sharply honed skills that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder tend to develop.
At first RAD stealing often centers around food hoarding. Many children who end up needing new families have been in starvation situations. Hiding food for future need is just good commons sense. Later, RAD stealing of food can become strange, though. Why would a child steal spices? What would inspire them to take a key ingredient (like the raw meat) planned for a meal, later in the day, and dispose of it because they couldn’t use it? Why would a tween who suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder steal a parent’s phone, even with the complete knowledge that they won’t be able to use it because it is protected by a pass code that the child doesn’t know?
When we look at stealing for the most obvious purpose; to have the use of something we want, or to be able to trade it for something we want, RAD stealing often makes absolutely no sense.
When we look at stealing for the most obvious purpose; to have the use of something we want, or to be able to trade it for something we want, RAD stealing often makes absolutely no sense. That is because RAD stealing usually has a motive beyond the obvious for stealing. These children are under the constant fear that their parents (or other caregivers) will leave them and that they will be left on their own to support themselves. Knowing that their “legitimate” skills and training probably fall far short of being able to support them if they are left on their own, they develop other skills to make up the difference. Sometimes RAD stealing is for no other purpose than for the child to prove to themselves that they are capable of getting away with stealing so that they can use that as a support mechanism when they need it.
Sometimes RAD stealing is a godsend. I heard you gasp, just now. I also saw you roll your eyes. Think about it, though. Children who suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder are often so adept at charming others and manipulating those around them, that they are able to portray their parents as the bad guys and themselves as innocent victims of overzealous parents. Often, stealing is the first sign to outsiders that the child might really have some behavior issues that need to be addressed. Many times this is the first opportunity for parents to get others to listen.
When RAD stealing opens the door for others to help, we need to be careful to not overplay our hand.
When RAD stealing opens the door for others to help, we need to be careful to not overplay our hand. Instincts are to lash out with “I TOLD YOU SOs” and “SEE WHAT I LIVE WITHs.” That only promotes more discord between ourselves and those might now be able to help us. Take it easy and get help with addressing the stealing. Usually, RAD stealing gets worse after outsiders begin to address it. Maybe it doesn’t really get worse, but the outsiders no longer ignore signs. The child isn’t given the benefit of the doubt automatically. When that happens, there is a lot more stealing that is recognized. That is good for parents of children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Often, this puts parents and people who can help together, on a team, for the first time. This is a time to learn how to work with new team mates and for a working relationship to begin to develop. Work together on the recognized issue at hand and only introduce other areas where the other person might help when they are ready.
Parents need to recognize RAD stealing for what it is.
Parents need to recognize RAD stealing for what it is. Teaching or trying to enforce to the child that stealing is wrong has little effect on getting the child to give up what she views as a survival skill. The most effective way to fight it is to help the child to attach and trust that parents will be there. But that is the whole battle we fight and it seems to take forever. Our children don’t steal because they’re bad. They do it because they think that they’ll eventually need that skill to survive. Outsiders recognize stealing as a problem that needs to be addressed. So, we must take RAD stealing as an opportunity to enlist others in our journey to help our children to grow and live normal lives, with real and sincere attachments.
Often, readers receive as much help from other readers in the comments section as they do from the blog article, itself. Please be generous with your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. There are lots of people who need what you have to share. This is your chance to help them.
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