How Does RAD Impact Parenting Styles

No two children are alike, and our parenting styles need to slightly adapt to the needs of each child. If you have a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), there are additional challenges to adjust to.

RAD can be characterized by an inability of a child or teen to establish a strong and healthy attachment to parents or primary caregivers. It can add extra layers of difficulty when connecting and bonding with the child in your care.

Attachment plays a significant role in early childhood development. Those who have an inability to form and establish a healthy attachment may struggle to connect with friends and partners as they grow up. They may also struggle to manage their emotions.

What is RAD and how does it happen?

When infants and children have their physical and emotional needs neglected, they are at an increased risk of developing RAD. There is an increased risk for children in orphanages, being in foster care group homes, being kept apart from their parents for some time, or having neglectful or abusive parents. Some infants who have a mother struggling with postpartum depression may also develop RAD.

RAD can lead children to withdraw emotionally. They may also struggle to trust other people, even when moved to an environment with warm and loving caregivers. Children with RAD may also develop anger and impulse control issues, poor self-esteem, and anxiety.

There are also increased risks for behavioral concerns, substance abuse, problems with school, and antisocial behaviors.

There is no outright cure for RAD. However, some options can help through early intervention, therapy, and parenting support. It’s important to note that many children and teens can learn to manage their RAD symptoms. They can grow up to lead happy, fulfilled, and productive lives.

Adjusting your parenting style for RAD

You may need to adapt your parenting style to meet your child's needs with RAD. It can be intimating to consider changing your approach to raising a child, but it’s important to remember that changes don’t need to be immediate.

Gradual changes, adjusting your parenting style as you learn more about RAD and how it’s impacting your child are often the better approach versus drastic overnight changes.


You know how important routine is for the whole family. For a child with RAD, it can create a predictable environment. Knowing what to expect from his day and his caregivers can help a child avoid some of the anxiety of the unknown.

Routine is great for every child in the household to know what is expected. It can also help those who struggle with organization to stay on task.

With many children and teens, there is some wiggle room in the routine if it’s needed. You can change things without needing to give them too much warning. You may need to work harder to maintain the routine for a child or teen with RAD. Remember that stability is crucial for a young person who already struggles with anxiety.

Disciplinary approach

You may find that it’s fairly straightforward to discipline your other children. They could respond well to things like being grounded, a loss of privileges, and extra chores. A child with RAD may need a completely different approach to your disciplinary style.

Many children and teens learn from disciplinary actions and will start to self-correct. A child with RAD may take a bit longer to learn how to appropriately self-correct their behavior. He may also respond quite differently than your other children did to your household rules and consequences.

For you, as a parent, you will need to find what works best for him. This could mean you need to work with his therapist to determine what motivates him.

What consequences may not work at all for him, based upon his previous experiences or trauma?

Consider sending your teen to his bedroom as a consequence of violating a household rule. Most teens will find this objectionable and get frustrated that they cannot spend time with family and friends. A teen with RAD may potentially withdraw more if sent to isolation.

That doesn’t mean that their consequence should be to spend time with more people. It means that you need to find an approach that will be effective for them, not simply modify what is effective for other children in your care.

You also need to ensure you are consistent with discipline and consequences. A child with RAD may try to test boundaries to see if your approach will change. Staying consistent will work best for the child and you.

Connecting and interacting

Getting RAD under control requires your child to put in a significant amount of work. With challenges and self-correction to focus on, your teen will do better with your support. Take the time to interact with your child in ways that allow you to connect well.

Find out more about the activities he enjoys and participate in them. Go for walks together, enjoy playing board games, or go out for lunch together. Connecting with your teen is an important part of parenting in general. It is so much more important with RAD.

Getting additional support

Parenting can be challenging at the best of times. That’s why it’s so helpful to have support from other parents as your children and teens face normal developmental milestones. That said, you may not find it necessary to lean on other parents for help and support with some of your children.

If you have a child with RAD, it may prove near impossible to navigate this parenting journey without some kind of support for you, for your child with RAD, and other members of the family.
Getting additional help from other family members and resources can be crucial. Explore local community resources and help that may be available through your child’s school.

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