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Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

November 08, 202325 min read

Did you know that behavioral problems, ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children? One diagnosis that can cause significant behavioral problems is reactive attachment disorder or RAD. .”

Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

by Life Quest Girls Academy | Aug 16, 2022

Did you know that behavioral problems, ADHD, anxiety, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorders in children? One diagnosis that can cause significant behavioral problems is reactive attachment disorder or RAD. This condition begins in childhood and is often the result of the environment children are in during their early years.

Reactive attachment disorder can affect children’s relationships, their emotions, and their everyday functioning. Because of this, school, home, and social life can experience significant impairments.

Do you have a daughter you believe might have reactive attachment disorder? Keep reading to learn more about this disorder and how the right school can help.

Symptoms of RAD

What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

First of all, reactive attachment disorder is a complex childhood disorder that is characterized by the inability to form healthy relationships. Children with this disorder have a problem sharing feelings and socializing with others. They also display aggressive and disruptive behaviors.

What Causes Reactive Attachment Disorder?

The cause of reactive attachment disorder isn’t fully known. However, common causes are abuse and neglect.

This can be a result of parents struggling to meet their child’s physical, emotional, and developmental needs due to poverty and other economic issues. Some situations that can lead to RAD include:

  • Abuse or neglect

  • Food insecurity

  • Safety concerns

  • Inconsistent caregiving

  • and more

When Can A Doctor Diagnose RAD?

A child can be diagnosed with RAD as early as nine months old. For a diagnosis of RAD, symptoms must be present before the age of five.

Symptoms of RAD

Symptoms of RAD can vary from child to child. However, there are some common symptoms you can watch for.

Ego Driven

Children with RAD have a very difficult time understanding their own emotions or the emotions of others, particularly adults. They tend to be very egocentric and need constant attention. They will often engage in self-centered activities, ignoring the needs or feelings of others..

Does Not Like Rules and Limits

Children with reactive attachment disorder don’t enjoy following rules or working with others. They tend to be aggressive, defiant, and no cooperative.

Has Trouble Getting Along With Others

Kids with RAD often dislike or won’t spend time with other kids their age. Often, they have trouble making friends and keeping friends.

girl trouble

May Be Aggressive

Children with reactive attachment disorder might be physically aggressive, or they may be prone to tantrums or rage. They seem unable to regulate their emotions, and they’re extremely sensitive to anger or frustration. They may lash out when they’re frustrated or get into fights with other kids.

Sensitive to Rejection

Children with reactive attachment disorder tend to become very angry, devastated, and upset when they are shunned or rejected. They may become very angry with those who don’t want to be around them. They may engage in self-destructive behavior and can often feel hopeless and helpless.

Used Body (Tantrums) to Communicate Emotions

Children with reactive attachment disorder use their bodies to communicate their emotions. They may engage in head banging, biting, scratching, or eye-rolling when they’re angry. They’re also prone to other forms of self-destructive behavior, including self-injury, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

Emotionally Reactive

Children with reactive attachment disorder are highly emotionally reactive and tend to overreact to the feelings of others. They will often lash out if they feel slighted in any way.

Exclusive Focus on Immediate Needs

Children with reactive attachment disorder can have an extreme desire to fulfill their immediate needs. If they are hungry, they may become highly agitated.
Thirsty, they may scream or throw a tantrum unless they are given a drink immediately.

Dream of something they like, they may have a very difficult time keeping that thought out of their mind until they can get what they want.

Maladaptive Behaviors

Children with reactive attachment disorder will often engage in maladaptive behaviors. These behaviors are designed to soothe themselves in order to help them with their extreme needs. Maladaptive behaviors can take many forms.

A few examples include:

  • Aggression

  • Self-harming

  • Eating disorders

  • Substance abuse

Aggression

Aggression is one of the most common maladaptive behaviors of reactive attachment disorder. Children with RAD will often overreact to frustration, fear, or anger. This can often lead to lashing out in aggressive ways, including hitting, punching, kicking, and biting.

Self-Harming

Children with reactive attachment disorder are also prone to engaging in other forms of self-harm. Some of these methods include self-mutilation, self-poisoning, and even attempting suicide.

Eating Disorders

Many children with reactive attachment disorder will also develop eating disorders. They may refuse to eat or will only eat food that is a particular texture. They may develop very narrowly defined food preferences and can often crave very unusual textures, smells, or tastes.

Substance Abuse

Children with reactive attachment disorder are also prone to engaging in substance abuse. They may abuse alcohol or drugs in an attempt to soothe their emotional needs.

Lack of Cause and Effect Thinking

Children with reactive attachment disorder tend to have poor cause-and-effect thinking. They will often have difficulty understanding that their actions have consequences. You can see this in several types of behaviors.

Risk Takers

Children with reactive attachment disorder often engage in risky behaviors. These can include extreme sports, substance abuse, or even promiscuity.

Disinhibition

Disinhibition is an inability to regulate emotions or behavior. This makes it difficult for the child to control their impulses. This can often lead to very impulsive behavior, including physical risk-taking.

Running Away

One of the most obvious causes of disinhibition is running away. Children with reactive attachment disorder often run away from their caregivers or from foster parents.

They may run away from home or school in an attempt to find their parents so that they can be reunited. These children may run away from home without clothes, without supplies, and without any preparation.

These are extreme acts of disinhibition and put the child in serious danger.

Poor Impulse Control

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have poor impulse control. This often leads to poor decision-making and poor judgment.

Severe Behavior Issues

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have very severe behavior issues. These often cause conflicts with teachers and other caregivers and may make it difficult for the child to stay in school. Poor impulse control and poor judgment also lead to behavior issues.

Extreme Need for Control

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have a strong need for control. They may be very controlling of their caregivers, caregivers to other children, and other children in the household. This can make it difficult for other children to live with the child with reactive attachment disorder.

Manipulative and Hostile

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have very strong manipulative tendencies. This often makes it hard to care for the child.

Provoke Anger in Others

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have a strong ability to provoke anger and frustration in others. This is often done by disobeying or destroying the property of others. The child may also use other, more manipulative, methods to make others angry as well.

Does Not Trust Adults or Authority

Children with reactive attachment disorder often do not trust adults. They tend to see adults as the enemy and may view all interactions with adults as unfair. They may even have a difficult time trusting the children in their lives.

Resists Guidance and Nurturing

Children with reactive attachment disorder tend to resist any type of nurturing. They tend to resist attempts to guide their behavior or to help them. As a result, they often have a difficult time learning new things.

Superficially Charming and Engaging

Another common symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child is superficially charming and engaging. This may help the child to be popular with some peers and to have superficial relationships with adults. However, the child usually is not truly engaging or interested in other people.

Indiscriminately Affectionate With Strangers

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have a tendency to be extremely affectionate with strangers. However, this is often a way to get attention and acceptance. The child may not truly want the affection, but they may use it to get what they want.

Argues Excessively

Another common symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child argues excessively with adults and peers. This may make it difficult for the child to get along in school.

Rages Over the Smallest Correction

Another symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child rages over the smallest correction. This is often a way to avoid having to do what the adults in the child’s life want. It is usually done to avoid having to deal with the emotions that the child thinks he or she needs to feel.

No Conscience or Compassion

Another symptom of this disorder is that the child often has no conscience or compassion. They may have a difficult time showing remorse for their actions. They may also be unable to consider how their actions might affect others emotionally.

No Empathy or Remorse

Another symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child does not express empathy or remorse for others. Without this ability, it is difficult for the child to connect emotionally with others.

This is one of the reasons that children with this attachment disorder often do not develop good attachments with caregivers. It can also make it difficult for the child to learn from the consequences of his or her actions.

Chronic Lying and Stealing

Another symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child often tells lies and steals. This symptom is often very troublesome for parents, as the child may lie about even the smallest things. The child may also become very manipulative and use the parents’ trust against them.

Predatory Behavior With Animals and Younger Children

Children with RAD often exhibit predatory behavior with animals and younger children. This often has to do with the fact that the child does not recognize the rights and needs of others.

Accusations of Abuse from Others

Children with reactive attachment disorder often make accusations of abuse from others. This often has to do with the child’s lack of ability to empathize with others and understand the difference between right and wrong.

Meltdowns When Control’s Lost

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have extreme mood swings. These mood swings often include anger, anxiety, and sadness.

They often express these emotions by having temper tantrums and meltdowns. These mood swings are also very common in children who have been abused. It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between tantrums and meltdowns.

Tantrums are typically used when a child is attempting to get something. When they achieve that, the tantrum stops. In comparison, meltdowns occur when a child becomes overwhelmed, it’s not something that can be controlled.

Inability to Trust

Another symptom of reactive attachment disorder is that the child has a difficult time trusting others. Children with this attachment disorder often do not trust others, even those who are close to them. This can make it very difficult for the child to have a normal relationship with anyone.

Blaming Others

Another common trait in reactive attachment disorder is blaming others for their problems. Children with RAD will often be very sensitive to even minor slights or differences in treatment. This can result in the child blaming others for the relationship problems they are having or putting the blame on others when they are in trouble.


How Does Reactive Attachment Disorder Impact Children at Home

The impact of Reactive Attachment Disorder can be very difficult on families. Children with reactive attachment disorder often have a difficult time trusting other children and adults.

This may cause them to feel unwanted and make them very difficult to manage. As a result, this may require the family to have a higher level of involvement.

The Impact on Parents

Parents, who have children with reactive attachment disorder, can feel overwhelmed by their children’s needs. This can make it difficult to have a strong relationship with the child.

Children with reactive attachment disorder often do better when the parents have a calm and caring attitude. There should not be any disagreement or shouting in front of the child, as this can make the child even more distant from the parents.

The Impact on Siblings

Siblings of a child with reactive attachment disorder often feel left out. They may also experience judgment from others who believe that their sibling’s bad behavior is due to their influence.

One common result is that children with siblings that have reactive attachment disorder will often have poor relationships.

The Impact on Pets

Reactive attachment disorder in children can also have an impact on the pets in the family. Children with reactive attachment disorder often have difficulty bonding to their pets.

This can lead to the child ignoring the pet or even abusing it. This is especially true if the child has been abused. The child may feel that they need to show power over another living being.

How Does Reactive Attachment Disorder Impact Children in School

The impact of reactive attachment disorder on children in school can be very significant. Children with reactive attachment disorder often have difficulties with socialization.

This may make them the target of bullying and they may also bully others. This kind of behavior often leads to social isolation, which can make the condition even worse.

The Impact on Teachers

Teachers of children with reactive attachment disorder can feel burdened by the needs of the child. It can be very difficult to create positive relationships with the child.

The Impact on Classmates

Children with reactive attachment disorder do not have the ability to form healthy interpersonal relationships with their peers. This can lead to bullying and social isolation.

The Impact on Grades

Children with reactive attachment disorder may struggle academically because of their other problems. They may have difficulties with memory and organization.

How Does Reactive Attachment Disorder Impact Children Socially?

The negative impact of reactive attachment disorder on children socially is significant. Most children with reactive attachment disorder have a very hard time forming healthy relationships with other children and adults.

This means that they will often have very few friends. In order to have a friend, a child must know how to be a friend.

The child must be able to share, to develop a sense of empathy, and to understand the feelings of others. Children with this disorder often have a difficult time with these things.

How Does Reactive Attachment Disorder Get Diagnosed?

Children with reactive attachment disorder are diagnosed by psychological tests and interviews. These are done with the parent and child separately and then together.

What’s the Treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder?

The treatment for reactive attachment disorder can be very complex. However, there are some common types of treatment used.

Psychotherapy and Counseling

Psychotherapy and counseling are used to address the underlying causes of the reactive attachment disorder and help the child learn healthier ways to cope. One common type of intervention utilized is Trust-Based Relational Intervention.

What Is Trust-Based Relational Intervention?

Trust-Based Relational Intervention teaches children to form healthy relationships by building trust. The child is placed in an attachment-based relationship with an adult and then builds trust in the adult.

Parenting Classes

Parenting classes teach parents the skills they need to be productive parents. The parent learns to deal with the child’s aggressive behavior and negative behavior.

Medications

Medications are only used to manage the child’s symptoms. They are not used to treat the underlying cause of the disorder.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is used to help the entire family adjust to living with a child with reactive attachment disorder. The family will learn to work together to create a healthy home for the child to thrive.

Social Skills Interventions

Social skills interventions teach children how to act in social situations. Instead of teaching the children social skills, they are taught how to recognize when a social situation is occurring.

One intervention that can be helpful for children with RAD is social stories. These stories teach children how to respond and what to expect from various situations. 

Special Education

Some children with reactive attachment disorder may require special education services to help them succeed in school. These services can help the child navigate the environment of a school.

Play Therapy

Play therapy is one of the most effective types of psychotherapy. It is most effective when used to treat younger children because they are better able to communicate through play.

Behavior Modification

The child must learn new behaviors to replace the ones that are causing problems. This can be done by teaching the child to perform chores and giving them rewards when they perform them correctly.

How Can Parents Help Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder

Parents play a significant role in the treatment of children with RAD. There are multiple steps parents can take to help their child.

Provide Structure

A child that has RAD is unable to understand boundaries and must have a structured day. This can help the child to feel safe and calm.

Praise and Reward

Parents should praise their children for positive behavior and reward them for good achievements. This will help the child to build trust in their parents and feel proud of their own achievements.

Set Rules and Limits

The child must understand the boundaries and rules of the household. The child with RAD will often push boundaries and rules to see if they can get away with it. Setting boundaries helps the child understand the difference between right and wrong.

Learn the Cause Behind Behaviors

It is important for parents to understand the causes behind their child’s behaviors. This will help the parents to set boundaries and rules that will be effective with their child.

You can learn to better understand behaviors by paying attention to what happens before the behavior. What happens before is the trigger for the behavior. Knowing the trigger can help you work on changing the behavior.

Learn How to Discipline

Parents must learn how to adequately discipline their children. They will learn how to provide consequences for negative behavior and rewards for positive behavior. There are some key things to remember when delivering consequences.

Be Patient

The parent must be willing to be patient. The child needs time to adjust to a new way of thinking.

The child’s brain must learn to see the consequences of negative behavior and recognize positive behavior in order to understand why they are receiving the consequence.

Be Consistent

It is vital that the parent is consistent in their discipline. The child must understand that there will be a consequence for their negative behavior and their positive behavior will be rewarded.

Decide Consequences Before Behaviors Occur

Many times children with RAD will repeat the same behaviors over and over again. The parent must decide on a consequence before the child has engaged in negative behavior. The child must know that the parent is going to deliver the consequence if the child engages in the behavior.

Learn About the Disorder

To assist their child, the parent must become knowledgeable about the disorder. This will allow the parent to provide the proper support to their child and understand the child’s behavior. Family therapy is a great place to begin to gain the knowledge you need as a parent.

Create a Close Bond

The parent must create a strong bond with their child. Spending quality time with your child can help with building a stronger relationship. This is best done with the help of a therapist.

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder may reject their parents while they are in therapy. The parent must know that this is a normal response because the child feels they are being replaced. It is important that the parent remains strong and continues to spend time with the child.

Provide Emotional Support

Some children will react to symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder by being very emotional. The child will show extreme sadness and anger. The parent must remain calm and supportive.

Stay Positive

Parents must stay positive and loving to their children. Because they have experienced a lot of emotional abuse, children with Reactive Attachment Disorder may not trust that their parents will love them. The parent must show love through their words and through action.

Eliminate Threats or Verbal Abuse

Parents must not engage in threats or verbal abuse. They must remain positive and loving.

The child must trust their parent. The child must be able to feel secure in their parent’s love.

Join a Support Group

Parents should look into joining a support group to discuss their child’s behavior. Other parents can provide you with tips and guidance to help you understand your child and provide the best care.

Build a Support Network

Parents must build a support network of friends and family. Most importantly, they need to find a therapist that they can trust and learn from. The therapist will provide information to help parents provide the best care for their children.

Take Advantage of Respite Care

Parents must take advantage of respite care. This will give them the chance to regain their strength, enjoy time with their other children, and find some relief from their child’s disorder.

Practice Good Self-Care

Parents must focus on their own self-care. The parent is the key to the child’s recovery. If the parent does not take care of themselves then the child’s recovery will be difficult.

How Can You Help a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Be Successful in School?

Children with reactive attachment disorder will often struggle to be successful in school. The parent can help the child become more successful in school by encouraging a healthy school routine and building a strong support network with the child’s teachers and classmates.

Have a Healthy School Routine

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder do best when they have a healthy school routine. Some things to include in the school routine are healthy eating, exercise, and bedtimes.

routine

Build a Support Network

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder do not feel comfortable talking about their concerns with other people. Parents can encourage the child to build a support network by establishing positive connections with their teachers, classmates, and other adults.

Provide a Stable and Predictable Routine in the Classroom

Children with reactive attachment disorder need a healthy classroom routine. A stable and predictable classroom routine will help the child feel comfortable and safe in the classroom.

Set Clear Limits and Expectations for Behavior

Children with reactive attachment disorder need to have clear limits and expectations for behavior. Parents and teachers can help a child feel secure and safe in their classroom by providing those clear limits and expectations for behavior and by modeling that type of behavior.

Reward Positive Behaviors

Children with reactive attachment disorder respond best to positive reinforcement. Parents and teachers can reinforce positive behavior by praising the child for acting in accordance with the classroom expectations and rules.

Provide Choices

Children with reactive attachment disorder benefit from having choices. Teachers can give children with Reactive Attachment Disorder choices by asking the child for input on classroom projects and by letting the child select their own work and work pace.

Give Individual Attention

Children with reactive attachment disorder often struggle to pay attention. Teachers can help the child focus on the classroom lesson by giving the child individual attention when the child is struggling.

Give the Child a Voice

Children with reactive attachment disorder benefit from having a voice in the classroom. Teachers can give the child a voice by allowing the child to ask questions and by letting the child participate in classroom projects.

Give the Child the Opportunity to Make Mistakes

Children with reactive attachment disorder benefit from the opportunity to make mistakes in the classroom. Teachers can give the child the opportunity to make mistakes by allowing the child to participate in classroom projects and by allowing the child to ask questions.

Be Supportive When the Child Makes a Mistake

Children with reactive attachment disorder need to learn that making mistakes is part of the learning process. Teachers can teach the child that making mistakes is part of the learning process by supporting the child when the child makes a mistake.

Recognize the Child’s Strengths

Children with reactive attachment disorder need to know that they have strengths. Teachers can let children with reactive attachment disorder know that they have strengths by encouraging the child and by providing the child with positive reinforcement for good behavior and for academic success.

Follow Through on Consequences

Children with reactive attachment disorder respond best when adults follow through on consequences. If a child with reactive attachment disorder does not follow through on an agreement, the teacher should follow through on the consequence.

Never Punish the Child for Acting Out

Children with reactive attachment disorder are often acting out because they feel out of control. Teachers should punish children with reactive attachment disorder for breaking classroom rules, but they should never punish the child for acting out.

This is a great place to give a child a choice. It allows them to have control over what they’re doing, but also gives them healthy alternatives to what they’re doing.

Consider a Specialized School

For many children with reactive attachment disorder, a specialized school is the best option. Specialized schools provide the structure, clear rules, and consistent boundaries that children with RAD need to succeed.

Treating Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder During Classroom Instruction

It is important to treat children with reactive attachment disorder the same way that teachers treat all other students. When teachers give special treatment to children with reactive attachment disorder, it can reinforce their negative behaviors.

Working With the Child’s Family

Teachers can work with the child’s family to help the child with reactive attachment disorder. Teachers can meet with the child’s family to discuss the child’s behavior and to set up a support system for when the child acts out.

Ways to Get Your Child to Go to School on Time

Some children with reactive attachment disorder struggle to get to school on time. Parents can help by providing extra support and by gently reminding their children about school rules.

How to Help Kids With Reactive Attachment Disorder in Social Settings

Children with reactive attachment disorder often have difficulty with social settings. However, they can learn to handle socially stressful situations with the right type of support.

Model Calming Behaviors

Teachers and parents can model calming behaviors for a child with reactive attachment disorder. For example, if a child is upset, the teacher or parent can model calming behaviors by taking deep breaths and by slowing down their movements.

Pair Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder With Supportive Peers

Children with reactive attachment disorder can learn a lot from their peers. However, it is important to pair children with reactive attachment disorder with supportive peers.

For example, a teacher can pair the child with reactive attachment disorder with the child most willing to help her.

Help The Child Build a Supportive Social Network

Though it is important to pair the child with reactive attachment disorder with supportive peers, it is also important to help the child build a supportive peer network. For example, the child can build a supportive peer network by attending social events outside of school.

Ways to Deal With Attention-Seeking Behaviors in Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder

Some children with reactive attachment disorder will act out to get attention. Teachers and caregivers can help these children by ignoring attention-seeking behavior. When caregivers give attention to the child’s attention-seeking behavior, the behavior only gets worse.

The Benefits of Boarding School for Reactive Attachment Disorder

Children with reactive attachment disorder often benefit from boarding school. Boarding school allows children who are struggling with reactive attachment disorder to get the support they need.

School Supports Children With Reactive Attachment Disorder

There are boarding schools that get designed to help children with reactive attachment disorder. Teachers and other school staff at boarding schools are trained to deal with children with RAD and other mental health conditions. This means that children get the support they need

Boarding School Can Help Children Who Are Chronically Late

Some children with reactive attachment disorder struggle with chronic tardiness. A boarding school can help these children by gently reminding them about school rules.

Boarding Schools Provide Structure

The structure of boarding schools is good for children with reactive attachment disorder. Boarding schools provide structure by having clear school rules and consequences for breaking school rules.

Boarding School Can Remove a Child From Stressful Home Environment

Children with reactive attachment disorder may act out at home because they are stressed out. Boarding schools can help these children by providing a less stressful environment.

While your child attends boarding school they can participate in outpatient therapy and families can work on growing their skills as well. 

Boarding Schools Provide Social Opportunities

Boarding schools provide social opportunities for children with reactive attachment disorder. Children with RAD benefit from having close friendships and the social opportunities provided at school can help with that. 

Find the Right School for Your Daughter With Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder is a complex diagnosis that can have a significant impact on your child’s life. There are things you can do at home and in school to help; however, there are also schools available that can help at a more significant level. 

Are you looking for the right school for your daughter? Life Quest Girls Academy could be the right schooling option for your daughter. 

We’re committed to instilling a lifelong love of learning in your child and helping them transition into adulthood.

Contact us today to find out how we can help you give your daughter a better future.

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