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Classroom Management of a RAD Student

The Classroom Management of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is unique. A RAD child wants to control the room and be in control of your class. Control is all they feel like they have or want; however, it can't happen. Any teacher knows that you cannot relinquish control to a student in the classroom.

After reading my first post, where I discussed how students act, the next step would be to explain ways to manage the classroom or avert the control issue altogether. How can the teacher be a proactive member of the RAD parent's treatment and support team?

Classroom Management of a RAD Student

First, please provide a business-like relationship with the child and do not attempt to cure him or her. This attachment needs to be healed, but only with the parents. Be parental advocates in this process. Focus on your classroom, lessons, learning, consistency, fairness, and all of the other things that I know you actually need to be focusing on each day. RAD will take years to heal with consistency, therapy, strategic planning, and much more. Play a small role for this year but let the parents worry about the healing processes.

Second, be an advocate for the parent. Get the parent involved with the children. When the child does do something, address it with the parents. Do not let things slide or have an attitude that "what happens in my classroom stays in my classroom". If the child tells you something about their home, say, "OK, during my planning, I will call your mom to verify that." Follow up with the parent.

Classroom Management of RAD

The child is often manipulating and triangulating.

"Triangulation may manifest itself as a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people, known as divide and conquer or playing one (person) against another." So please be on the parents' side. The parent needs to know you have their back when keeping their child in check to be successful. This child will need to know that, while in your class, they will not get away with things. You will follow up with anything that seems off by contacting the parent.

On the same note, do not attempt to build an attachment/relationship with the child or treat them special. Do not pity the child. Do not let them make you feel sorry for them. They need to heal and to do that they need to attach to their primary caregivers - parents. Even though you can secretly feel pain for the child - most likely they have lived through horrible experiences that you or I cannot imagine.

However, when you try to become attached, they will readily "attach" to you because you are relatively a stranger. They have no expectations, you think they are cute, small, pitiful, etc. However, they reject real attachments. It is a reactive attachment disorder; so, they are rejecting the attachment that a mother (most often) has with a child. Often because this has been done to them in their past...

Thirdly, some simple things you can do/say while teaching and / or conducting activities are as follows:
  • Give lots of physical activity to get out any hyperactive tendencies (don't punish with recess being taken)

  • Utilize the natural consequences. If they want to go outside without their new hat in the rain, let them...

  • Do not get into a power struggle - not even one time - in front of other students.

    • Just say things like, "That's interesting that you feel that way" and move on!

    • Or say, "Let's ask another student what he thinks."

    • "You're on the right track."

    • These are neither validating nor telling them he is wrong to get into that struggle of you hate me/you like the other child better.

  • Do not lose your control emotionally because these children are not doing anything personally. They have issues with other people; you are just who is in the front of the room at the time.

  • Allow choices on projects and be somewhat flexible but do not give in to become enabling. They could do a poster or a PowerPoint, but do not allow them to turn something in next month. They need to know the real-life consequences.

  • Follow the rules/consequences to the T.

  • Get the administration on board by explaining your reasons for doing this. (See resources at the end of the post.)

  • Ask for the parents to meet with you and find out their goals for you while in the classroom. What do they want to share about their child? How should you react?

  • Be as fair as possible.

  • Utilize the school and your classroom routines. RAD children will thrive off of chaos, so the more structure you have, the better the days will go.

How to handle a crisis:

Basically in the classroom management of RAD, you will want to follow the protocol within your school for verbal fights, student breakdowns (crying, etc.), physical fighting, and refusal to listen. You will need to have these policies reviewed and know that if you must, mention the consequence to the inappropriate act. Use as few words as possible. During a traumatized child's crisis, they are in survival mode and can't think or hear reality. They may have reverted to an earlier time in life when there were imminent threats to them. Consider the following:

"Johnny, if you don't sit down, I'm going to call for the principal." (He refuses to sit down and is standing in an aggressive posture over another boy who was just asking him about his grade on the test.) I'm calling the principal now. And call the principal - however, your policy states to accomplish this. Don't wait. Don't give 15 chances. Do what you said you would do.

Work with the team.

Discuss the situations that come up honestly and matter-of-factly. Do not get involved emotionally with the child because they want your pity and your attention, so they can manipulate you today or tomorrow or in a month.

I had my own son in class. It was a difficult situation. Usually, he did fine; however, there were times when he would attempt to gain control, ask crazy or off-the-wall questions (that I knew he knew), and get the other children distracted. Once he stole a calculator from the book fair, got it out in class, and was waving it around at me. When asked where he got it, he said with a smirk, "The book fair." I knew at that point he wanted to argue with me because he did not have money to spend at the book fair. (Fun fact: RAD kids are rarely given money because they cannot have self-control, and they must spend a majority of their money on restitutions.)

Developmental Delays / Learning Disabilities

These children often have delays and disabilities due to foster care moves, malnutrition in their infancy, and emotional neglect by primary caregivers early on. Don't be surprised if they have a low IQ but also think and act like they are genius level. RAD children often have no concept of cause and effect, so they cannot plan out multiple activities in advance. They need help with planning projects. They may even need assistance with planning any free time or study time during the class period.

Most likely, there are areas of the brain that could be underdeveloped. Consider this and plan for an IEP when suggested. RAD kids may need IEPs due to behavioral aspects as well as academic aspects.

RAD students may want pity, but let those emotions come from parents... Teachers should focus on classroom management.

Classroom Management of a RAD student

Please Do Not...

  • argue

  • modify behavior with charts, stickers, certificates, rewards, etc.

  • give 15 warnings,

  • create a punishment system for him or her

  • degrade

  • respond with emotion (positive or negative) when in a confrontation

  • become jaded that this is a bad kid (do not tell all the other teachers how exasperating this student is...)

You also will find this letter helpful. It is a letter to a teacher from a parent with a child that has a diagnosis of RAD. It is a very good resource, one that I wish I'd written!

Even if, initially, your RAD student appears starved for attention, please evaluate with caution. The child with RAD often chooses to push attachment away from the primary caregivers for superficial attention from strangers - which is temporary. Maintain professionalism with them and be supportive of the parents.

How can you maintain professionalism in your classroom with a child who wants to create chaos and wreck havoc? Come up with a plan and comment below!

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