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Prevention of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Foster Children

Part One: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in Foster Children

My story intertwined with the signs and symptoms...

If you have a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, then you know the nightmare of a life that you are living. It is imperative that foster parents are made aware of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) before it is too late.

Is it too late for the Prevention of Reactive Attachment Disorder in Foster Children

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder? The next series at is about this very subject. I lived this life and I'll share with you the harsh reality, the medical facts, and the sad stories of those that live a quiet life. My ultimate goal is to educate and help the foster parents and adoptive parents who have children in this situation currently. I also want to attempt in small ways to prevent this from occurring in your home.

If you are a foster parent right now, beware. Watch out for the signs and symptoms. Be diligent as to the possibility. Seek medical and mental health when you FIRST observe a sign or a symptom.

Better to be safe than sorry.

Another point I want to make is that when I was a young, new, fresh foster mom, I thought I could take on the world. I knew in six months these kids, no matter their background, would be transformed into a loving family member within our home. My hubby and I were naïve and did not know what reactive attachment disorder was. I did not know about attachment. In fact, my goals were basically to get the kids on a routine, make them behaved at the dinner table, and get them to learn to play.

I knew there were problems. My boy got kicked out of pre-K - after four months. I really was upset with the school. I worked there. How could they do this to me? And it was just for kicking kids, stopping the toilet up repeatedly, ripping up books, not listening to the teacher, not being able to eat normally, eating off the floor, not laying down for a nap, not following a routine, and a few more incidents.

Some children do not form proper attachments... They are left to suffer. How can we help them?

Reactive Attachment Disorder in retrospect

So I'm here now, over ten years later, typing what I wish someone would have mentioned to me at that time. At three, I could have seen this pattern of behavior and linked it to something besides ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). If someone were there by me to talk things through... And if I mentioned snuggles that got rejected by this child, I could have been instructed to investigate or learned to "attach". I am not sure I knew what real attachment was and how to create it. I just thought that with time, routine, love, and consistency in parental figures, the attachment would occur.

That did not happen because of Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I built up frustration and anxiety for parenting. I felt like a failure. Behaviorally, this child was unbelievable and would not listen even for a Sunday school lesson at church.

I felt like a prisoner of a mother who had not a moment of free time to do anything. I could not get a sitter. My parents could not babysit my kids anymore. He was too rough. They were not accustomed to children disobeying - not to mention looking at them and doing the exact opposite of what they said to do OR NOT DO.

RAD children often come across as angry and stubborn...

Early childhood: 3-5 years

Once he was expelled from K-3, we found a babysitter. She was excellent with him -- a great lady who treated him as a baby of sorts. She let him play but did have educational time.

He was very smart and had a fabulous vocabulary. "J" greeted me each day after work but very robotically - as if a routine. He ran on a motor. I attributed this to the ADHD I had diagnosed him with --unofficially and without a medical degree. Since I was a teacher, I knew a little about it. I knew a LOT about it.

"J" as I'll call him, was about all I could handle. I planned to suffer from the disobedience and difficulties until he was old enough to get an ADHD diagnosis - two more years or so - and get on some mediation for his hyperactivity. I thought my trouble would be over then.

Before we officially adopted, we were unsure of the cause of his hyperactivity and rebellion. We did not know anything to do. I did not want to complain or say I was having trouble because I did not want the children taken from me. In my mind, I thought, if I confess that I'm not adequate, they'll send them elsewhere. I loved his older sister so much. She had bonded a lot with my youngest daughter. This gal was super smart and curious. She loved to talk.

Breaking down.

One day I remember crying on the couch and she was beside me. "J" had done something major, and I was on edge and knew I could not do this... I remember crying and looking at her pitifully. She was crying too. I was so embarrassed. I said, "Having four kids is so hard." I remember she just looked at me crying too. She knew I really meant having "J" was so hard. It possibly meant to her that she'd have to move homes again.

However, I kept on going and going --kept on parenting. The adoption was delayed for over 12 months due to an inexperienced adoption worker. These kids were in our home for 20 months before the adoption was official. We were this adoption worker's first adoption case. I talked with her monthly at our visits but never said "I can't handle this" or "I'm struggling". I left a façade that I had it all together. My husband seemed to have it all together in spite of the problems. He had issues too, but was not with the kids so much OR LIKE 24/7... My hubby went to work each day; he got out of the chaos. And it seemed I was at the brunt of J's agitation.

Cute a button.

We thought all the problems could be possible because he was "all boy" and had ADHD. So he was a rowdy kid who could not listen. He spent a lot of time in the corner - time out. I had no other punishment that I could enact. Although this was not effective, I had no one to bounce ideas off of or get advice from. I withheld desserts too. Nothing worked. He did not care. "J" was just disobedient. He did not want to relax.

I'd probably give up on the "prevention" of Reactive Attachment Disorder at this point - if I'd even known what it was...

What were the earliest signs I noticed?

  • not listening to anything

  • arguing

  • crying constantly

  • crying when he did not get his way

  • disobeying

  • running 'wild'

  • not letting me cuddle him before a nap (which never happened... it was a formality for me to have 15 minutes)

  • emotional overload

  • did not meet a stranger (anywhere...)

  • could not get along with others at school

  • manipulates to get his way (arguing in a very adult-like manner)

  • none to little downtime before falling asleep

  • could not stay on task

  • did not focus except for television (which we limited for our children) but even in the beginning, I had to 'teach' them both to watch television - sit still, watch the characters, what are they doing... etc.

  • could not trust him to be alone

These may not be the typical symptoms. I have heard others have other symptoms when they 'knew' something wasn't right. For an inhibited type of child, check this site: These children stare into space and are withdrawn. These babies or children do not want to be comforted.

Can RAD be prevented, lessened? Can it be cured or healed?

Other moms have recently mention symptoms of lying, extreme tantrums, damaging property, sexual acting out, peeing in weird places, running away, violence, anger, not crying, excessive crying, bathroom/toilet/water flushing issues, rage, back-arching, screaming instead of falling asleep, overly affectionate with strangers, laughing at inappropriate times, stealing large amounts of money (or random things as in kleptomania), abusive to parents. I've experienced a lot of these as well. Each family story is unique, of course. Therefore, it is imperative that you seek someone to discuss these symptoms with. Seek.

Do you see that many RAD children have varying stories and experiences? Signs and symptoms according to childmind, are more for the inhibited type.


The issue is to get help as soon as possible. NOT just with any therapist, but someone with a specialty in adoption and attachment. Research more with signs and symptoms here:

What signs or symptoms are the most surprising to you? Have you seen any signs that there is an issue with your child or someone you know? Let me know in the comments.

Another reason to choose a GREAT agency is that they can help you. I got no help - because of my own pride and because the agency was not equipped. Read how to find a good fit in an agency in a previous post that I did:

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Impressing Minds is about creating value in the mind of a child through the foster parents. Imagine the mind of a child being made of play-doh, and you are about to make a permanent impression. What type of impression will you make? I will encourage you to make a soft, lasting, affirmative impression in their mind by giving tools to get started fostering, accomplishing a great foster care home, and serving the children in your care. I offer support to you and others fostering. An important element of Impressing Minds is the support that others have given to those in need.


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