Reactive Attachment Disorder in Teenagers

Reactive attachment disorder is a complex phenomenon that occurs when a child is unable to establish successful emotional bonds in the early stages of life. Although the exact cause may Reactive Attachment Disordervary, the results can last a lifetime. Children who suffer from RAD typically withdraw emotionally or act out inappropriately, including in anger and defiance. Dealing with a RAD child can be incredibly difficult for caregivers, as traditional parenting strategies are ineffective. In many cases, parents must seek professional help for dealing with RAD.

Causes of Reactive Attachment Disorder

In most cases, children with RAD have never been capable of enjoying a loving, caring or consistent bond with anyone. RAD is common in children who were abandoned, abused, orphaned or neglected in the first three years of life. Having an emotionally unavailable caregiver, or being shuffled among caregivers (common for foster children) may also contribute to attachment difficulty. More than an emotional disorder, RAD actually alters the brain’s development, permanently impeding a child’s ability to form emotional bonds.

Symptoms and Effects of RAD

Children who suffer from RAD typically become aggressive and controlling, and are often labeled as delinquents. They may be unable to develop friendships with their peers. At home, these children may resist human contact or react violently to being touched, the result of perceiving touch as a threat. RAD kids are often angry, defiant or argumentative. Reactive attachment disorder also impedes the development of a conscience; consequently, children suffering from RAD may not register normal levels of remorse, regret or guilt. RAD manifests in two distinct ways: Either the child becomes withdrawn and nonresponsive (inhibited type) or becomes needy and dependent, seeking an inappropriate level of comfort from non-caregivers or even strangers (disinhibited type).

Parenting a Child with RAD

Most classic, effective parenting techniques do not work well with RAD kids. It may be impossible to negotiate with them, and most attempts to reason or use logic will be summarily dismissed. Although many parents perceive that gaining control is the central objective in dealing with a RAD child, this misplaces the critical focus. The research proves that creating an environment of consistent emotional and physical safety is the only effective way to overcome the barrier. Parents are advised to maintain a sense of humor, despite how difficult that may become when the child has pushed every button you have. More important, remain emotionally responsive and available, and be willing to meet the child where she is.

For many children suffering from RAD, an immersive treatment program may be the only way to overcome the inability to bond. Havenwood Academy offers hope for the parents of girls who suffer from this condition. Residential treatment programs utilizing experiential and traditional therapies help girls and young women learn to separate beliefs from truths and to develop crucial self-trust. If you believe your daughter or a girl in your care may suffer from reactive attachment disorder, contact them today.


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We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.