Parents often tell us that their other children were initially excited to welcome a new adopted sibling into their lives. They prepared their other children that their new sibling might have some trouble getting comfortable in their home initially. They ask their children to just treat their new sibling nicely. In so many words—without realizing it—they ask their children to disregard their own needs and feelings on behalf of their new sibling.
Fast-forward to months or years later—they realize something isn’t working. Perhaps the new addition to their family has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder. They begin to wonder when and if the child will ever settle into their home. They begin to worry about their other children. These are legitimate concerns. All children in the family deserve to feel safe and affirmed, but that’s extremely difficult for parents of children with reactive attachment disorder to juggle.
Children with trauma backgrounds look for control to protect themselves. Since they were “stuck” developmentally at early ages, they usually act much younger than their true ages.
Like toddlers, children with reactive attachment disorder often:
- throw tantrums when things don’t go their way
- steal from others
- break things
- invade privacy
- blame others
These behaviors take a toll on not only parents, but also the entire family.
While living with a child with reactive attachment disorder, other children in the home may:
- feel trapped at home because their mother* constantly tends to the child with reactive attachment disorder in close quarters in order to keep everyone safe
- frequently miss their mother at their recitals, teacher meetings, athletic events, etc. because she is consumed with the child with reactive attachment disorder
- crave their mother’s attention because she doesn’t have energy for homework or to spend special time with them
When couples decide to welcome other children into their lives, their intention is certainly not to abandon their other children in the process. Most hope to enrich their biological children’s lives with additional siblings, in fact. Many adoptive parents sadly realize their best intentions don’t match their realities.
For adoptive parents of children with reactive attachment disorder with other children in the home, we recommend:
- Respite care
Families need breaks apart from children with reactive attachment disorder to re-energize and spend quality time together. While this may feel contrary to the idea of “family” and unfair to children with RAD, it’s vital for the wellness of the other children and the family as a whole. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of children with RAD as well.
Ideally, respite providers understand children with reactive attachment disorder and avoid unintentionally rewarding children for treating others poorly. Trained and effective respite providers can assist parents to motivate children with reactive attachment disorder to work harder to accept and trust their families.
When families don’t have opportunities to utilize professional therapeutic respite providers, they still need to find time for themselves. “Rescuing” respite providers, such as grandparents, may spoil children with reactive attachment disorder and send them home overly entitled. While not ideal, respite time is important at all costs.
*we reference mothers more often than fathers because we typically witness them as the day-to-day primary caregivers for the children