Today’s guest blogger is Linda Rice. Linda has written an excellent book on what is known as Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Linda is a fellow Biblical Counselor and new friend to me. I am grateful she is willing to post today. If you are an adoptive or foster parent of a difficult child, I believe you will find her book Parenting the Difficult Child to be very helpful. Linda has a website that you can access here.
Thanks be to the Lord that although we don’t see the road ahead, He is good and trustworthy to graciously work His character into us through the mountains and valleys of our travels through life. When we adopted two precious children between the ages of two and six years from outside the U.S.A., we knew that we were taking a risk and did not expect it to be easy. The risk proved out. They displayed behaviors that, to us, were inexplicable and extreme beyond what we had ever encountered or imagined. We originally thought that if we just loved them enough, including a well-ordered lifestyle and appropriate discipline, eventually they would accept us.
In researching for answers, the only explanations we could find were those that pointed to what was, at the time, called Attachment Disorder. For diagnosis, the DSM-IV describes it as a disorder involving disturbed social relatedness that begins prior to age five and is associated with maltreatment in infancy. The theory is that when the child’s needs are not met, he grows angry and even stuck in rage. He fails to attach to a primary caregiver. Due to lack of attachment, the child cannot (or will not) trust or attach to others. Therefore, lack of attachment underlies the alienated, antisocial behaviors and prevents the child from developing a conscience. The solution is for the child to achieve attachment to at least one caregiver. If he does not, then he will never trust and never be able to have a positive, loving relationship with anyone. To us, attachment theory was appealingly logical, seemed to fit our child, and “everybody” believed it.
As time went on, though, the psychological explanation did not adequately explain what we observed. For example, when sweetness and sullenness can be turned on and off like a switch when entering and exiting the church, it is obvious that those attitudes and behaviors are choices, not a disorder-illness. When revenge is being audibly planned, a person is not helpless to some disorder. In addition, the Bible was contradicting the theories. For example, if the Bible says, “Do not steal,” then theft is a choice, not merely a symptom of a “disorder.” We grew persuaded that the Bible must hold the true explanation and solution.
Eventually, the day came when I learned about something called “biblical counseling and had the opportunity to study it at The Master’s College. Understanding my child was not on my list of reasons for further education. I was fine with leaving that aspect of life behind. Nevertheless, as course work progressed, I couldn’t ignore the growing number of “Aha!” moments when increased understanding of biblical truths also made sense of our child. Theology pieced together a much more accurate view than did the psychologies.
I decided to write my thesis on a biblical perspective of RAD for two primary reasons. One, I wanted to clarify my understanding of how biblical principles apply to it. I especially still had questions about the reports of behavioral and brain research. Two, I wanted a biblical view made available to other parents, some of whom might be experiencing difficulties similar to what we did and be searching for answers.
As I researched for the thesis, I discovered only one biblical resource. In an age of Google and Wikipedia, only one! Even the big-name Christian psychologists propound attachment theories.
Also, I noted that no book offers help for the siblings. The RAD books all focus on the alienated child. What can a parent do to help children who live in close quarters with a brother or sister who incessantly attempts to manipulate, betray, bully, terrorize, endanger, or even plan their demise?
Parenting the Difficult Child begins with a composite case study to which it returns periodically to illustrate principles. It describes and explains RAD behaviors through the grid of a biblical worldview to build understanding of children and counter false teachings, such as claims about emotional needs, and that some children are unable to trust, lack a conscience, and are unable to show remorse. We need to know God’s truth before we are able to understand our children and apply His solutions to them.
The second section of the book offers practical applications for parents to apply to themselves, the difficult child, and the siblings. This includes direction on rightly handling fear, anger, and other emotions. It instructs on structuring the home, what to teach the children, discipline, handling manipulation, and handling one’s own temptations. Practical ideas for implementation are listed where appropriate.
The last section explains the dominant attachment theories that parents are likely to hear in adoptive or RAD circles, exposing their historical and philosophical foundations. It brings Scripture to bear upon those theories and upon behavioral and genetic research presumptions, processes, and conclusions. With this knowledge, parents can more wisely assess proposed therapies as well as theories.
I absolutely believe that God’s Word is the authority on RAD. It doesn’t just hold counsel, it is the relevant, accurate, perceptive, comprehensive, clear, explanatory, solution-oriented, authoritative, and sufficient counsel on RAD. It deals with the roots of the issues. I also absolutely believe that although God does not give us guarantees about the choices of our children, He can transform parents and children through the power of His Word and the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to the Lord for His abundant grace.
Parenting the Difficult Child is intended to provide a useful handbook for applying God’s Word to ourselves as parents, to angry, alienated children, and to siblings of a difficult child. The goal is that every family member would be aided in seeking God’s glory and living in a God-pleasing manner. I hope and pray that it will be so for you.
Linda and her husband have been married since 1980. They have been blessed with a biological daughter, an adopted daughter, and an adopted son. While she spent her childhood in one home, rooted in Midwest farm life, in adulthood she has lived in Virginia, Missouri, Malaysia, Nevada, and Illinois. With an M.A. in Biblical Counseling from The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California, she has been a biblical counselor at Gateway Biblical Counseling and Training Center, Fairview Heights, Illinois since 2007. She also participates in a ladies’ Bible study, the Collinsville Community Chorale, and music at their church. Linda says, “Although I like flowers, only the silk ones survive my care. I enjoy friends, reading, making cards, baking, hiking, and humming around the house.”