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Success with Challenging Children

Reactive Attachment Disordered (RAD) students are often highly intelligent and highly manipulative. (i.e. giving phony compliments, soliciting pity, attempting to control adults by getting them to pick up the units of concern about students’ issues) In order to facilitate emotional healing, a program of tight structure at home and at school and powerful nurturing at home must be provided. Upon demonstration of the ability to accept set limits at home, the RAD student should be allowed to enter a school situation. The healing team should include parents, school staff and mental health professionals working together. Everyone’s opinion must be valued; each member must have full confidence in the others. The team must share an understanding of the difficulty of parenting, teaching or treating an emotionally disturbed child.

A RAD child’s education will not progress until he/she develops self-control and can focus on the learning opportunities offered. In order to facilitate healing, parents and teachers must insist on:

  • Respect through eye contact, clear speech and good manners.
  • Responsibility for possessions, body, and work (school and home)
  • Being fun to be around with an attitude of gratitude and willingness.

Consequences for inappropriate behaviors must be given with NO anger. Lectures, warnings, bribes, second chances and reminders are all ineffective techniques that will not help this child. Any individual who uses these is putting a RAD child at high-risk for major regression. Due to trust issues a RAD child must not be left in the care of adults that will allow him to manipulate them. This child must feel safe enough to develop trust. He will not trust anyone weaker than himself.

Consequences should be given the FIRST time a behavior occurs. Such as:

  • Being sent out of the area promptly
  • Rapid loss of privileges or property
  • Extra chores for restitution (scrub toilets, shovel snow)
  • Cleaning up messes during fun time
  • Be sent home to do work not requiring an education (move manure, etc.)

Check with parents about stories the child tells about home before getting concerned. Do not put yourself in a position of being alone with a child who may make false allegations of abuse. You cannot prove you did not molest/abuse the child any more than parents can prove they did not.

Consequences must be balanced with pizzazz and conditional positives for appropriate behavior. Conditional positive comments such as: “You’re doing a good job right now!”, “Nice answer!”, “Very neatly done!” are very helpful. Unconditional positives such as: “Good Boy!”, “You’re a terrific kid!”, “You are wonderful”, “You are so special” will cause defiant acting out for a child with low self-esteem. Until he begins to trust and heal, his self-esteem growth will be minimal. Children with RAD often prefer negative attention to positive. Other students may “feed into” that by loudly telling on the RAD student. Students should be instructed to approach the teacher’s desk and whisper if there is a problem.

The mother is the primary target of the child’s rage. She needs a lot of support. Open and understanding communication is vital between home and school, however exhausted Moms often have a hard time hearing every detail of the child’s bad behavior, keep it short. This information can be written on a post card or left on an answering machine. Be careful that parents do not feel blamed.

Hugs should be given on the teacher’s terms never at the RAD child’s request.  If the teacher hugs all of the students at the end of the day (for example) the child with RAD would receive a hug along with the other children.  An emotionally disturbed child would not receive more hugs than the other students. They will use this to “fill themselves up” and push their mom’s love and hugs away longer.

Lighting the Fires of Learning with RAD and ADD – Zero Tolerance on:

  • Any Attempt or Threat of Aggression
  • Arguing (Even One Word)
  • Blatant Disregard for Direction
  • Displays of Learned Helplessness

The Plan for Success with Emotionally Disturbed Students

  • Identify the disturbance
  • Set goals i.e.: To expand his ability to focus. To raise the expectations. To change the child to fit into the world not to change the world to suite the child.
  • Set up environment for learning
  • Some must start in Behavior class and earn time in mainstream bit by bit by demonstrating appropriate behavior for specified length of time. Clear guidelines established for goals to earn.
  • Special honors for special effort
  • RED/GREEN card for take a hike program. Turn it over silently. Child must go to assigned class to work or do power sitting from there to more restrictive environment
  • Think card from teacher’s desk or pocket set on student’s desk no explanation, no discussion! They just go to think spot.
  • Your expectation should be to teach respect and self-control.