What do chronic lying, stealing, fire setting, killing animals, and hoarding food have in common? Everything.

by Bryan Post

Each of these behaviors is related to a psychiatric diagnosis that is quickly becoming recognized by mental health professionals across the nation. Reactive Attachment Disorder, once a little known, seldom recognized mental health diagnosis, has become the new buzz word of the mental health industry. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) was first introduced about twenty years ago. Since that time much of the information regarding this disorder has painted a dismal and often dangerous picture of those diagnosed with it, most often children. Books and articles have compared children with RAD to serial killers, rapist, and hard-core criminals. Unconventional parenting techniques have been taught to parents in order to control these children—children referred to as “disturbed” or “unattached.”

The main premise of RAD is that the child cannot form positive, lasting relationships. The RAD child seems unable to socially connect with or attach to others. Many of their behaviors appear very frightening, and downright dangerous, leaving parents feeling resented, blamed, and chastised by others. Such behaviors include defiance; frequent and intense anger outbursts, manipulative or controlling patterns; little or no conscience; destructive to self, others, and property; gorging or hoarding food; and preoccupation with fire, blood, or violence. For more information on RAD and these associated behaviors  visit www.postinstitute.com or www.reactiveattachmentdisorderparenting.com.

The causes are complicated. Typically any traumatic experience occurring within the first 0 to 5 years of life can create the potential for attachment challenges. For example, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, parental depression, premature birth, birth trauma, domestic violence, or frequent moves can all be indicators. Such events impact the child’s ability to tolerate stress and anxiety, exposing them to ongoing states of fear. Over time, his constant state of fear leads to an inability to trust others even after years of diligent care.

The purpose of these posts is to educate and offer solutions to parents, teachers, and professionals struggling to care for children that have been diagnosed (or not diagnosed) with reactive attachment disorder. There is hope. There can be a happy ending to your family story. The good news is that you as an adult can control the process, even though you may not be able to control yourself or your child. It is the process that is the healing balm to soothe the wounds and not the Band-Aids that you try to throw on out of your own fear, frustration (anger) and cultural parenting patterns you grew up with. Just keep thinking…. Happily Ever After. It doesn’t have to be just a fairy tale.


  1. Lesa Beaty says:

    Is a “happily ever after” ending really possible? I am utterly without hope today after yet another 2+ hour meltdown by my daughter last night over a totally trivial matter. She melts down any time she doesn’t get her way. I have been using BCLC/Post parenting with her for several years and, if anything, her behaviors seem to be getting worse. She will do anything and everything to make sure she stays in control. I understand why she is doing it, but I feel like I am unable to be a real parent to her. I have read “The Great Behavior Breakdown” and the theory is stay calm until she’s regulated, then go back and teach her, but guess what? She is never, ever, ever, willing to listen to me or learn anything whatsoever from me. She will cover her ears, start a fight, do whatever she has to do to keep from communicating with me. She is parenting herself, and is ill equipped to do so. Her father, little sister, and I spend our lives walking on eggshells, trying not to upset her, ignoring her insults, giving in to her, and I am growing very weary of it. It does not seem to be doing her any good. She is 11 years old and has been my daughter since age 3 (adopted from a Russian orphanage along with her little sis). I love her to pieces, I know she is just a hurt child, but I am totally at a loss as to how to help her learn to trust that I love her and will always be here for her. How much time does it take to see any results from no consequences parenting?? I am beginning to feel that the lack of consequences in our home has contributed to the spoiled way she acts most of the time.

    • Bryan Post says:

      Your last line says it all: You are taking her behaviors personally…as thought it’s your fault. As if something you’ve done or not done is what is causing the issue! It’s NOT. Her first three years are what have wired her in this way. Her earliest experiences are what make it feel almost impossible to parent her or for her to trust that she can be parented. You have to watch my video on the site that discusses the three pathways to emotional expression (http://bit.ly/10XZbIs). Walking on eggs shells is not the answer…it’s a reflection of stress, avoiding is a reflection of stress, ignoring is a reflection of stress. And guess what? She only learns 20% of the time from what you talk to her about…80% of learning is thru modeling. She is learning thru how you act and feel not by what you say. Keep loving her to pieces. Keeping striving to see a hurt child, actually she still sounds like an infant much of the time…probably still stuck in the orphanage. Everything she says to you, every insult, every mean thing is a reflection of how she thinks you “really” feel about her! I would probably also recommend some coaching with Helene. (helene@postinstitute.com)

      • Hi Bryan,

        Thanks for responding to my post. You are right that I take her behaviors personally. I know the first 3 years of her life wired her this way, but I also know that I have messed up so many times with her and probably made things worse. I have yelled at her and said hurtful things. I have spanked her in the past, when I didn’t know what else to do. One time I had to restrain her from hurting her little sister and she still tells me I “sat on her” before (NOT true; I held her arms down because she had totally lost it). She throws all these things up to me when she wants to hurt me, and it works. She makes it sound as though I am an abusive parent. That pushes all my buttons because I am the furthest thing from that. I am a peaceful person who rarely ever lost my temper before I adopted my children. I have had a special love for kids my whole life and always relates really well to them. I adore kids. The last thing I would do is hurt a kid. So, I do feel guilty about what I’ve done wrong and I wonder if I can ever get past these things with her. I’ve done a zillion more things right than wrong, but she remembers every wrong thing I did. I feel like I have to be “perfect” to prove to her that I love her. That is a lot of pressure and is in fact impossible. I for one will never be perfect.

        I wanted to watch the “three pathways to emotional expression” video, but the link took me to a promo video for “From Fear to Love,” which then linked to some off-site page. Can you post a corrected link to that video?

        I don’t have a problem with being empathetic and sensitive to my kids’ feelings, etc, but I do have a problem with setting limits. I know I shouldn’t use consequences per se, but I have to be able to set limits in some way — my kids are not old enough to parent themselves, though my oldest thinks she is. I read The Great Behavior Breakdown, but didn’t see any info there on how to set limits, just to not try to teach kids when they are disregulated. I could really use some help in that area.

        Thanks for your time,

      • Hi Lesa,
        That link will take you to the 30 minute video if you follow through. Enter your name and email address and click on the Yes I Want the 30 Minute Video and it will take you there.

        Limits are not consequences. They are limits set to teach. How you teach could involve consequences as the old paradigm preaches or relationship as we teach. Relationship takes time. Punishing takes little time – unless it is one our our kids then the reaction turns into even more trouble. I talked about setting limits often on our Inner Circle calls. I will see if I can find something from them that can help you. There are always limits. Accepting that your child will get upset around limits is the first step for you to stay regulated. “I understand that you may not like this, however …”

        Your story is no different from most of the parents we serve. We all fail regularly. The important issue, is whether we keep going or not…

        Choose love always — B

      • Lesa Beaty says:

        Hi Bryan,

        The link sent me to a “shopping cart” page. Do I have to create an account there to receive the video? It kinda confused me because when I clicked to create an account, it is billing me 0.00 for a “Store Trial: Everything you need to build an online store including a full suite of marketing tools.” Do I go ahead and fill in my billing info? Just sounded funny.


      • Bryan Post says:

        ok, this should work. very sorry.

      • Hi Bryan,

        Thank you so much for the video. It really helped me understand how I can be the one in power when I deal with my daughter, but in a different way. No, she won’t “jump when I holler” and immediately comply with my requests, but I am the one responsible for how I respond, not react. If I can string together enough correct responses, she can begin trusting me again. Things have been very stressful in our home due to financial difficulties and upon reflection, I realize that I have been more grouchy and less loving in my interactions with my kids. They pick up on all of this and I think it makes them feel less trusting of my love and ability to keep them safe. When my stress and fear escalate, their behaviors escalate. I have to do a better job. I took notes and am keeping the visual of the “trauma triangle” to help me remember to respond from love, not react from fear.


      • Bryan Post says:

        May we use your comments to share with others?

      • Lesa Beaty says:

        Hi Brian,

        You certainly may use my comment. Not long after I posted this comment, I began having panic attacks. I had this problem about three years ago and had been on anti-anxiety meds since that time. I decided last summer that I didn’t need to take my meds any more, that it must have been an isolated incident. Big mistake. I see now that my stress was getting way out of hand last fall and I didn’t realize how bad it had become. Now I am back on my meds to stay and have noticed a real improvement in both my daughters’ behavior. Is it perfect? No. There are still meltdowns, but they are no longer happening on a daily basis. Now that my anxiety is lessening, I am able to have better interactions with my children. Am I perfect? No. Do I still yell sometimes? Yes. But I am no longer pressuring myself to be “perfect” in that respect. Thanks for being a voice of reason when I needed one. 🙂


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