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RAD: The Most Powerful Tool to Heal It

parenting reactive attachment disorder (rad) Oct 25, 2022
hands holding ceramic pink heart

Everyone asks me, “Where do I start?” My heart says one thing, knowing exactly what the most powerful thing is but my brain says to give them something they CAN do that will help! I am always so torn inside when I answer.


Why Don’t I Tell Parents to Do It First?

Even though my heart is screaming to say something else, the answer I give is to start with Respect. That helps the relationship. Respect helps build the conscience. It can save a child, later in life, because when they respect their caregiver they can have self-respect. It is a clear workable spot to begin. But my heart knows what would work faster and with much more power. Why don’t I tell parents to do it first!? I hear the weariness in their voices. I hear the frustration in their words as they describe the child’s behavior and we plan solutions together. I feel the pain in their tone as they share the hurtful things their son or daughter has done to them. How can I ask them to do this most powerful intervention when they are maxed out and so broken?


What Does Research Say?

An 80 year study on happiness and success by Harvard University revealed that:

“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”

 We also know from Dr. Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal theory that we each have a Social Engagement system that is a hard wired part of our nervous system, known as the Ventral Vagal system. It is geared and directed to connect and regulate with another person.  It takes another calm, regulated person who can connect with a child, and through that relationship help them get into the safe, connected and social state of Ventral Vagal.  It is from this state that motivation to learn and grow come from.  (For more information on Polyvagal Theory and the nervous system states, read here.) 

Dr. Stanley Greenspan’s powerful research on infant and child mental health and developmental psychology, showed that the positive emotions that result from warm, attuned relationships contribute significantly to deep learning, brain integration and organization. It calms our children and helps them grow into sane, caring adults!


What Makes a Warm, Attuned Relationship?

As Dr. Dan Siegel says, ”When we attune with others, we allow our own internal state to shift, to come to resonate with the inner world of another.”  The result of joining and attuning to another gives us or our children the sense of being accepted, seen, heard and understood.  With a child with deep emotional pathology we have to attune and connect to the healthy part NOT to the pathology! This attunement signals to our nervous system to move into Ventral Vagal (safe, social, connected state), and from here positive emotions are created.  These emotions, in turn, become the motivational factor that is the driving force of our thoughts, actions and behaviors.

Dr. Stanley Greenspan found that emotions give direction to our actions and meaning to our experiences, they enable us to control our behavior, solve problems and think (Greenspan, 1998).

What this is telling us is the feelings that come from warm, attuned relationships is actually what helps to integrate and organize complex brain functions, and help create motivation to learn, be challenged and even behave better! There’s a plan!!

THAT is the powerful tool I am talking about!


What Does it Look Like?

I have to tell you! You need to know how we do it. I call it “snuggle time”. It is about a quiet time of closeness, connection and touch.  Research shows it is powerful on many levels! When a Mom or Dad holds their child, lovingly in their arms, while they laugh together, make eye contact and share something sweet to eat, THAT is the most powerful tool I have ever seen to heal a child with RAD. It takes a few minutes everyday to cuddle them and fill them up.

I shared my heart this way with the little ones and the BIG ones. Even my older teens had an inner child that was left empty long ago that needed to be filled! It was not a time to discuss serious topics or correct behavior!! It was a time of laughing and sharing the joy of life. I told them silly stories with weird voices and lots of facial expressions to get them to look at me and stay in my eyes longer. I held a spoonful of homemade ice cream or pudding and told a story until they looked in my eyes. Then, quickly, I popped it in their mouth. Each time their eyes met mine more sweets went in as we shared our time together, heart to heart.

For them to feel safe, your arms should be over theirs as their arms are around your ribcage/heart area. They  feel protected that way. They need to have their ear on your upper arm or chest where they can hear your heart beating calmly. It sends a powerful message that is way more dynamic than words.


What Do the Children Who Have Healed Say?

Through the years, I have asked hundreds of the children I have worked with what helped them the most. The most frequent answer is: Snuggle Time! It does not surprise me. Mine loved it and so did I. That special time of being close and sharing laughter was a priceless investment of my time and energy that I will always cherish. I literally held them close to my heart and I still do even though they are grown and have families of their own. Don’t take my word for it! Hear it from a young teen who is now a shining example to others as she works side by side with her mom lifting the load in other families. Hear what Anne has to say about her healing turning point.


Why You Should Snuggle More

Snuggling feels good, it repairs broken relationships, helps heal shattered hearts and, it’s also good for your health. Here’s how:


Increases Bonding

Oxytocin is called the “cuddle hormone” for a good reason. It’s released when you cuddle and leaves you feeling loving and connected. Research shows that oxytocin helps you bond with those in your inner circle. In other words, the more you cuddle, the tighter your bond will be.


Boosts immune system

Add a little back rub to the powerful touch and connection and it can boost the immune system to help fight off bad germs and heal faster. If you make massage part of your snuggling  routine, your immune system will seriously up its game. According to a 2010 study, people who received a light massage had:

- more white blood cells that fight disease

- less of the hormone, arginine vasopressin, that increases cortisol

- a decrease in existing cortisol levels (the stress chemical!)

- a decrease in cytokines that may cause inflammation


Helps Communicate Emotions

Research confirms that touch is a way to communicate emotions such as love, gratitude, and sympathy between loved ones. Happiness and sadness can be communicated through touch, too. Surprisingly, the results of one 2009 study found that touch also fosters emotional communication.


Lowers Blood Pressure

Touch has a calming effect which may lower blood pressure. Research has shown short periods  of touch lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure. That works if you are touching a sweet puppy or an angry child with RAD.  High blood pressure is linked to heart disease and stroke!


Relieves Stress and Anxiety

According to one 2004 study, massage can help relieve stress and anxiety by increasing dopamine and serotonin in the body. These two neurotransmitters help regulate mood. Dopamine also regulates the pleasure center in your brain.


The Bottom Line

In today’s overloaded, stressed out world, it’s easy to cut out the “non-essentials”. I consider this one of the top four essentials for children! Eating rightsleeping 12 hours, prayer and daily snuggling are my top four to head our sick children to health.  Snuggling helps you get and stay connected to those you love. So, what are you waiting for? Hug, snuggle, and smile in their eyes every chance you get! Carve out the time from your busy day to make a connection that will make your life easier and more peaceful as your heart talks to the broken heart of your child. I know you are weary but it has huge rewards when you invest your time in this powerful tool It’s good for you — body and soul.

We can make a difference, Nancy Thomas

Be sure to read Anne’s response to what helped her heal the most HERE


Photo by Puwadon Sang-ngern

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