Care and Feeding

My Son’s Fear of Aliens Has Gotten Out of Control

How do I help him feel safe?

A young boy sitting on his bed, looking up at a large hovering UFO.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by ktsimage/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Grandfailure/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old has always struggled with anxiety, but we were always able to work through it via simple measures. In the past few months, however, it has greatly intensified and has centered around a specific phobia: aliens landing on our planet and attacking us. Every night I find myself running up and down the stairs to answer his frantic cries for help. Every beep from the washing machine or car horn from the street sends him into a panic that he’s hearing the UFO landing, and he requires my husband or I to explain away every sound he hears before he can comfortably sleep.

His teacher uses Writing Workshop in his classroom and almost all his stories in some way revolve around aliens. My husband and I tried showing him movies about friendly aliens (E.T., Flight of the Navigator, Lilo & Stitch)—he enjoyed them, but felt like the situations they portrayed were less likely than the frightening visions he imagines at bedtime. I’m not even sure where his ideas about hostile aliens began, as we’ve never read or watched anything at home with themes like that. He doesn’t believe in ghosts, monsters, or Bigfoot, but aliens feel very real to him and I feel like we’re starting to lose control of his phobia. How do I help him feel safe?

—No More Close Encounters Please

Dear N.M.C.E.P.,

Sometimes our children’s challenges are a bit more complex than we can handle on our own. Considering that your child has already displayed anxiety issues and that this particular issue has lasted for months, I would recommend seeking some support from a child therapist. There’s a reason that your son is freaking out about UFOs every night and I don’t think you’re going to get to the bottom of it on your own if you haven’t already. All of you deserve to get a good night’s sleep and he deserves to feel safe and secure in his home.

Speak to a professional. Prepare your son for the experience by explaining that a therapist helps people to understand things that are going on in their lives—good, bad, or otherwise—and that you want him to speak to one so that he can start sleeping comfortably again. Let him know that there’s nothing that he did wrong, nor is something broken about him. He just needs some assistance right now, and so do you. Hoping this resolves itself smoothly—with some help.

—Jamilah

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