My oldest son and I were sitting at our kitchen table having some dinner. I had fed my younger son earlier and sent him on his way to a friend’s house. I was enjoying my one-on-one conversation with my eldest. He had completed a science project outlining some facts about a recently identified dwarf planet named Ceres. This had got his wheels turning and he asked me lots of questions about the existence of life on other planets. I told him that there are so many mysteries in life, that it would be bold of us to imagine we are the only living beings in the whole of the universe. He agreed and shared some information he had read about aliens contacting earth through a tower on Ceres. After I questioned him about it some more, we were able to determine the article was a hoax. Still, I sensed he was feeling fearful about aliens coming to earth.
I asked, “Is this why you’ve allowed your brother to sleep in your room with you this week? Are you worried aliens might invade in the middle of the night?”
He replied with a quiet, “Yes.”
I probed further, “What exactly do you think is going to happen if they do invade? How is your sixty pound brother going to protect you?”
A faint smile curled the corners of his mouth.
“Is your plan that you would sacrifice your brother and you would make a run for it?”
The thought of this made both of us crack up. My poor little baby. All he thought was that his brother was being extra nice to him ‘allowing’ him to camp out with him all week. Little did he know he was alien bait.
I explained that fear is part of being human. We all are afraid at some point in our lives. It actually is more worrisome if there is a complete absence of fear, then we would live recklessly and never consider the consequences. It is important to learn to be comfortable with our fear. If we try to eliminate it or attempt to quash it, I believe it then grows bigger and more unmanageable.
He told me that usually when he is frightened about something, the fear emerges when he is thinking a lot about that particular something. He said if he’s at school he’s less afraid because he is focused on school stuff and that after a few days, he’s able to not think about his fear so much.
“Did you notice that there is a pattern to your fear? That the one common thread holding you to your fear is your thoughts?” I asked.
He did find it interesting that ultimately he could control where his attention goes. This is where we came up with some ideas to use to distract him. Of course there’s always reading, watching a lighthearted television show, doing something sports-related or watching funny videos with his brother. Turns out there’s a lot of ways for him to turn his focus away from fear. I could tell that this emboldened him and some of his confidence was returning.
As a parent we walk a fine line between being supportive of our kids or trying to rescue them from fear. It’s a lot harder in the moment to step back and let them figure out the hard and scary parts of living. If my sons learn to trust their ability to face fears then over time they will need me less. Being needed less may be scarier than the idea of an alien invasion, but it is a necessary process of letting our children grow up.
Looks like we all need to work on how to be more brave.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent