Ask An Expert / Anxiety

My 2-year-old daughter has a lot of fears and they are getting worse. Should I be worried?

Fears are typical at this age, but some kids are a little too reactive

Laura Kirmayer, PhD, MSW

Laura Kirmayer, PhD, MSW

My 2-year-old daughter has always been afraid of things like bugs and loud noises but it recently started getting worse. She is afraid of bath water, unlocked doors, and when I pull her shirt over her head. She wakes up most nights and screams for mommy or daddy and she won't cover up because she is afraid to have a blanket on her at anytime. When she wakes up screaming she usually falls back to sleep in my arms and I'm not able to put her down or she wakes up screaming again.She is my first kid and she seems like she's a perfectly normal kid but sometimes she just starts getting scared of things and I can't do anything to calm her down. Should I worry about her or if this is normal behavior?

A child’s early development can be pretty confusing and anxiety-provoking, especially since there’s an overwhelming amount of (often conflicting) advice out there. So it’s great that you’re reaching out.

It is a typical stage of development for children this age to start developing fears. It’s actually a sign that their neurological system, which alerts them to danger, is developing, so it’s a good thing. However some children going through this stage of development will be a little too reactive, like they have an alarm system that has been set too sensitively, so that it keeps going off when it isn’t needed.

It is important to help your daughter develop increased distress tolerance and flexibility for the things that feel uncomfortable to her. A starting point for doing this would be for you and other caregivers to try modeling flexibility and distress tolerance in your day-to-day life. This is because parents often unintentionally shape their children’s reactions by how they respond to distressing things themselves. By being a good model you can help your daughter become more resilient.

If you want some help doing this, consider consulting a mental health professional. When families come to our offices with similar concerns we train parents to respond in ways that increase their child’s distress tolerance and improve their flexibility.

Finally, because your daughter is at a crucial age in her development, I recommend that you consider getting her an evaluation. The results from an evaluation might indicate that she could benefit from this kind of behavioral training or that there might be other things occurring in her development. And as you’ve already observed while watching her grow from 0 to 2, she is developing at a really rapid pace, so the earlier you get an evaluation the better.