4 Year Old Daughter Has Been Saying She Is 'Scared' of Everything. Any Ideas?

Updated on June 07, 2008
J.S. asks from San Jose, CA
10 answers

My 4 year old daughter continually says she is scared in several situations. Mostly, she says she doesn't want to go to sleep without me in her bed because she is scared. This has just started happening within the past 2 months. Weve recently moved so in the beginning I assumed it was because she had a new room. She says she doesn't want to be alone and she is scared, so I usually lay in her bed until she is asleep. However, I dont want this to be a continual thing as she used to get to sleep just fine on her own before. Every time I try to just comfort her, tell her I am in the next room (which she can see me as our rooms are connected by a bathroom), she begins to throw a fit with a high pitched cry and I give in since she shares a room with our 7 month old son. So I lay with her in order for her crying not to wake our son.

She will also use this whenever she is told to do anything, including simply to walk up the stairs to get her shoes. She wont go to the bathroom unless I am with her. When she wants to play in the small fenced in patio right outside the backdoor, she says she scared and wont go unless I go. This is funny because at our old house, we had a huge backyard that you could not see from inside the house, and she would play out there always on her own. (I was always watching her of course) She was so totally independent before. There will be times when I go upstairs just to get something or just out of the room in general, and she will come running for me or yelling for me to see where I am at. It seems to me that she really isnt genuinely scared, but rather using it as an excuse to either not do something, or get me to do something she wants me to do. My assumption that she isn't really scared is because the tone of her voice, she is just saying it, not really fearful of anything.

As you can imagine, this is driving me a little bit crazy to go from her being so very independent and confident to now wanting me by her side for everything.

Any thoughts on why she might be acting like this would be greatly appreciated. There's got to be a good reason for it.

thanks moms!

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So What Happened?

Thank you EVERYONE for the advice! I guess I didn't expect the adjustment to take this long (since we are living at my inlaws and she's been here/spent the night sevral times in the past and loved it, I thought she would be fine with it). I realize that I have to let go of the fact of how things used to be at our old house, and find new ways here. This definately puts it in a different perspective for me. Nothing is as it was, except that we are all still and always will be with eachother. I am definately going to try all of these things, especially the one on "naming" her fears and finding a way to squash them out. Life is just crazy around here (i'll have to go back to work here also in a few weeks after being able to stay home for the past 4 years, boo hoo!!) so we are all still adjusting and will continue to adjust I am sure.

I will report back in a few weeks of trying all your suggestions and let you know how we are doing. Mommyhood is sooooooooooo hard!! But I wouldn't change it for the world.


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answers from Fresno on

This is just about being in a new home and she will adjust in time. Tell her this is her home yard etc and there is nothing to be scared of and that she needs to be a big girl snd go to bed like she did before because big boys and girls dont need to sleep with mommy.

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answers from San Francisco on

I have three kids and they have all had issues with fear similar to what you describe and it comes and goes. I think they all started their fears or had bouts of it around four years old. One of my kids used to scream for me in a panic if I was out of his sight. All the kids have been scared to go upstairs alone and my 7 year old still won't. Last night we went to a girl scout event where all my daughters friends were gathered and she kept saying she was scared despite her usually being very social and loving to be with them.

Perhaps your daughter is having various feelings at various times and describing them all as "scared". If she were older and, therefore, had a greater vocabulary, maybe she would say "nervous", or "unsure" or "lonely" or "needy"! That's usually the big one. She's only been alive 4 short years and has dealt with so much already (as have all 4 year olds!)

When this happens to my kids, I am very patient. I reassure them, comfort them and accompany them if need be. I don't try to tell them not to have the feelings they have but I do talk about what they are feeling or thinking about so perhaps I can help them not be fearful any more. They will eventually outgrow it.

As for the laying down with your daughter to go to bed, I would sit in the room and read a book quietly to myself to reassure my kids (after reading their bedtime stories) so that they wouldn't be scared. I would tell them that if any of them have a bad dream or wake up scared in the night, they are always allowed to come into our bed but they must go to bed in their own beds. I know people who have had a great deal of trouble breaking the habit of their child needing a parent to lay down with them so I really tried to avoid that.

Good luck. They are only small for awhile. You'll get through it!



answers from Chico on

My four year old daughter was doing the same thing, and it has been so frustrating, I can't just stand by her every time she needs to go to the bathroom, brush her teeth, or get a pair of socks.

After many initial failures we have settled on two things. She calls the stuff she's afraid of "bad spirits". I think this is hokey, but I allow it. We have discussed things that "bad spirits" are afraid of. They are afraid of music, so my daughter has a little radio that she can carry around. It is tiny, and she uses it as a "talisman" against whatever may be lurking in empty rooms. If the radio is not available, she sings.
This works most of the time. now, before entering the bathroom she begins a "STRONG song" usually a made up bunch of words like: "I am strong, i am strong, i can get you if i want to. I am strong, this my song, my song is strong to you."

the bad spirits are also afraid of beauty (we decided together), so if i can give her something beautiful to carry around, a special mommy thing, this can also help. her dress up magic wands do not work, these are not "REAL". She needs something real not pretend to scare the bad spirits away. a ring, a flower, a unicorn figurine, these are REAL. I don't know why, I just go with it.

with these methods,she addresses her fear directly, and it has worked wonders for us. She was seriously having fits of terrors about being alone in parts our home, and we've been here for more than 2 years.

we helped her give her fear a name, and then helped her devise ways to conquer it, and it has really worked. she is still fearful sometimes, but if we turn on music in the room she can be there just fine. it was hard at first not to ridicule or make light of her fears, and that simply did not work. it took us being serious about it and believing with her that she had real monsters to deal with before we came to a soulution.

good luck!




answers from San Francisco on

This seems to be a stage that 4 year olds go through. My highly independent 4 year old has also recently started doing this.

Saying she is scared is to get attention, in one respect. But there is also the fact that they are going through some pretty intense psychological development right now, and is uncertain about the changes. They need that extra bit of reassurance, but they also needs rules and boundries. Try to find additional ways to help her feel comfortable.

In addition, she has had/will have two MAJOR changes to deal with at the same time as her internal development. She was just pulled away from all the comfort/routine/familiarity of her old home and expected to transfer it to a new place. Kids this age are big on keeping things the same. This is how their sense of trust is built. She will also have to get used to not seeing you much during the week. Expect some major melt downs around that.

A few things that help my daughter are:

1. After we snuggle up and read a book, we talk about what she did that day - starting with breakfast ("you woke up, ate eggs and toast for breakfast, then went to preschool, tell me what you did at preschool, then we came home, ate lunch, looked for lady bugs in the back yard, played with trains and puzzles, cooked dinner together, played with daddy, took a bath, brushed teeth, read a book, talked about what we did today, then went to sleep.")

More than just playing, you are focusing on her and having a conversation with her about what she did and treating it with as much importance as another adult (oooooo). The "then went to sleep" part is also a bit of a subconscious 'nudge' in the right direction too.

2. Snuggle her down in bed, then say "Let's think of five fun things you can dream about." This sets a positive tone for bed and makes her happy just to think about these things, plus you are again giving that subconscious 'nudge' when you talk about dreaming.

3. Snuggle her down in bed, then kiss all ten fingers and each palm. Tell her she can hold on to all those kisses for the night, and that she can have more kisses when she wakes up in the morning. (More nudging.)



answers from Sacramento on

It sounds like she's learned that saying she's scared will get mommy to be right by her side. And she's so young that her vocabulary isn't quite at a level where she can express her feelings really well, so maybe she doesn't mean that she's scared all the time. (My 3 year old used to tell me her feelings hurt and I learned that it meant she had a tummy ache and needed to take care of some bathroom business...who knows where that came from)

Moving at that age is such a big deal, so I can imagine that her independence has changed with the new surroundings. She'll get it back, just keep reassuring her. Maybe join her when she requests, but say "only for a minute" and then ease out of the situation. Like when she wants to go outside just tell her "you're welcome to play outside, but mommy can only stay a minute" and if she pitches a fit make sure you tell her she has a choice to play inside or outside so she can learn that it's her choice not to go out there. Or, "if you want to play outside you'll have to get your own shoes upstairs".

It's hard moving, but you don't want to continue to cater to that too much. As for the sleep...that's a hard one since they share a room. Maybe try and get her to bed before the baby???

Good luck!



answers from San Francisco on

Your daughter is probably feeling overwhelmed and unsettled by the move and is looking for re-assurance. She's also figured out that her fear is a great attention-getter. The cause doesn't really matter, because whatever she's feeling, she's feeling it! When my daughter went through something similar I helped her to regain her independence by having her do or go wherever I needed her to be, and then I promised to check in on her. At first, when your daughter's in bed or in the bathroom (for example), tell her that you'll check in on her in 30 seconds. Then do it, so she begins to trust that you're still there. Slowly increase the check-in time until it gets to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, etc. Once she realizes that you're not abandoning her she'll begin to feel more confident and her self-esteem will improve as well. This will require some patience on your part, but it's a great way to get your daughter past this needy stage. Good luck!



answers from Salinas on


I have a 3 1/2 year old son that does the same thing! I also have a 8 1/2 month old daughter that we are also trying to avoid waking as well. My husband & I are at a total loss as to why he started this. We are very careful about what if any TV he watches, we never play games where we hide & scare each other, so I can't figure out where this came from. At first I thought he was doing it for attention after the baby was born but it's not going away. Let me know if something works for you & I will do the same. Thanks!



answers from San Francisco on

Hello J.,
My sujestion is to Pray and ask God to show you. Some times when we moved to a new place, we need to pray up the house and ask God to feel it with his precense.
God bless,



answers from Stockton on

well obvious to anyone reading this posting she is not really scared but somewhere in the past couple of monts she heard it used or saw it used and saw the result was she is conforted and didnt have to do whatever it was, like bed time. that is the start then she learned to use it on other things. a suggestion thatcomes to mind.....when she asks you for something you say no i am scared....play her game and see what happens....see if you calls you on it or if she accepts it....also the crying and running to her is goin got get worse she knows how to get to you and pull your strings. the next time it happens i would leave her in her room crying and then pick up the 7 month old and bring them to your room so they are not awoken. give her 10 minutes and see what happens.

Just some ideas.




answers from San Francisco on

She may be trying to get some of the attention her 7 mo. old sibling is getting. Does she have a nightlight in her bedroom? It could be that she saw that you were sympathetic to her being scared when you first moved in and now she's just playing on that. when you put her to bed, turn on the night light and say goodnight. That's it. If she starts throwing a tantrum, maybe you could move the baby out of the room for the duration of the tantrum and let her go for it. You might also be surprised to find that the baby may be used to noise and his sister's tantrum may not wake him up. I know that all of my grandchildren could sleep through any one of their siblings tantrums as if nothing was happening! If he can sleep through vaccuuming, he can probably sleep through the tantrum.

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