3yo Anxiety Concerns

Hi again, I'm back with another request for help/ideas/collaboration. Background info - I am a recovering perfectionist stemming from childhood trauma of my own, and I've lightened up immensely in the last couple years. Having a daughter has taught me a lot about priorities. It's also taught me that perfection will kill me if I don't make changes. Anyway, back to the main reason for this post. My daughter (turns 4 next month) reacts very strongly to things being out of place, i.e. her ottoman a few inches to the left, her rocking bunny at a diagonal angle instead of straight out from the wall, her bedtime scenario being exactly how she wants it (bathroom door closed, closet doors closed, closet lights off, fan on low, sounds machine on full blast, stuffed animals tucked in next to her, blankets tucked in around the sides and end of her bed, kisses and hugs, and several bedtime phrases, etc.). It's exhausting for my husband and me, and I know it's exhausting and stressful for her as well. How do we help her through this struggle? It's likely a mix of nature and nurture, and my anxious brain quickly jumps to "Do we need to send her to a child psychologist? It's too early to diagnose OCD, right? Did I create this mess of anxiety in my own child?" It breaks my heart and also triggers my own anxiety. Please - I'm purely asking for help and not criticism. Thank you in advance!

  • Vicki
    Mar 25

    I don’t think she needs a psychologist at this point but talk therapy can help discuss why her feelings when things are out of place and help reassure her that nothing bad will happen if they are. It can also teach her coping tools to deal with it when she can’t arrange things as she likes. It can help you too, to learn how to validate her feelings without contributing to the issue. This may get better on it’s own but she may ultimately need more help. There is nothing wrong with getting out in front of this and providing her with ways to deal with what must be incredibly stressful feelings. Additionally, try to monitor your own ‘perfectionist’ behavior around her and your reactions to your own stress. Good luck!

  • Stacy
    Mar 28

    I can’t tell you how much I can relate to your post. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was about 16. I have a 3 year old daughter who I was afraid would develop my anxiety. I am very open about the OCD with my friends and family and I can tell you that so many of my friend’s kids as well as my own have displayed the same behavior as you are seeing. My daughter has to have things a certain way or else she will have a melt down. Certain color cups, toys put in a certain place...I could go on. It is so normal and part of being a toddler. They are just trying to assert some individuality and power over their own life. They too like to make choices. When you have adults telling you what to do and what not to do all day, it gets annoying. They are just little humans. We all feel that way. It is also normal as a parent to think that everything you see your kid doing is a reflection of you or something you did. I have tried to make myself aware of my anxiety around my daughter. I have to remind myself that when she makes a mess or wants things a certain way, its her being a normal toddler. If she makes a mess and I get stressed out, I try to let it go and then make it a learning moment later with her. “You had a lot of fun pulling all your books out of the bookshelf...how should we put them back on the shelf?” That does not always work but more often than not she is game to put them back or at least help. When she wants a certain color cup there is usually a discussion of “you really like purple and I know you want to have your milk in the purple cup, but the only clean ones are pink and green. Until we clean the purple cups, would you prefer pink or green?” Also...that does not always work. Even though mine is only 3, I still have honest conversations with her about how I’m feeling so that she knows why I am picking up or cleaning. “Daddy really likes when the house is picked up because he can relax and play with you. We all have different things that make us feel happy.” I’m just hoping that my honest approach with her is better than just running around the house cleaning with no explanation. With all that said...it sounds like you are doing fine and your daughter is doing fine. Toddler years are crazy and amazing at the same time. You aren’t alone out there. You sound like an amazing parent.

  • Anonymous
    Mar 29

    My four year old has been diagnosed with anxiety. I can tell you from what I’ve researched and heard from our drs: it’s difficult to diagnose kids at a young age (3.5 is usually earliest) because most of the troublesome behavior is in the range of normal for kids that age (eg I was concerned about my daughter’s meltdowns. Meltdowns are normal for a toddler, but hers were more severe). We initially went to a developmental pediatrician who diagnosed and referred us to an occupational therapist (for sensory processing disorder associated with anxiety). I was skeptical, but it worked wonders. We took my daughter for an eval at 3.5. I felt a bit silly because I didn’t think my daughter’s anxious behaviors were “that bad” but our struggles were incredibly stressful and exhausting. I recently read that there is an average delay in treatment of two years between the time parents become aware of symptoms and the time the child is ultimately treated for anxiety. I’m of course not qualified to diagnose and my daughter doesn’t currently exhibit the OCD type behaviors you’re concerned about, but if you think in your gut something is off, I encourage you to get an evaluation. Even just for peace of mind. And if you do get a diagnosis, there are lots of resources that may become available to you. Check out childmind.org for some helpful articles. Finally, don’t blame yourself. If it is OCD, which maybe it’s not, much of this is nature, and you can work on coping mechanisms together. Honestly, the skills we’ve learned are great for all of our kids, anxious or not. And maybe remind yourself anxious brains are healthy brains, just working extra hard to keep you safe!