Even a toddler who has a wide vocabulary will not always be to explain what she's feeling. Physical cues like covering her ears or having a scared or tense expression on her face may be her way of telling you she has a problem. Try asking her a variety of questions about what's upsetting her, since it may be easier for her to identify her feelings once she hears you voice them.
A child who has autism or another disorder on the autism spectrum such as Asperger syndrome will often be sensitive to many sensory experiences such as sounds. She may cover her ears when she hears any type of noise that irritates her and may be easily upset by new sounds. A child who does have a disorder on the autism spectrum will show other signs as well, so covering her ears will not be the only symptom. Other key signs will be an inability to make eye contact and difficulty playing with other children.
Sensitivity to Sound
Some toddlers are naturally sensitive, easily getting hurt feelings and quickly becoming irritated by new things. A child who is sensitive may be easily irritated by noise and will cover her ears to make it go away. A toddler who has sensitive feelings may also be nervous and cover her ears because she feels the noise is threatening and believes that she can block it out this way. When she's feeling calmer and is ready to remove her hands, gently explain where the noise came from.
A toddler understands very little about the way the world works, which can cause her a great deal of anxiety and fear. Covering her ears may be a protective action to keep bad things from happening to her. She may struggle when she's in a crowded place, around an animal or unfamiliar person or when beginning a new experience like day care or swim lessons. Stay close so she can see you until she becomes more comfortable with her surroundings.
A toddler who covers her ears and seems agitated may be in physical pain that she can't express or explain. She may be reacting to pain or discomfort in her ears that's caused by an infection. A child with an ear infection may have trouble sleeping, eating and hearing. Your toddler may also cover her ears as a reaction to pain in her back teeth or jaw. If you suspect either of these problems, make an appointment with her pediatrician right away.