Can You Tell the Difference Between Toddler Injury & Abuse?

toddler with bruises
Ah, toddlerhood. The time of climbing, trying to run, and getting into everything. With those new wobbly legs and adventurous feats often come cuts, bruises, bumps, and black eyes.

Heck, my 21-month-old daughter is sporting a nice fat lip right now from going down a slide face first. There is also a bruise on one cheek from a collision with my desk, and another mysterious bruise on the other -- I have no clue where it came from. 

I do know the source of most of the things that make her look like a little trouble-maker, but strangers don't, and that sometimes makes us moms worried about what they think. And I think we've all been guilty of wondering if the source of the bruise we see on a child at the playground was from being a typical kid or from abuse.


In some states, many of these bruises in question require caregivers, or even witnesses, to report any suspicions to the police. It's tough to read, but it's important that parents -- all adults -- be aware of signs to look for in abused children.

Extreme behavior 

If you see a child who is incredibly shy or scared of strangers, or on the opposite side, one who is pushy and forceful with new strangers, especially if it's a drastic change in behavior, that might be a warning sign that something isn't going right.

Multiple, repetitive, or unexplained serious injuries

It's tough to tell what's normal for toddlers, but if they're constantly injured in the same spots, the same way, have bites or bruises in odd places, or ones that are odd shapes in multiple places, it can be cause for concern Some shapes that indicate abuse include loops like the corner of a clothes hangar, straight lines like a spoon or ruler, bruises on the back or back of legs, or burns on the feet, butt, and back.

Hiding injuries

If a child is dressed in warm clothing (long sleeves, pants) in warm weather and the parent or child refuses to remove it, doesn't want to be touched, or often has bandages in multiple places, or home treatments where a doctor's treatment should have happened, there is cause for concern.

Agitation from the parent

If asking innocent, non-accusatory questions such as, "Have you noticed she's been walking with a little limp?" gets an aggressive or short answer, or if the parent can't/won't explain or act concerned over issues, it may be time to get help.

If you're worried, it's better to call authorities than to wait it out. If you're wrong, nothing should happen to anyone innocent, but if you're right, you may have saved a child's life.

Can you think of other warning signs for parents and ways to discern normal toddler injuries from abusive ones?

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