Could my boyfriend’s 2 ½ year old daughter's behaviors be a sign of sexual abuse?


Dear Stop It Now!,

My boyfriend's daughter is 2 ½ years old. When she’s at our house she has a lot of mood swings – happy one minute then suddenly very angry. She isn’t toilet trained. When someone tries to change her she always tries to cover up her private parts. She also starts crying if she thinks that someone is about to wipe her. Do these things mean that she is being sexually abused?*

Please share your feedback

Dear Concerned Parent,

While mood swings in two year olds (changing from a fairly calm frame of mind to an actual temper tantrum) are developmental hallmarks  of this age group, her overall behaviors do indicate possible distress. I would recommend that you start by bringing her to her pediatrician, who can examine her and tell if the behaviors are related to a medical condition.

Warning Signs in Children
Noticing when a toddler is experiencing emotional and possible physical distress is important as they cannot often tell you if there is a problem in their lives. Her behaviors could be warning signs of behaviors that could possibly be related to child sexual abuse.  However, it's important to note that a single sign doesn’t necessarily mean a child is being abused, and some of these signs may show up when there are other stressors in a child's life - not necessarily sexual abuse. Observing a pattern of signs should raise red flags and alert parents that there is something that needs attention in their child's life. 

Environmental warning signs
I am wondering if you or her father are concerned about any adults in this little girl’s life. While you are looking at warning signs, take a look at behaviors to watch for when adults are with children. Protecting children from harm includes not only paying attention to warning signs in the child of possible abuse, but also noticing the environment, and addressing any safety concerns that come up.

Talking with others
Is her mom aware of your observations, and has she noted any concerns? How does your boyfriend feel? Is he also wondering about the possibility of abuse? Making sure that the protective adults in this little girl's life are informed and communicating with each other is a step to helping keep her safe. Keeping the channels of communication open so that observations can be shared is important.

Seeking professional help
If the behaviors that now worry you continue, or if other warning sign behaviors appear, it may be a good idea to have the child assessed by a therapist. Your pediatrician can help direct you, and our referrals for specialized treatment can also help you find professional support.

Safety planning
It’s also a good idea for all the adults in this child’s life to learn about Everyday Actions that parents and other caretaking adults can take to help keep children safe.  At this time, the adults should be working together to make sure that this little girl’s environment is safe, supervised, and that professionals who can help assess her behaviors are involved. I’m positive that with appropriate resources and knowledge, she can be kept safe and healthy. I’m glad she has you looking out for her. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!

* Model Question


Please share your feedback on this question

Last edited on: November 5th, 2018