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My daughter is fixated on her boo-boos; why?
Q: My daughter is 27 months old. She gets the normal number of toddler scrapes and bruises, but has become fixated with her boo-boos. Whenever she gets a bump or scrape, she has to show not only me, but other people we see (whether or not we know them). She talks about them all the time, whenever there's a lull in conversation. She gets frustrated that I can't turn around and look at all of them while I'm driving. Last week, she woke up in the middle of the night crying that her feet hurt, and when I went to check on her, what she really wanted was for me to see her wounds on her legs. I ended up massaging her legs just to get her to go back to sleep.

I try to explain to her that she does not need to show me or tell me about every single bump; but, I do need to know about the big falls, especially if there's blood involved. Of course, she's 2 and doesn't understand. Is this a phase? Is this normal for her age?
Joanna West Chester
A: Joanna, as irritating as your daughter’s behaviour is, these kinds of “fixations” are common among 2-year-olds. Toddlers commonly become fixated on “boo-boos” or “owies,” eating a particular food, wearing a particular outfit, reading the same book, being a princess or superhero, etc.—it’s part of their natural curiosity and determination to gain some control in their world. These are typically phases that toddlers outgrow.

Most children are fascinated with how their bodies work. Toddlers like to show their boo-boos—it’s common to see toddlers’ legs and arms covered with colourful adhesive bandages—and older children enjoy comparing their permanent scars and telling the battle stories behind each one. Your daughter seems to be pointing out her boo-boos because she thinks they’re interesting, not because they hurt her. Here are some ideas for getting through this phase:
  • When she asks you to look at her boo-boos, take a casual look and reassure her that it’s okay. Then change the subject to something positive. Don’t dwell on the injuries or create any drama around them.

  • Give her lots of positive attention for her other achievements like sharing a toy with a friend, drawing a picture, stacking blocks, climbing at the park, etc.

  • Think about whether there’s anything she might be stressed, afraid, or sad about. Did she recently get frightened by a big dog; did she change to a new childcare provider; or did a pet or relative die? Sometimes children complain of injuries on their bodies when they have emotions that are difficult to express. Try to talk with her about this and reassure her that you’ll keep her safe.

  • Maybe your daughter is a future doctor or nurse. Consider getting her a doctor’s kit and help her re-focus from being a victim of her own injuries to becoming a healer to treat her stuffed animals’ injuries.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician