Toddlers as witnesses

The other day, I was driving my 2 year old daughter to creche. She announced with satisfaction and great confidence from the back of the car, “One day, Mummy broke my fingers.” I saw her make an illustrative wiggle of the said fingers in the rear view mirror.

“What?” I cried with horror. “I have never done that. What are you talking about?”

“Mummy shut my fingers in the door at Nanny and Papa’s and I did cry and Nanny got bandaids for me,” she explained.

This incident is the bane of my life. About a month ago, I had started closing the door to the outside loo at Mum and Dad’s when a little Miss stuck her finger in between the hinges, and the door started to close on two of her fingers. Of course, as soon as I heard the cry, I stopped the door swinging, and although there was a little bruising, there was no blood. I was simply horrified, and also burst into tears. What was worse was that my daughter blamed me, and wouldn’t give me a kiss when she went to bed. But all was forgiven the next day when she woke up and announced, “I love you Mummy!” Or so I thought…

She keeps bringing the incident. Clearly, I am not entirely forgiven. Like her mother, she is a bit of a drama queen, and “Mummy broke my fingers” sounds far more dramatic than “Mummy accidentally bruised two of my fingers, but I was fine by the next morning.”

The moral of this story is: Never trust a two year old to recount events accurately.

I couldn’t help thinking of this when I read of a legal bid for a toddler to give evidence at a murder trial. Apparently, half way through the trial, it became apparent that the poor little boy could have possibly witnessed the killing of his mother. He was two years and five months old at the time of her death, and is now four years old. The boy’s account suggested that it was not the defendant who “hurt” his mother, but the defendant’s son (also the boy’s father). Justice Lasry refused the application for the boy to give evidence. In the event, the defendant was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter.

Of course I can understand why the defence would have wished to lead the child’s evidence, but I think that the judge was correct to refuse the application. My own experience with my daughter the other day has convinced me even more firmly that the evidence of a toddler is not reliable!



Filed under courts, criminal law, law, motherhood

16 responses to “Toddlers as witnesses

  1. They tell such harsh truths toddlers, don’t they? After my mum’s funeral some years ago we served refreshments to the many friends and relatives in a nearby church hall. Our eldest boy, then 6, wrote about it at school the next day as “My Grandma died and we had a big party….”

  2. My sister did something similar – except that she was off school sick and my grandmother was looking after her. My grandmother watches The Young and the Restless or The Bold and the Beautiful (one of those soaps anyway), and there was a story line about a lady who had been a stripper.

    The next day, my sister wrote in her journal at school, “My Nanny looked after me and we watched strippers on TV.” Hmm… My poor devout grandma defamed to the Grade One class!

  3. a few years ago when my daughter was about three she insisted on declaring in the supermarket, at full volume,”I want some Beer!!!” My wife and I knew that she meant Ginger Beer but we were most concerned that everyone else would think we had her on the hard stuff…
    They say the darnedest things sometimes but that is one of the joys of raising children.

  4. My daughter really hates beer (the real stuff). She kept on demanding “I ne-e-e-e-ed beer, Daddy” so my husband dipped his finger in his beer and let her lick it off – she was horrified, and needed Mummy to wash her mouth out. Nothing like aversion therapy to teach her a lesson!

  5. The Bella once caused our parents to worry that she was being abused by the school principal in her first week of school. She came home and told Mum that ‘the boss lady’ had taken her to ‘the hurting room.’

    A band-aid and skinned knee later, we worked out she meant the sick bay.

  6. Just to add to the hilarity… we recently looked after my Mum’s dogs while she was away. One day my daughter was standing at the top of the short stairs to our backyard. Max, the boisterous jack russell, charged up to her, jumped up and knocked her flying. Luckily my partner leaped across and caught her before she hit the deck (literally). Max wasn’t so lucky and fell straight down – not very far, but enough to surprise him.

    A couple of days later, Mum rang to find out how the dogs were going. Miss 3 picks up the phone, and the first thing she said was: “Hello Nanna! Do you know what? Daddy threw Max down the stairs! Just like that! He THREW him straight down the stairs! It was very exciting!”

    Mum needed a bit of reassurance once I’d wrested the telephone from my daughter’s grip.

    I also know another 3 year old, daughter of the most placid lovely parents, who, when her mother told her firmly to put something down at the supermarket, cowered and cried “No Mummy, don’t hit me! Please, not again!”

  7. Oh dear, all these are so funny. And I rest my case: small children are definitely not reliable witnesses…

  8. Aaah, but they /can/ be incredibly astute social commentators. When about 4, my daughter thought our national anthem was “Australian’s all are ostriches”.

  9. There is a very sad story that I read on the web many years ago about a 5 year old Vietnamese-US girl who got a urinary tract infection and was asked by her nursery carers if anyone had touched her – using a teddy bear to indicate the area. Her father had cleaned her when he found that she was hurting. Unfortunately, her parents did not speak any English. I cannot recall the full details now, but he was certainly charged with child abuse, and the young girl was in foster care for a [I think short] period of time.

    Sorry to take down the tone of the humourous comments – I’ve just gone back and read them now.

  10. Little old me

    my son used to tell people I hit him with a big stick! I never ever did. He used to think it quite funny. I would have nightmares about him saying it to someone at school or who didn’t know him!

  11. Oanh, I was actually thinking of a case in the UK involving the Orkneys where child protection agencies took children from their parents because their parents were “Satanists”, but it turned out that the allegations were without basis, and the scared children had given the child protection agencies the answers they wanted to hear.

    That’s a tragic case involving the Vietnamese immigrant – hopefully he was vindicated in the end. These kinds of misunderstandings are particularly likely to happen when there are language barriers.

  12. LDU

    I was once leaving a supermarket restroom, and in front of me there was a father and his little boy. The kid says to his mother – “Mummy we peed, dads willy was bigger than mine.”

    Kids are very funny.

  13. My sister got very upset as a small child when she caught Daddy doing a nudie run from the shower to the bedroom and saw that Daddy had different genitalia to the rest of us. She was simply inconsolable, until my mother sat her down and explained that that was Daddy’s wee wee, and he was different because he was a boy. Once she had explained this, my sister said, “Do boys do Number Two from a different place too?” Almost 30 years on, we’re all still laughing about it – but it was a logical question.

  14. You can’t trust them, but their memories are unbelievable at times.

    Bella still remembers one of my ex girlfriends she hasn’t seen since she was one, and a half (She’s four now).

    She knows her name, what she looks like, where she lives, and that she’s a “Ballerina.”

    On the otherhand, Bella came home not long ago with a bruise on her leg. She had this detailed story about how so, and so “Pushed me down.”

    I went to the teacher furious that some little punk pushed my Sweet Pea.

    “No, no one pushed her down. She banged her leg on the sliding board this morning.”


  15. Yes, that is true that sometimes kids are amazingly perceptive. As a five year old, I judged my aunt’s then-husband as an absolute cad, and he WAS TOO…

    My Mum wants me to tell a story that when I was 5 I came home from school and said “The teacher farted today in class.” “How do you know?” asked Mum curiously. “Well, someone did a bad smell and she was the only one who didn’t laugh, so it must have been her…” I explained. Warning to Primary School Teachers: laugh heartily when someone does a fart…or else you may be blamed.

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