My Toddler Needs: Boundaries.

Emi Sano
My Toddler Needs:____
8 min readOct 30, 2023


Welcome to the My Toddler Needs series. Within this series I’ll talk about what drives our toddlers’ big feelings and what we can do to help guide them through their big feelings, needs, wants, and emotions.


The past few articles have been talking about allowing space for control and independence to foster within our toddlers. This post is going to talk about boundaries and what/when we should enforce.

It sounds counterproductive when I am asking you to let your toddler to be independent but also set boundaries. But they both go hand in hand.

One thing I read about during my research is that: Toddlers. Need. Boundaries.

They crave boundaries. They’re actively seeking it. They want to know how far they can go before they’ve crossed the line. If you are not setting up boundaries, that’s when they will “act out”, throw epic tantrums, or even worse — do something extremely dangerous.

First, I want to talk about why we have a hard time setting and enforcing boundaries, then I will talk about boundaries in general. I don’t want to say that the boundaries I talk about in this post are a clear cut this is what everyone should do. All kids are different. All families are different.

I don’t want to tell you what boundaries you need to make because it is not my place to do so. I will only tell you what we set in our house and how we enforced it.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The challenge of setting and enforcing boundaries.

“Discomfort with our children’s strong emotions is the number one reason parents struggle to provide clear boundaries and can cause us to question and doubt every decision we might make…” — Janet Lansbury

Every time we experience discomfort, our internal need to make it stop takes over the driver’s seat. It’s hard to hear or see the distress that our boundaries cause in our children. We want to make them happy again, and sometimes in doing that, we run the risk of loosening the boundaries and causing even more confusion with our toddlers.

Often, when we’re setting what we think are boundaries, it can come off as punishments. “If you do that one more time, you’re going to your room.”

These moments are what I like to call “instinctual” moments of our parenting. We revert back to the way we parented.

Instead of saying: “If you hit me again, I’m putting you in time out”, try saying: “I’m not going to let you hit me again, I will walk away.”

The latter makes it less on the toddler and more on you. Your job is to keep everyone safe. By walking away, your toddler can’t hit you anymore, and you’ve created a boundary that you won’t tolerate being hit by them.

It also gives you a chance to find your calm because chances are — you’re frustrated and angry.

“If we decide later that a decision we’ve made is unfair or unnecessary, we can always apologize and change our minds…” — Janet Lansbury

As Dr. Becky puts it… REPAIR. It’s okay to tell your children you made a mistake. You messed up something and now you’re here to fix it.

So, you haven’t been setting very clear boundaries in the past? That’s fine! You are never too late to repair and create boundaries. Sure, it might be hard the first few times you stand your ground on these boundaries, but it won’t be forever. Remember… toddlers/kids crave boundaries! Once they have an established boundary they’ll learn quickly to respect.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash


At first I didn’t really believe this boundary business. It sounded like it was too good to be true. How am I supposed to hold boundaries on my non-communicating baby or toddler?

The first time I established a boundary was when my baby was starting teething and he would bite my nipple every time he tried to nurse. There weren’t any teeth poking through yet, but that hurt so much I nearly screamed out in pain. I remember thinking, I can’t keep letting this happen.

Someone in a Facebook group mentioned taking them off the boob every time they bit. Someone also said I should flick his nose or pinch his nose, but it felt a lot like physical punishment and it didn’t settle well with me.

So, I tried just taking him off me for my sanity. He would cry and I would soothe him a little. When he calmed down, I would put him back on and guess what? No biting.

It took a week of me doing that and extra reminders later on when he got more teeth. Each time, the tears were apparent but he calmed down faster and latched with no issues.

As he got into his later 1s I was able to communicate with him that I don’t like being bit and he would understand. Before he finally weaned and he did that — I would remind him about no biting and he would say, “I sorry, I won’t do it again.”

When he was a toddler he used to try to bite other family members and I tried to remind them to not let him put their finger in his mouth or to firmly let him know that it was not okay to bite and walk away.

It took a little bit longer for grandparents to hold that boundary and still to this day they’ll get bitten a few times during play.

I’ve mentioned a few other home boundaries in my other posts. A lot of them are centered around physical safety.

But, I feel that emotional boundaries are just as important and even harder to put in place.

We’re in a yelling phase. I knew this was going to happen, yet being yelled at constantly was not something I wanted to have day in and day out.

I’m trying to remain respectful of his emotions and feelings and still allowing him to have that space for it. But I hate being yelled at. It’s a major trigger that I am still working on. I feel like I’m being attacked and I want to yell back. But that doesn’t help the both of us in this situation. I also have to remember he’s only a toddler.

In this case, I’ve begun my boundary of “I don’t like being yelled at.”

“I’m sorry you are upset that the legos aren’t working correctly. I can help you try to fix it. I don’t like being yelled at to help you fix it. You can ask me like this: Can you help me fix my legos, please?”

“It’s okay to be mad at me. I know you wanted that ice cream for breakfast and it’s frustrating I’m saying no. You can be mad at me. I don’t like being yelled at. So, I will walk away to protect myself.”

“I hear you. I want to help you, but I’m feeling a bit frustrated. I don’t like being yelled at and it’s making me upset. I’m going to give us space so we can breathe and then fix this toy together.”

I’m working hard in validating his emotions, explaining that I will be here for him if he needs help to find his calm, and I’m also establishing that I am not okay with being treated a certain way.

This boundary setting is in its beginning stage. I am still researching strategies on how to both keep us calm during our moments of dysregulation while maintaining a boundary.

I’m uncertain about the effectiveness or correctness of my approach, but it seems to be doing well because when I remind him that “I don’t like to be yelled at” he will remember to take deep breaths and calmly say what he is feeling/wanting.

If you’re feeling bold, you can try setting those emotional boundaries with the adults in your life as well.

A final boundary I’d like to talk about is centered on safety. How do we set boundaries on safety without sounding like an authoritarian?

  1. We do not give punishments for crossing a boundary.
  2. We explain the rules and guide them to better options while maintaining the boundary.

Kinds of safety boundaries:

  • Holding hands in a parking lot & standing next to me while I get things in and out of the car
  • Looking both ways for cars before crossing a street
  • Staying close by me/hold my hand in crowded places
  • Do not touch the stove/oven while hot
  • Certain no-touch zones of the house (cleaning product cabinet, playing with toilets, touching/opening outside door knobs and locks)

It took a lot of repetition and reminding to get to where we are now.

I used to carry him all over the place as soon as I got him out of the carseat. Once he got bigger I had to set him down and tell him to hold my leg and remind him there are cars driving fast in the parking lots.

If he started walking away, I would remind him about cars and that he needs to hold my hand/leg. If he didn’t listen I would physically put him in a safe spot of the car while I finished the task. I remind him that it’s not safe to walk in the parking lot without a grown up, he can walk freely when we reach our destination (park/playground or store).

I gave him other opportunities to play with cabinets, and taught him how to do it gently, if he wanted to really just open and close a door.

We made sure to let him get his curiosity out by guiding him near the stove so he can feel the heat rising from the burners/oven.

We also never bought the child-proof locks for toilets. Sure, he used to play with them by open and slamming it shut. We had to constantly remind him that toilets are not toys and we would redirect him to something he can open and slam shut — like a toy box. After it got out of his system, he stopped “playing” with the toilet lid.

Never once did I punish him for breaking a boundary. I might have yelled, out of frustration, but after I found my calm and we repaired, I would explain why he can’t do those things.

I would try to replace a “no” with a “yes” and that’s the best I could do for him in those moments. Most of the time I was met with pushback and tears and that is perfectly fine. As long as they are safe, needs are met, it’s okay to be sad.

Boundaries are set in place for a reason. Emotions are not an excuse to drop your boundaries all together. It’s okay for your toddler to be sad, mad, or frustrated. Your job is to keep them safe and healthy.

The happy will come.



Emi Sano
My Toddler Needs:____

Emi Sano is a self-published author of “Voices: a short story collection” and YA novella “We Don’t Talk About That.” She freelances as a writer/blogger.