My Toddler Needs: Respect.

Emi Sano
My Toddler Needs:____
6 min readJan 22, 2024


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.


I think this is sort of a “hot-button” issue when it comes to parenting. I wrote a post about “Respect vs Obedience” and that really resonated with a lot of people — not just parents. I wanted to really dive deep into this “respect” business in regards to what your child is needing from YOU.

Not to overlap between posts, but to reiterate…

Respect, by definition, means “due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others”.

So with that definition in mind, let’s talk about why our toddlers deserve respect as much as we expect them to give to us.

Toddlers are human beings, too. I think we tend to forget that as we’re going about our days trying to keep them alive. We forget that they are human beings, just in a small form. They have wants, needs, likes, dislikes, and they have the authority and autonomy to have them. It’s not on us to decide if they should like/dislike or want/not want certain things. It’s on us to help them learn the skills to cope when things aren’t going the way they had hoped or ask for things in a respectful way.

So how do you do that?




I could repeat this endlessly.

Photo by Bekah Russom on Unsplash

If you want your toddler to behave in a certain way. Model that behavior. They are watching you and observing. They are taking in how you behave in different situations and they will put that connection together themselves.

I have learned firsthand how my outbursts in frustration directly impacts how my child has learned how to cope/ manage with his frustrations. I can tell you one thing, it does not make me feel better about myself.

How should we show “respect” to our toddler’s feelings/ demands/ wishes?

Acknowledge their feelings and not trying to solve their problems at the moment.

When your toddler is having a big feeling — the biggest way you can show respect to them is acknowledging that their feelings are being heard.

Scenario 1: They’re upset because they want a toy and someone isn’t sharing.

You get to their level and reassuringly chat with them about wanting the toy that’s not ready to leave their friend’s hands. They might cry harder, that’s okay. Let them know you are there for them. When things calm down, maybe suggest a different toy while they wait for their turn.

Your focus should remain on your child rather than on the toy or the other child playing with it. To show that you are putting down your phone, sitting down at their level, and talking to them shows respect.

Knowing when to loosen the reigns of your control as a parent.

Scenario 2: The endless question for snacks before meal.

I know I get hungry right before dinner and sometimes take a nibble of something just to hold me over until it’s ready to be eaten. Why aren’t we holding the same standards for out kids? Why do we turn them away and essentially ignore what their bodies are telling them?

Toddler: “I want a snack.”

You: “Oh, you’re getting hungry! Dinner will be ready soon. Why don’t you eat (approved light snack) right now while it’s finishing up.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever said those words. But, I do suggest light snacks OR adding his additional snacks to our dinner menu and let him choose what can go on the table to eat with dinner. Usually that snack doesn’t get eaten and he’s had enough dinner to satisfy that hunger tell.

When we’re listening to their bodies alongside them it not only shows respect, but also teaches them how they should respond to their body cues.

Being able to listen to your toddler’s feelings on control.

Scenario 3: Respect their “no’s”

I’m pretty sure I’m going to stir up some controversy over this one, but before you click off this page, please hear me out.

I’m not saying if they say “No,” you have to just let them have their “no” every time. Because that’s just silly — especially if they’re saying no to holding your hand so they don’t run into traffic.

Respecting their “no’s” means acknowledging that they are not accepting the situation or the question put in front of them. That’s okay to say no. They have that right.

No’s we can honor to show respect:

  • No to hugs/ kisses/ smiles, etc. even (especially) if it’s for a family member
  • No to tickles from you or anyone
  • No to eating something new because you want them to
  • No to wearing a shirt (or anything) you picked out for them
  • No to playing/ socializing with other kids they don’t know because you want them to
  • No to sharing to an extent— taking turns means you have to respect their no when they aren’t done playing with something just yet BUT you might need to help them finish their turn so they can allow someone else to take theirs

Do you see a common thread? A lot of the times our toddlers are being “defiant” because we’re making choices for them and not respecting that they might have a say or some input on what they want or what their bodies can handle.

In this scenario it’s all about respecting their autonomy. They know what they can handle (more than you!). It’s hard to accept that, even I have a hard time, but we should remember that starting around 2, toddlers are gaining a sense of “self” and being more aware of their bodies and what it’s telling them.

There’s generally a reason behind the “no” and if you just give it time and space to actually ask why they don’t want to do something, then you might be able to find a compromise. If they can’t express their desires, a bit of investigation on your part may help you understand their needs.

Maybe a no to hand holding at the parking lot of a playground might be: “I don’t want to hold your hand, I want to go to the playground! Holding your hand will slow me down!”

Maybe a no to sitting down with friends to play might be: “There’s too much noise happening and I’m not comfortable playing right now, I would feel better sitting with you.”

Maybe a no to taking a nap during a family gathering might be: “I feel tired, but I’m afraid of missing out on what is happening.”

We’re so busy on what things look like to others than what our child might be going through on the inside. Sometimes we take it personally when we hear a “no”. I try not to take it personal whenever I receive any pushback. I use that moment to assess the situation and see what is driving that choice. I find when I do that I’m able to reach a compromise faster and less tantrums or dragging on the feet occurs.

Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash

Let’s all take a deep breath together.

Try to remember to give some respect to your toddlers and they might just give it right back to you.



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.