Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

Fighting for Friends

Dear Ilana and Jess: I have two daughters, Sienna and Riley, ages 8 and 12. My younger daughter always wants to play with my older daughter’s friends, but does not handle it appropriately. For example, Sienna will bang on Riley’s door until she opens it. Riley doesn’t mind spending time with Sienna, until Sienna gets boisterous. How do I handle it? — Mike

Dear Mike: As their parent, you’re going to have to set some boundaries. First and foremost, establish ground rules for playdates. Even if you want Riley to let Sienna play with her friends, this is a privilege that must be earned. Every time Sienna gains access to Riley’s room by banging on the door, she’s learning that using force is effective for getting what she wants. This must be unlearned.

When your daughters don’t have friends over, roleplay asking to play appropriately with Sienna. Preface the exercise by telling her that you’ll be on the other side of the shut door. If Sienna asks you to open it appropriately, you’ll do so. Before you allow her to try it out, model the behavior you want to see. For example, knock lightly on the door and say, “It’s Sienna, can I please come in?” Let Sienna know that she’ll earn a small reward each time she does this correctly, so she’s got some incentive to do so.

The next time Sienna has an opportunity to put these skills into practice with her sister, offer her a big reward for getting it right. It could be a special family outing or a new toy she’s been wanting. (Of course, you’ll want to create opportunities for Riley to earn rewards too, but that’s a separate column). For now, make sure Sienna has strong motivation to ask her sister to play appropriately. If she doesn’t, tell her to step away from the door and try again. Only when she treats her sister respectfully should she be allowed to join their friends.

Say This: “Sienna, we’re going to practice asking to play appropriately. I’m going to show you how to do it, first. While we practice, each time you ask politely, you can earn_____. If you ask Riley to play appropriately the next time her friends are over, you can earn _____.”

Not That: “You need to learn to play nice!”

Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: