Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

Helping My Overwhelmed Daughter

Dear Ilana and Jess: My 13-year-old daughter gets overwhelmed easily and I want to help her. What can I say that will be useful in the moment? – Josephine

Dear Josephine: When someone is escalated, they first have to de-escalate before you can come in with facts or reason. A common mistake (well-meaning) parents often make is to downplay the worry or explain it away. Start by directing your daughter to pause and take a deep breath. This will help ease her emotional reactivity and reset for a productive conversation.

Next, help your daughter identify what’s bothering her. Sometimes, just giving her the language to say, “I’m feeling really overwhelmed,” can be very helpful. For example, if your daughter is saying, “I can’t do this,” replacing that phrase with, “I don’t know where to begin,” helps reframe the problem in a way that lends itself to a solution.

Finally, help your daughter outline the best next step. Go too many steps ahead and you may overwhelm her further. Try your best to take things one at a time and to help her do the same. For example, let’s say that your daughter is confused by the directions for her book report. Step one might be having her email her teacher to ask specific, clarifying questions. If that’s not feasible, she might contact a classmate. Once this step has been fulfilled, ask your daughter: “Now that you have the information, what can you do next?” If she’s unsure, help guide her: “Why don’t we break apart these instructions and you’ll fulfill one component of the assignment at a time. If you have a question about it, you can reference the email/your friend’s text.”

Remember, the best thing you can do for your daughter is teach her how to solve her own problems.

Say This: “Let’s take a deep breath. Good, now that we’ve done that, let’s take this problem apart piece by piece. It seems like you’re really overwhelmed by this project. So, I want you to start by saying, ‘I’m really overwhelmed by this assignment.’ Next, we’ll figure out one step you can take to help address this problem.”

Not That: “It’ll all work out.”

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: