Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

Birthday Envy

Dear Ilana and Jess: My two daughters are 3.5 years apart. One is eight, the other is eleven. Every year, birthdays are a problem. When it’s one daughter’s turn, the other becomes snippy and annoyed. Sometimes, they have full-blown arguments. How can I stop this cycle? - Kristen

Dear Kristen: It happens to be both of our birthdays this week, so you picked a good topic. Sibling rivalry is a common problem and birthdays can exaggerate it. If one girl is jealous when the other gets individualized attention, it’s indicative of a larger issue. Make sure you’re reinforcing the right kind of attention. For example, if one of your daughters is pouting when it’s not her turn, are you trying to placate her? Don’t. In doing so, you’re only making it more likely she’ll pout again. On the other hand, if your daughter is waiting patiently, celebrating her sister, or doing anything else praise-worthy, make sure to heap on the kudos. This will ensure they’re both getting attention for the right reasons.

Help the girls build tolerance. It’s not always your turn or your day. That’s a fact of life. Resist the urge to make things “fair” and “equal.” If you try to make everything about everyone all of the time things will only be worse when that can’t be achieved. It’s important for both of the girls to get comfortable out of the spotlight and learn that they are worthy; regardless of whether they’re getting attention in a given moment.

Set expectations early in the day. Let the girls know how it’s going to go and how you expect them to behave. Tell them when celebrations are starting, who’s coming, and what you’d like to see from them. Offer a reward for the behavior you want; if the non-birthday girl shows patience and respect, she can get a small present or other treat at the end of the day. Just make sure you don’t overshadow the birthday girl.

Say This: “Girls, it’s ____’s birthday today. We’re having a party and the family will be here. _____, I want you to make sure to wish your sister a happy birthday and sit patiently when she’s opening her presents. If you do, there will be a special treat for you at the end of the day.”

Not That: “Your birthday is next!”

Happy Birthday to your daughter!

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: