Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

Tantrums and Twos

Dear Ilana and Jess: My daughter is newly two-years-old and we’ve entered the tantrum phase. Plus, every time I tell her to stop doing something, like throwing her toys, she ignores me. How do I get her to listen better? — Blair

Dear Blair: First, learn the power of extinction. “Extinction” is a behavioral term that refers to withholding reinforcement for a problem behavior. What does that mean? In the case of tantrums, the problem behavior is, well, the tantrum. The reinforcement is any and all attention; that includes telling your two-year-old to stop. While it may seem counterintuitive, any talk during the course of a tantrum, even scolding, is reinforcing to the attention-seeking toddler. This means that every time you talk to her while she’s mid-tantrum, you’re encouraging her to keep going and to tantrum again in the future.

Instead of engaging, make sure your daughter is in a physically safe space (as we all know, tantrums often include kicking and screaming). Then, remove all attention until she stops. It will take a long time, but the moment will come. Ideally, you’ll leave the room so she has no audience whatsoever. With that said, safety comes first. It may be best to keep an eye on her and remain in the same room without talking to her; especially if you don’t have a baby monitor. Use your judgment and remember that nothing is more important than your daughter’s safety.

Telling a toddler to “stop” is rarely enough to get them to do so. If she’s misusing an item, like a toy, tell her specifically what she should not be doing and what she should be doing instead. Then, tell her what will happen if she does perform the problem behavior. For example, “Do not throw the toy. Put it down nicely. If you throw the toy, Mommy will take it away.” Most importantly, follow through on your warning when necessary.

Finally, don’t forget the power of positive praise. If your toddler is only getting attention for misbehaving, they have good cause to keep acting up. Focus on what they’re doing right and make your praise specific. For example, “I love the way you’re listening to Mommy right now!” or, “You’re eating your food so nicely. Great job!”

Say This: “Do not throw the toy. Put the toy down nicely. If you throw the toy, Mommy will take it away.” (Once the toy has been placed appropriately) “Great listening!”

Not That: “Stop!”

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: