Positive Languages Alternatives For Children


The language you use will always have an effect on the response you receive; this is especially true for children, and even more so for children with autism. Switching to positive language alternatives for requests, opinions, and feedback – even simple changes such as “I like it when…” instead of “please don’t” – can shift your communication in a more positive way and have a profound effect on a child’s development. For children with autism, using these alternatives to encourage and reinforce good behavior has shown to reduce conflict and improve cooperation and optimism. Taking a positive approach as an alternative to saying “no” or “stop” will go farther every time, whether you’re a parent or an autism services professional.

Consider What You Are Trying to Say

Many parents and educators say the word “no” so often that it begins to lose meaning. Repetition and consistency is especially important when communicating with anyone with autism; if you’re saying the word “no” to represent different meanings, your child could end up confused. To convey your meaning more clearly, try to consider what you want to get across:

  • Instead of Saying: Calm down!
  • Say: How can I help you?


  • Instead of Saying: No, you can’t have a snack right now.
  • Say: Let’s check your schedule. First we do homework, then we have a snack.


  • Instead of Saying: No running!
  • Say: Walk, please.


  • Instead of Saying: No yelling! Be quiet!
  • Say: Please use a softer voice to tell me what’s wrong.


All children, especially children with autism, can learn to identify what they can do in a situation rather than focusing on the negative; you can help them with this by modeling positive language in your day-to-day interactions.

Remain Calm

Even if you focus on positive language alternatives, you might find yourself dealing with a meltdown at some point if a child is prevented from doing what they want at the moment. It is entirely true that children feed off our emotions; If we treat a child’s meltdown with frustration or anger, you will likely only escalate the situation instead of mitigating it. Try to remain calm and remember that your child is not trying to give you a tough time – they are having a tough time. Clearly and calmly tell them what you expect and be sure to teach them ways to express their own feelings so they learn other ways to communicate their desires.


Using positive language alternatives should not be confused with sidestepping an issue or saying “yes” more often – in fact, it’s extremely important to refrain from caving even in the face of a meltdown. For example, if your child melts down while begging for a specific toy, giving them that toy will underline the negative behavior and reinforce it for the next time the situation arises. If your child is consistently denied that toy, it’s possible for them to learn that a meltdown in this situation will not get them what they want. Be clear in your language and confident in your choices – you know what’s best for your child, not vice versa.