Nice Hands

Nice Hands

Nice Hands is the action of using one’s hands appropriately, such as keeping one’s hands to themselves or having gentle hands and not doing things like hitting, throwing, scratching and so on.


There can actually be many reasons children with autism may not have nice hands, so before teaching the instruction ‘Nice Hands’, it is important to understand why the child is not having nice hands.

Understanding the Function of the Behaviour

In our Starter Kit on Managing Challenging Behaviours, the first step to managing and reducing a challenging behaviour is to understand why it is happening. Is it to get something or get away from something? A child who throws an object could easily be doing it to:

  • Get attention
  • Self-stimulate, or
  • Get away from non preferred tasks


When seeing a child throwing, hitting or hand-flapping, the adult’s first instinct can easily be to tell them, “Don’t throw”, “Stop hitting”, or “No scratching”. Not only is a lot of attention given to the inappropriate behaviour, it does not inform the child what they should be doing instead.


Teaching ‘Nice Hands’ diverts attention away from the inappropriate behaviour and focuses attention on the expected behaviour.


A child should be able to sit nicely for at least 3 to 5 minutes before learning this skill, as learning at the table is the best way to learn the skill clearly.

Materials You Will Need

1. ‘Nice Hands’ Social Story (Download Here): This explains to the child what Nice Hands look like and don’t look like.


2. A ‘Nice Hand’s token board (Download here): This clearly states “First Nice Hands, then reward.” 


Token boards vary by the number of tokens they have on them, be it one, five, ten or fifteen. How many tokens a child can wait for until they get their reward varies from child to child, but a good starting point is five. More tokens can always be added later.


3. Timer: Shows the child clearly how long they need to have Nice Hands for.

Breaking the Skill of Nice Hands Down

The skill of Nice Hands can be broken down by duration. In this example, it is broken down to a maximum of 1 minute.


The duration is short because it can be unrealistic to expect a child to sit quietly at the table with nice hands for extended durations, without doing anything. As duration gets longer, tokens are also spaced out for longer.

Teaching Procedure

  1. Read the social story on Nice Hands.
  2. Remind the child with the token board, “First Nice Hands, then reward.”
  3. Start the timer for the target duration. Give tokens at intervals along the duration.
  4. Once the child has reached all tokens, reward them immediately, praising them for having “Nice hands!”


As the duration reaches past 30 seconds, it is good to have an easy activity the child knows how to do out while waiting for the timer to beep. It is important to praise them for having ‘Nice Hands’ still, so they do not think they are being rewarded for completing the work.

Generalisation of Nice Hands

Once Nice Hands has been learned at the table, it must be generalised in various settings, which can involve bringing the token board to these settings too. Here are a few ways Nice Hands can be generalised:

  • During play time
  • With younger siblings
  • When visiting someone’s home

Always begin with the easiest natural situations, before progressing to harder situations.

Common Challenges when Teaching Nice Hands.

1. Child has Nice Hands for a short time before they start hitting again

Backtrack to the last duration they were most successful at and practice that a few more times until the child has truly mastered the skill (usually three times across three separate occasions). One should also check if motivation is strong enough.


2. Child still throws and pushes things around the house

Preventing challenging behaviours should still comprise 90% of our energy. Some of the ways we can prevent challenging behaviours like these include:

  • Recognising and praising when the child does have nice hands. This includes simple actions like high-fiving the adult, giving an object, or playing gently with toys
  • Minimising throwable objects around the home and slowly reintroducing them


10% of our energy is spent on reacting to the behaviour, and the way we react should not accidentally reinforce the behaviour. 

  • If a child throws or scratches to get something, the adult should not give a reaction nor give the child what they wanted. The child should also be taught to communicate be it with words, pictures or their device, and rewarded for that appropriate behaviour.
  • Children who hand-flap or flick their hands for self-stimulatory reasons may need to be redirected to replacement behaviours like visual toys or toys that spin or have wheels, if they are seeking the input of watching things move. Find out more about replacement behaviours on the Increasing Interests lesson of Making Learning Fun.

Your Turn

  1. Break the skill of Nice Hands down and teach it, beginning at the duration just below your child’s natural threshold.
  2. Generalise practice around and outside the home, still ensuring the token board and rewards are brought along while the skill is still being acquired.