Living with Children: Why you shouldn’t high-five a child

Arrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhh! Will you please just stop doing that, please? Every time I see it, I want to scream, and I’m not an emotionally hyperactive person. I’m talking about adults high-fiving children, and yes, I am about to reveal that I am the Grinch, or so it would seem.

Knowing my stance on the subject, a parent recently asked, “What’s wrong with adults high-fiving children, John?”

I recognize a rhetorical question when I hear one.

The fact that someone even asks that “question” is proof we are lost in Dante’s dark wood when it comes to children and their upbringing.

The high-five is a gesture of familiarity, to be exchanged between equals. I have traded the palm slap with adult friends. “Dude! Gimme five!” I can be, and am, as cool as the next — the next adult, that is. I will not slap the upraised palm of a person who is not my peer, and a peer is someone over age 21, emancipated, employed and paying his or her own way.

The high-five is NOT appropriate between doctor and patient, judge and defendant, POTUS and a person not old enough to vote (POTUS and anyone, for that matter), employer and employee, parent and child, grandparent and grandchild.

“Dad,” my son once said, “(His then-5-year-old) doesn’t understand why you won’t high-five him.”

“I don’t expect him to understand, and I’m not going to explain myself to him.”

“Well, I don’t understand either,” he said.

“I’m not going to explain myself to you, either,” I said, to his chagrin.

Said grandson is now 15. He has not raised his palm to me since he was 5, and we get along just fine. He is not suffering high-five deprivation, much less PTSD from hearing, “Sorry, but I don’t high-five children.”

Respect for adults is important to a child’s character development, and the high-five is not compatible with respect. It is to be reserved for individuals of equal, or fairly equal, status. It is good for children to view responsible adults as people who exist in a higher plane. That “looking up” causes children to aspire to become adults, which seems to be in short supply these days. The child who is allowed to high-five an adult has tacit permission to talk to said adults as if they are peers. Do not wonder why, if you high-five your child, he often talks to you as if you are his equal. (By the way, a child does not ever think of an adult as an equal. He either thinks the adult is his superior or his subordinate. In a child’s mind, there is no middle ground.)

Boundaries in relationships are essential to their proper functioning. Children should not call their parents (or any other adults) by their first names. They should not sleep with their parents. They should not have free access to their parents’ money (yes, I am saying children should not have credit cards). They should not be allowed to view certain movies their parents view. That’s the short list.

Children should know their place. Adults should know their place. The more adults and children co-mingle as if they are equals, the more problematic become their relationships. Why should a child obey an adult who high-fives him? And make no mistake, the happiest kids are also the most obedient. The research says so, as does one’s common sense.

Sincerely, the Grinch.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at; readers may send him email at [email protected]; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.