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Dads, don't high-five your kids
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Sometimes, seemingly little things are of great import. I was reminded of this axiom recently during a stint as a guest on Dennis Prager’s syndicated radio program. Talk show hosts know they have a minute or so to “hook” the listener, so they generally begin any interview with something controversial, something “hot.”
Being a master at his craft, Dennis asked, “So John, is it true that you don’t believe fathers should high-five their children?”
Yes, that’s true, I answered, and went on to clarify that although this ubiquitous practice is well-intentioned, it diminishes a child’s ability to view his father as an authority figure. Children need two L-words from their parents: love and leadership. The high-fiving dad is a loving guy who has substituted relationship for leadership, a proposition that does not work in any leadership setting. The new ideal in American fatherhood is to be a buddy to one’s child. That sounds very warm and fuzzy, but children do not need 30- and 40-something-year-old buddies. They need loving adult males in their lives who step up to the plate of leadership. Put leadership first, and relationship will naturally follow, in due time.
The phone lines lit up. The first caller, a dad, was noticeably agitated. “I high-five my kids!” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”
I patiently repeated most of what I’d said before and added that presenting yourself as a leader to your child does not preclude the occasional game of catch in the back yard or any other recreational, relational activity. The operative word, however, is occasional. The dad who does this sort of thing every day is clearly striving for relationship. These activities, therefore, are not special. They become obligatory.
The second caller, a dad, was noticeably agitated. “I high-five my kids! They like it and so do I.”
I patiently explained that good parenting is not measured in terms of whether children like or do not like what parents do. Children often like what is not in their best interests and dislike what clearly is. And as for him enjoying high-fiving his kids, the raising of his kids isn’t about him. It’s about his kids’ needs, not his. And just as he must sometimes do things he doesn’t enjoy doing, he needs to be willing to postpone doing things he wants to do.
The third caller, a dad, was only a tad less agitated. “But don’t kids need encouragement?”
Yes, they need encouragement. Providing encouragement, helping people reach higher, is characteristic of all good leaders. But effective leaders do so without crossing the line of relationship. In fact, encouragement is most effective coming from someone who is clearly your superior, not someone who is trying to be your buddy.
Parenting is a responsibility, not a playground. The job involves, among other things, causing one’s children to look up, to develop respect, to act such that your child wants to grow up and emulate your example.
For hundreds of generations, dads accomplished this without high-fiving their children, or its equivalent. They can still do it … if they’re man enough.

Family psychologist Rosemond answers questions on his Web site at

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