Q. My husband, who is a sports fanatic, has taught our 2-year-old son to high-five, which our son does by hauling off and slapping the other person's hand as hard as he can. I think this equates to teaching him to hit, but my husband thinks I'm being silly, even though our son once high-fived another toddler so hard the child cried. This business of teaching male children to slap other people's upraised hands seems to be common. I'm beginning to feel like an old fogey. What do you think?
A. I propose that you and I found the Society of Fogeys Opposed to Teaching Young Children to High-Five.
I, too, think this practice is dumb, moderately dangerous and debasing of a child's respect for adults.
I have no problem with adults high-fiving one another, although I participate in this uncivilized display of exuberance as little as possible. I don't even have a problem with older children hauling off and slapping one another's open palms. It is, after all, childish.
One of the problems with teaching preschool children to high-five is their general lack of self-restraint, especially when the preschooler in question is male. As you describe, preschool boys tend to rear back and SLAP!!! the other person's upraised hand as hard as they can. The few times I've been foolish enough to cooperate in this inanity, my hand has suffered no small amount of stinging pain.
The last time a proud father goaded me into cooperating in high-fiving his 2-year-old ego extension, I flinched at the last second, which caused said toddler to miss and go toppling forward with the inertia of his violence. He crashed into a table and cried. I was not the most popular guy in the room at that moment.
Like I said, that was the last time.
In all honesty, there should not have been a first time. The pain in the palm aside, and this is where the fogey in me comes out of the closet, high-fiving implies a familiarity that simply should not exist between adult and child, even parent and child. In my old-fashioned estimation, therefore, this is a practice that should be reserved for mutually consenting peers, age 10 and older.
Two older kids high-five? Fine. Two adults high-five? Fine.
An adult high-fives with a child? Not fine. To me, this is the physical equivalent of a child calling an adult by his or her first name. Children should be taught to address adults with formal titles -- Sir, Ma'am, Miss, etc. -- and shake, not slap, their hands.
This high-fiving business is symptomatic of a strong need on the part of adults to be approved of by children, to be perceived by them as cool. Personally, I have no such need, and fail to relate to the insecurity inherent to it. This may have to do with the fact that I long ago accepted that children do not approve of me, especially when they discover that I'm the guy who, as one 9-year-old recently put it, "ruins children's lives."
Give it a try
Being decidedly unpopular with the denizens of Munchkinland has been rather liberating. I recommend it. Besides, my grandchildren love me, and that's all that counts.
My opinion may carry some weight with your husband; then again, it probably won't. He's a sports fanatic, after all, and yelling "slap me five!" is an integral part of sport-fanatic culture, which he undoubtedly wants to induct his son into at the earliest possible age. To a man who actually believes that the outcome of a game is of great cosmic significance, attempts on your part to put an end to the high-fiving may be seen as downright subversive, as if to not high-five is to not be truly masculine.
Which gives me an idea: You can always threaten your husband that if he does not stop the high-five lessons, you will take the earliest possible opportunity to teach his son the art of flower arranging. I can see it now: "Nice bouquet, son. Slap me five!"
XJohn Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th Street, Suite 26B, Indianapolis, IN 46240 and at his Web site: http://www.rosemond.com/.