The Power of a High Five

One of my earliest memories is my dad giving me a high five. He was training for a marathon and agreed to take me, his talkative four year-old, on a run. I ran an entire mile. When I finished, red-faced and smiling, he said, “Give me five, son.” It was my first high five.

According to a new study, high fives go a long way in motivating children. Five and six year-old children completed a task in which they imagined experiencing success. Next, the children received different types of praise. Some children received verbal praise that would highlight an individual trait (“You are a good drawer”), whereas other children received a high five.

What motivated the children more, clear praise for being good at something or a high five? The high five won handedly. When the children bumped into a setback, those who received a high five persisted more than the other kids did.

We might reconsider how we praise children’s behavior. If we tell children they’re geniuses, we’ve told them that they have a stable trait that isn’t under their control. If they fail a test, the responsibility can’t be theirs because they have a trait that should guarantee success on all intelligence test. Blame the teacher. Criticize the test. Give up and find something else to do. Don’t find a better way to study.

By giving a high five, children know they have done something well. They also know that their success is under their control. I have run many miles since my first high five, but that first one with my dad will always hold a special place in my heart. It motivated me, either consciously or unconsciously, to continue to push my limits. For that high five, I’m grateful.