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How Should Children Address Adults?
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How Should Children Address Adults?
I've been mulling over how I should have my 3-yr-old son address
other adults who aren't close family friends, such as
schoolmates' parents, casual acquaintances, etc. The ''Mrs.
Jones'' of my childhood, or the more up-to-date ''Ms. Jones,'' seems
too formal, yet just a first name seems a bit too informal. His
preschool staff are referred to as ''Ms. Julia,'' etc., which is
good for school but sounds a bit stilted in real life. I had
mostly decided to just use first names, but read an article today
by child ''expert'' ranting about children calling him by his first
name (he is generally very conservative and often cantankerous,
but still...). My guess is that there isn't a perfect solution,
but I'd like to hear how others have dealt with it. Thanks.
i'm a huge stickler when it comes to manners. i think kids should address adults as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. my
kids address their friends parents by Mr. & Mrs. of course that doesn't go for relatives (i.e. grama, uncle
and aunt). as for their teachers they address them as Ms. denise or Mr. william. we have a few friends
that prefer to be called by their first names and we have given permission to our kids to do that. i have
met so many children that don't even have the please and thank you down which i think is inexcusible!
there's nothing better to meet a child that has manners
I was raised to call all adults by ''Mr.'' and ''Mrs.'' or ''Ms.'' I
carried this through my adulthood and consider it a sign of
respect to elders. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, though.
Many ''Americans'' find that calling them by their first names is
respectful, yet in many Asian and Latin American countries,
having the proper ''mr.'' and ''mrs.'' is expected. Many of my
friends (we are in our 30s and 40s) still call their parents'
friends by ''mr.'' and ''mrs.'', unless someone tells them to call
them by their first name since they feel uncomfortable about it.
(We were actually just discussing this the other day and a bunch
of us agreed that the ''phenomenon'' of calling an elder by their
first name is more of a West Coast thing than an East Coast
thing, too. Does anyone find this to be so?)
It's also our way of honoring our elders. We have two neighbors
who are in their late 70's, and even though both have introduced
themselves to us by their first name and last name, my husband
and I have always called them by ''mr.'' and ''mrs.'' (BTW, I don't
think it matters whether one uses ''mrs.'' or ''Ms.'' - basically
the person may ask you to call her one or the other.)
In my opinion, even though respect is something that needs to be
earned, children still need some form of structure to learn the
difference between an elder and a child. And, even when a child
is in their teens or young adulthood, I think there is still a
need to differentiate between an elder and a young adult).
There is obviously no right or wrong in this matter, but for me,
it's more of a ''manners'' issue (and a bit cultural, too).
Safest route your child should address unfamiliar adults by
their sur-name UNLESS the adult introduces themselves
differently, or eventually says, ''You can just call me Fred.''
When I was growing up children always addressed adults as Mr.,
Mrs., Sir...out of respect for our elders. In the Bay area, this
seems to have become outdated. Working in a Montessori school,
we teachers are addressed by our first names these days. This
seems fine for people of my generation, but I would recommend
addressing baby-boomers and elderly people by their formal sur-
names. They grew up during a time where elders were respected
and using the Sur-name was part of that respect. I have
personally seen older citizens take offense to being called by
their first name by a younger adult. Also, other parts of the
country, smaller towns especially, still use this formality when
younger people address adults or elders.
Call people what they want to be called. Ask the adult if they
want your child to address them by first or last name. Then have
your child do whatever makes them happy.
I'm confused about how I should encourage my toddler to start
referring to non-family adults. My personal preference would be
that my child call an adult Ms. Smith or Mr. Jones, or maybe
''Auntie Beth'' if it's a close family friend. Yet I never hear
other adults providing these cues to their children. Is this a
practice that's gone out of style? A recent parent posting
expressed the matter very well for me, stating: ''I now think
that calling adults by first names is really too familar and
promotes a ''false'' sense of equality/peerdom between adults and
kids. Using a title INSTANTLY puts an adult at a different level
than a kid and helps a kid to understand the concept of
respecting the position if not the individual in it..I think
instilling ritual respect for elders is an important value that
many of us unthinkingly threw away too fast - and yes, I do
believe that questioning authority is valuable too, but
respecting authority is also important....'' So, how do you
encourage your child in this practice? On the other side of the
coin: if every other child calls Ms. Smith by her first name,
does my child seem like an outsider if I've discouraged him from
using her first name?
Whatever you decide to do, I recommend you tell your child that
adults will have their own preferences about how the child
addresses them, and that the child should address adults the way
they want to be addressed. I was mortified as a child in about
the third grade (early 70s) when a friend's mother told me
rather sternly that she would prefer it if I called her ''Mrs.
Smith.'' This was after I called her by her first name. I had
always called all adults, except teachers, by their first names,
and my mother had never warned me that some adults might prefer
more formality. (This was part of a pattern of my mom not
educating me about manners and social expectations, so maybe I
took this incident hard because it reinforced my insecurity
about knowing how to behave in the world.)
Still Embarassed After All These Years
I am very interested to see the replies on this one. My
husband and I felt strongly when our child was born that we
wanted him to call all non-family adults by ''Mr.'' and ''Mrs.'',
as we did when we were kids - for all the reasons you (and the
previous poster) listed. But he's now 2.5, and its been hard.
Aside from one couple we're friends with (who also have a small
child and are teaching her that as well), everyone had
objected - ''no, it's Jane!'' It's also difficult becuase I feel
awkward telling my son to ''Go ask Mrs. Jones'' when Mrs. Jones
is having her child call me by my first name, and/or Mrs. Jones
doesn't like being called Mrs. Jones. I also feel awkward
about using and encouraging Mr/Mrs in these situations and thus
in some way giving the message to the other parent that I don't
like their choice, and want their child to call ME by
the ''Mrs.'' name. One, I don't want to impose this choice on
others, and two, I have an admitted emotional double standard
here - I don't like being called Mrs. X, really, as that feels
like my mother-in-law's name. (Though I'd rather that that my
kids learn to call adults by their first name.) So what to
do?? We've been weak. With that one couple we are strictly
Mr/Mrs. Other than that I'm ashamed to admit I do a lot
more ''Go ask so-and-so's Mom'' than I would ordinarly - thus
avoiding using any name. But my son, of course, cathes on to
names quickly at this point, and now uses some first names for
adults around us.
This isn't very helpful, I know, other than to say - its harder
than I thought to enforce this. Do I just need more backbone?
Are we in the minority in thinking this is a good idea? Do
most parents NOT teach this nowadays, or is the use of first
names for non-family adults just a Bay Area or California
Well, ultimately it's your call, and you should do what makes
you feel comfortable for your family. And you're right, the
current trend is towards children addressing adults in their
circle by their first names. For our family, that works well. I
feel a deeper connection to those children who call me by
my first name, and I can see my son responding with more
affection and comfort to those adults he addresses by their
first name. I don't feel any loss of respect by using first
On the other hand, I remember that I called my parents'
friends Mr. or Mrs.--indeed I still do--and rarely if ever felt
close to them, or that I could turn to them for fun or support.
That ability to enjoy the company of and trust an adult
seems to me to be the start of a deep and personal kind of
My husband and I have been grappling with the same question, and
so I am very interested to see the responses to your post!
One idea, which a friend suggested to me: She said that when
she was growing up, she addressed teachers and the parents of
her friends by Mr. and Mrs. (or Ms.) Last Name. Her parents'
friends, however, were addressed by first names. When I asked,
she said that this system was not confusing at all to her as a
child, and that she did learn from it that adults were not her
peers... but that, at the same time, some adults (such as good
friends of her parents) were - in a way - friends of hers, too.
This bothers me, too, but I've just given up because everyone
else's kids call adults by their first names. My children do
use titles with adult relatives: Aunt Rachel, Uncle Jeff, etc.
A friend of mine and I grew up in the Midwest and *always*
called adults by Mr. and Mrs. Of course, its weird now to try
and change to their first name. My friend, while living in
Atlanta, discovered a system she was really comfortable with.
Her friends kids called her Ms or Mrs and then her first name!
So, I would be Ms. Jennifer. She said it still had a
respectful tone, but kids could transition to a full first name
after their teenage years, etc.
It seemed like a good mix of respectfulness and common sense,
and could also eliminate the ''call me Jane'' thing. Because the
child would still be using the first name and the title.
I have three kids, 7, 4 and an infant. Since my oldest was
little, I began having her call most grownups (except a couple of
really, really close family friends) but their last name. Many
of these grownups correct them and ask them to call them by their
first name. By now, both my 7 and 4 year olds understand that my
expectation is that they call adults they are just meeting by
their last name -- but that the adult may ask them to call them
by their first. But they do ask me what people's last names are
so they can correctly address them. I felt for awhile that I
never meet a grownup who did want to be called by their last
name here in the Bay Area, but they are out there. We moved here
from Illinois and found that more people in the midWest still
prefer children to address adults as Mr, Mrs or Ms. I think it
is still an important part of teaching children to be respectful
of adults and, while kids are important, they are not peers of
adults. Sign me,
I hail orginally from the south where all adults are called
either by Mrs/Mr. last name or more frequently Mr./Mrs. First
Name. I like the custom of using mr/mrs first name as it is
still a formaility without being too formal. I think mostly
kids pick up cues from you on what they are to call people- if
you call the person by their first name when talking to the
child that's what they will call them. Anyway I thought I'd
throw that suggestion into the ring. Good luck!
I'd like to add my 2 cents here...I don't think there's a black
and white answer to this situation. I think we teach our
children to respect or not respect other adults (and all people)
by the way we raise them and act as roll models, not by whether
or not we call someone by his/her first or last name.
When I was a kid (I'll be 50 next week) some adults were called
by first and some by last. There was no issue made about it.
Of course teachers were called Mr. or Mrs, but when my cousins
moved to Israel in the early 60's and reported back that there,
teachers were called by first names, I was surprised and
thought it was so cool.
My children, ages 7 1/2 and 12 are respectful of other adults
because my husband and I have taught them that that is the way
to treat adults...also, if they want to be respected, they must
behave respectfully. I would say most of the adults in my boys
life are on a first name basis. My children don't view these
adults as peers.
My older son goes to a school where the K-5 grades call teachers
by first names. The middle school teachers...some are first name,
and some are Mr, Mrs Miss or Ms.(go figure!!)There is no
question about respecting teachers at that school.
I hope you come to a comfortable solution for yourselves, but
I'm wondering if it might be more helpful for you to take a
differenet view on this.
prefer to be called June
this page was last updated: Apr 9, 2012
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