How Should Children Address Adults?

The "Mrs.” vs first-name argument.
1 / 2

How Should Children Address Adults?

The first-name vs. last-name argument.

-Jennifer Lubell

young girl

“Alex, please say hello to Mr. Henry and Miss Julia…”

Ugh. As I tried to teach a lesson in good manners to my soon-to-be four-year-old, I realized with horror that I’d just made my two friends sound like, respectively, an aging barber from Brooklyn and a schoolmarm from Little House on the Prairie.

To be honest, I’ve felt the same way whenever a child has addressed me as “Miss Jenny,” a title that evokes the image of a 70-year-old woman sipping lemonade on a porch right after the War of 1812 ended. “Ms. Jennifer” is even worse. Now, I’m in a leotard with a 1950s hairdo, teaching a bunch of young girls how to do ballet movements at the “barre.”

Merde. Isn’t there a better way for children to address adults?

When I was young, I addressed other parents quite formally, putting a “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before the appropriate surname. Nowadays, we don’t seem to do that anymore. My son addresses all of his teachers at daycare as “Ms. Patty” or “Mr. Jeff.” Introducing other adults as “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith” might confuse him, wouldn’t it?

It makes me want to throw all stately titles out the door and just teach my son to address people—all people—by their first names, unless it’s a family member, like a grandmother or uncle.

Is that reasonable, or just bad manners? I thought I might consult a few Judith Martins (and some other moms) to find out. San Diego mom Staci Torgeson shares my sentiments about formal titles for adults.

“I don’t want my kid’s friends calling me Miss Staci (I’m not a preschool teacher), and Mrs. Torgeson just doesn’t sound or feel right either,” she said. “When I hear that, I feel like I’m a middle-aged housewife in the 1950’s that should be smoking a cigarette, wearing an apron and vacuuming the house. I prefer to be called by my first name.”

Read Kids and Their Potty Jokes

Some etiquette experts disagree with that approach. “Adults should always be treated with respect and seen as an authority figure, not a best friend,” said Dannie G. Fowler, etiquette consultant and owner of The Etiquette School of Florida. “Adding a prefix helps to set an adult apart.”


follow BettyConfidential on... Pinterest


Read More About...

15 thoughts on “How Should Children Address Adults?

  1. I don’t like being called Ms. or Miss by anybody. It is so contrived. Who made up these social “rules”? Adults should only be treated with respect when they deserve it. Teaching children to honor and respect all adults is why some children have been abused. Just because a person is 18 years or older does not make them worthy of respect. The prisons are full of adults over 18. Think about it. Do they deserve respect?

  2. I think that is over generalizing and missing the idea of this article.
    I agree with you in that reference names to show respect may not be the way to go. My mom, prefers me to call her by her first name because it makes her feel younger. Kids now are told to use the word “nanny” to talk to their grandmother because it makes the grandmother feel younger, happier, whatever the case.
    What I am trying to get at, is that I believe the name does not matter much BUT kids should be taught to talk to adults with respect; thank you, please, excuse me are a must.
    A girl came into a coffee shop today that I work at and I was absolutely astonished with the polite manner she spoke to me; it made me think that I want my kids to be just as respectful in terms of manners!

  3. Having worked at a preschool, at a public elementary school, and as a nanny, I’ve been addressed just about every way it’s possible for a child to address an adult. (Personally, I prefer when they use my first name, because that’s the name I respond to everywhere else in the world.) I’ve seen plenty of rude children who use formal terms like “Mr.” or “Miss” or even “sir/ma’am”, and I’ve seen plenty of polite, charming, respectful kids who use first names. Of course, I believe kids should follow the school’s rules there, and if specific adults want to be addressed a certain way, it’s polite to honor that, but otherwise? I’d focus on the importance of treating everyone (not just adults) with respect, rather than the importance of adopting a random term that may or may not have any actual meaning behind it when the child says it.

  4. What does respect have to do with it? I feel expecting children to address you with your “formal” name shows a complete lack of security, and also seems a little like bullying to me. Yea, I’m above a six year old. Get over it. These are made up rules from the past. People I know who demand to be referred to as Mr. and Mrs. always seem to be odd in other areas also. After a while I even can’t seem to handle their “rules.” I live in the Midwest, so that may influence my views. I just don

  5. Respect has everything to do with it! This is when children learn to have respect for adults and authority figures. I believe you teach children about molesters and bad people, but that does not mean they can disrespect all adults because their are some Bad ones out there. I moved from California to North Carolina four years ago, it was very refreshing to see how respectful these children are of adults compared to out West.

  6. My kids are 19 and 20. When they were young I always introduced their names first, then asked the adult how they wanted to be addressed. “Karen, this is my daughter Veronica, would you like for her to call you Karen or Miss Jones?”
    They usually chose the first name, but always appreciated the choice. It worked like a charm!!!

  7. Get over worrying about being call “Miss” makes you feel older. I live in the Northeast and was raised under the British rule, where I was Miss Dianne until 18. Everybody was Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Master. I have to admit that if a person wants my child to call them by their first name I let them but it makes me feel uncomfortable. I think younger children should address adults more formally. My son who just graduated from college started calling my friends by their first name and I am OK with that. Call me old fashion but if a 10 year old came up to me and said “Dianne” I would look at them like they lost their mind:)

  8. This seems to be an article as much about children, as it is about adults, insecure about getting old. A child callig you Miss, Ms, Mrs., Auntie doesn’t change your biological age, nor should it hurt your self confidence.

    I know of at least three women who don’t like to be called Grandma by their own grandchildren because it makes them feel older. They opt for being called by their first names. That, it seems to me is more than a bit vain and silly.

    I guess what I am saying is — being called Auntie, Grandma, Mom is a badge of honor :) Who cares about age when you have beautiful nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends’ children, etc. :)

  9. This seems to be an article as much about children, as it is about adults, insecure about getting old. A child callig you Miss, Ms, Mrs., Auntie doesn't change your biological age, nor should it hurt your self confidence.

    I know of at least three women who don't like to be called Grandma by their own grandchildren because it makes them feel older. They opt for being called by their first names. That, it seems to me is more than a bit vain and silly.

    I guess what I am saying is — being called Auntie, Grandma, Mom is a badge of honor :) Who cares about age when you have beautiful nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends' children, etc. :)

  10. This seems to be an article as much about children, as it is about adults, insecure about getting old. A child callig you Miss, Ms, Mrs., Auntie doesn’t change your biological age, nor should it hurt your self confidence.

    I know of at least three women who don’t like to be called Grandma by their own grandchildren because it makes them feel older. They opt for being called by their first names. That, it seems to me is more than a bit vain and silly.

    I guess what I am saying is — being called Auntie, Grandma, Mom is a badge of honor :) Who cares about age when you have beautiful nieces and nephews, grandchildren, friends’ children, etc. :)

  11. Personally, I prefer to be called by my first name, but this is not my decision to make. The PARENTS make the rules and the children should not be put in the middle. If the parents teach their children to call adults “Mr.” or “Mrs” or “Miss” then that’s the way it should be. If the parents are close friends and the adult in question sees the child frequently, then something should be negotiated with the parents. My closest friends children call me “Aunt ____” or “Miss _____” or by my first name, as their PARENTS determine appropriate.

Leave a Reply

top of page jump to top