Children's Etiquette: How Should Kids Address Adults

Friday, May 28, 2010

I have Tyler call our adult friends Mr. Joe or Mr. Jane. We talked about this when I was pregnant and decided it was respectful and appropriate. In my mind, children shouldn't always be treated as little adults with the same rights and privileges, e.g. being able to call an adult by their first name.

I've had friends tell Tyler, "oh, you can call me Jane," and I have to step in and say this is what we've asked him to do and it's either he calls them Miss Jane or Mrs. Smith (or Ma'am). I would think this would convey to my friends that this important to us and to respond in kind. But that doesn't happen.

I don't want to correct other people's children. That's touchy and walking the line of discipline. It also makes it seem as though I'm telling them how to parent and/or their children have no manners. Also touchy.

So, my question for you is: should I let it go? 

How do you have other people's children address you? 
How do your children address adults?


  1. I don't personally have kids, so I can't comment about how I would feel about having other people correct my kids or vice versa. However, many of my friends do have kids and I always take note of how they refer to me.

    One of my friends has decided that everyone in her social circle is "Aunt Jane" or "Uncle Joe", and often she tags the person with the nickname she uses for them. I've never corrected her kids or her on this, but it sort of irritates me. It elevates my relationship with her kids beyond where it actually is.

    On the other hand, my other best friend has taught her kids to refer to all adults as "Miss Jane" or "Mister Joe". When I asked her about it, she said that was how they were expected to refer to their teachers, so that became the rule for all adults. Personally, I much prefer the more formal approach. I think what you're teaching your son is absolutely the way to go!

    Just my two cents, as your post got me thinking.

    ~ Kristen

  2. I was very young when I had my kids and had never heard this approach and now they are way to old to retrain them. One is an adult and the other well into her teens. However, in the years since I have heard some parents use it and I really liked it. I don't feel that they have to use the last name but Mr Joe or Ms. Jane is perfect.

    I spent many years as a youth sports coach and in the beginning I use to allow them to just call me Tanya but as time went I found myself asking them to call me Ms. Tanya. Never once did I have a child buck at me over it.

    I even had a parent or two thank me for it, as they were trying to teach their children to address all adults that way.

    I have to say that I totally agree with you about respect and if "we" allow our children to let go of all matters of respect we will be in a very ugly place one day.

    Keep up the good work Mom, you will have a great adult child one day.


  3. I've always taught my 7yo to address teachers that way. He does, however, use his manners (excuse me, may I be excused, nice to meet you, please/thank you, etc).

  4. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. Being from the South, my husband and I were raised to address adults as Mr., Mrs. or Ms. (insert last name). This is how we have raised our kids as well. When we lived in Atlanta this was very easy--almost everyone we knew instructed their children to do the same.

    We have had a different experience in California. I had to very nicely tell a friend (whose daughter goes to school with my kids) that her daughter could address me anyway they felt appropriate but that I wanted my kids to use her last name. This friend (a very well mannered person) had corrected my kids when they referred to her as "Mrs.___", she told them to call her by her first name. That was an awkward conversation to have, but one I had regardless.

    It's getting a bit tricky now that my daughter is almost 17. There are a lot of adults (including teachers) who like teenagers--especially older ones--to use their first name. Hard to make her refer to her hairstylist (who is on the young side) as Ms. for example.

  5. @Kristin - Glad I can provide brain food. :D

    @Tanya - I think some of it stems from the idea of being buddies with our kids, which I do not quite agree with. My son has plenty of buddies but only needs one mom.

    @Christina - Don't get me started on kids today and their (lack of) manners!

    @Jennifer - Yes! I think a lot of it is environmental. California has such a laid back image whereas the south is very formal. I prefer the formal.

  6. I would let it go. My kids were taught to call all adults by Mr. or Mrs. Last Name--then if the adults ask to be called something different to do that. The kids never really got confused about it.

    Manners are about making others comfortable and if it makes an adult uncomfortable to be called Mr. Last Name then that's fine by me.

  7. It always bothers me when another adult tries to undo my parenting by asking a child to refer to them so commonly. It's confusing for the child and rude to the parent. But that's just me...

    I was raised here in California, so I never followed polite address other than calling family (and pseudo family) Tia or Tio, Nino or Nina. Teachers were addressed as Mr. or Mrs. One teacher let us call her by her first name. Very progressive! But I always felt confused about addressing adults outside of family and school.

    However, when I had my own kids, I didn't want to leave them wondering how to address adults that they were not related to or that they were learning from. Not to mention, I wanted to make sure my children were respectful and polite to their elders. I do the same thing you do, Melanie. My children address adults as Mr. or Mrs./Miss and the first name.

  8. I prefer kids under the age of 18 to call me miss tanyetta. I am teaching my son to do the same. If they try to call me by my first name I will tell them, LOOK HERE.... We are NOT friends, therefore you don't have the right to call me by my first name. Are you nuts? Ok, I am just kidding but, you get what I am saying! :)

  9. I think if you want to be called Mrs. Smith then you should correct the kids. It will set a better example for Tyler.

  10. I am a native Californian. I was raised to call people Mr. and Mrs. There is a relaxed attitude about it now, but I still want my son to have manners. I'm sitting down to send thank you cards to everyone who gave him gifts for his 1st birthday and I am going to address the ladies as Miss.
    Thanks for the post!

  11. I love this post I totally agree, and I personally do not have a problem correcting other people's children if they call me by my first name because I feel that if you set the levels of how children communicate with you, you will always have success on how much respect they give you. Be blessed.


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