Should Kids Use Formal or First Names With Adults?


Dear Debra,

School’s back in session and I am not sure how to introduce myself to children in my child’s class. There are some children in class whom I have known for many years, and they call me by my first name. But there are new faces as well, and I would actually prefer to be called Mrs. by them. Is this ok and – if so – how do I handle it? How to do I handle introducing adults to my own child? And what do I say to those kids whose parents who call me by my first name. I don’t want old family friends, with kids that we have known since babyhood, to call me Mrs. But it feels odd having an 8 year-old calls me “Jess” instead of Mrs. Jones.  And I am not comfortable with my children calling adults by their first name, even if the adult insists on it. Help!

Sincerely, The Mrs.


Dear The Mrs.:

First of all, let’s look at the bright side. Not only is school back in session (woo hoo), but your children and their classmates apparently have been taught the Fine Art of Small Talk (double woo hoo). Anytime I hear of an 8 year-old making eye-contact AND addressing adults by anything other than hey – or God forbid – dude, I am thrilled.

I do understand your conundrum. My daughter had a playmate who always called me “Sarah’s mom” when addressing me, and it took several reminders to get her to call me by my preferred “Debra.” After the seventh, Excuse me Sarah’s mom, where are my Polly Pockets (A+ for the excuse me though, right?) I finally convinced her that she would be rewarded with even more graham crackers if she could remember to use Debra instead. Needless to say, the graham crackers worked.  I don’t like being addressed as Mrs. Anything, a personal preference based somewhat on the fact that I kept my last name when I married my husband. But I respect those (you) who like the more formal term and I do think there is something sort of sweet about the prefix.  First, always try to position yourself so you are looking eye-to-eye with the child – this is good for their self-esteem and great for your quads. Ok, here goes:

  • When in the presence of a child whom you have not met previously and no parent is present, introduce yourself first: Hello, Victoria. I’m Mrs. Mason, Jacob’s mother.
  • When in the presence of a child whom you have not met previously and her parent is present, introduce yourself first if possible to the parent and the child. It’s a pleasure to meet you both. I’m Jessica Mason, Jacob’s mother.
  • Hopefully Victoria’s mother will take it upon herself to say: Nice to meet you, Jessica. Victoria, please say hello to Mr. Mason.
  • If, by chance, Victoria’s mother says Victoria, say hi to Jessica, then you’ve got a choice to make. Either let it go and know that for the next forever years, this child is going to call you Jessica OR address the issue quickly: You can call me Mrs. Mason, Victoria; that’s how all of Jacob’s friends know me.
  • When you are being introduced to a parent and child with your child present and the parent introduces herself to your child by her first name – Hi Jacob, I’m Elizabeth – it’s perfectly okay to say:  Elizabeth, I’d rather Jacob call you Mrs. Chase if you are comfortable with that?
  •  If Elizabeth is NOT comfortable with that, don’t push it. This is not a life or death situation, but an opportunity to teach your child that good manners include respecting others wishes and making sure those around you are comfortable. Explain to Jacob later, in private, that your rule is that adults should be addressed by Mrs., Mr. or Dr.
  • If you prefer to be called Mrs. Mason and a child consistently calls you Jessica (or, in my case, the vice versa occurs), remind your mini-conversationalist. You aren’t going to offend the child if you are respectful and light: Victoria, I know your mommy calls me Elizabeth, but I like it when you and your friends call me Mrs. Mason.

Addressing others is really about consideration and kindness. I was raised in the era of Mr. and Mrs. and never thought a thing about it until I had children of my own and realized I preferred my first name over a more formal use of my last. Still, I am in my 50s and cannot, for the life of me, call any adult from my past anything besides the Mrs. I used as a child. Our family friend, Mrs. Flatley, tells me to call her Barbara and I honestly cannot get it to come out of my mouth. Me – the so-called small talk expert!  I finally admitted that I just couldn’t make the switch after all of these years, and if it was okay with her, she would always be Mrs. Flatley to me. She rewarded me with a hug and a smile, which is even better than graham crackers.


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