When kids address adults, what’s the protocol? Is Mr. and Ms. old-fashioned?
The following scene happened last month. It involves my four-year-old son, Bubba, and the mother of his two-year-old friend, Mack. I was babysitting Mack that day. His mother had arrived to pick him up at 6 p.m.
BUBBA: “Are you here to pick up Mack?”
MOTHER: “I am. How are you Bubba?”
BUBBA: “Good – um, ah, ahh. Mack’s Mommy, do you want to see my light saber?”
(Then looking at me.)
MOTHER: “So, I’ve completely lost my identity. Now, I’m just ‘Mack’s Mommy.’”
Mack’s mommy and I are friends. I knew she was joking, but the exchange brought up a valid point. My two young sons address adults all the time. And yet, there’s no consistent approach.
Some people are Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so. Others are addressed by their first names. Still others are somebody’s mommy or somebody’s daddy (this most often occurs when I remember the child’s name but not the name of the parents.)
It’s consistently awkward.
I turned to Bette Schieber for advice. She studied all forms of etiquette at the Emily Post Institute. She now offers etiquette seminars for children and adults throughout the Chicago area.
“As a parent, it is up to you to decide which way to go, though it is always better to err on the formal side,” Schieber said.
Thus, children should address adults as Mr. or Ms. – unless there’s an even more formal title such as Dr. Karcavich or Fr. Harrity. Kids stand to benefit from this later in life. For example, being comfortable with formal titles can be a big help on a job interview, Schieber said.
New parents, like myself, often struggle with this transition. Indeed, it sounds strange to hear my boys call my buddy Russ, Mr. Gonsiorowski. That’s what I call his dad. And isn’t all that formality sort of dead anyhow?
Formal greetings can also get confusing. Some kids don’t share the same last name as their parents. And what do you do with all those hyphenated last names? Then, there are times when I feel calling someone Mr. or Mrs. insinuates old age.
“Mr. or Ms. has nothing to do with age. It has to do with a respectable greeting,” Schieber said. “The majority of adults will want that (respect).”
Adults uncomfortable with formal titles can change the rules by simply saying, “You can call me Jim.” But, it’s best to start out formal and then downshift into something more casual, Schieber said.
Attending school often helps children grasp formal greetings, since most adults in the building go by Mr. or Ms. Something-or-another. (Unless your child attends the same hippie school as “Sid the Science Kid.” This PBS character calls his instructor, Teacher Susie. It’s weird but not even the weirdest thing about the computer-animated television show starring mustard-colored children.)
I digress. The point is I need to be more proactive in getting my sons to address adults as Mr. or Ms. And if I’m going to ask Bubba and Peter to use formal names, I better get used to it too.
From here on out, I’m Mr. Ludwig.
Howard Ludwig is a former business writer who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.