What Should my Kids call You?

From the ages of 9 to 26, I addressed my friends’ parents by saying, “Hey, ummm.” and just hoped they responded. If they didn’t, I’d  go back and eat more of their food without cleaning up after myself. After 26, I called them by their first names because once you have a full beard there’s no point in formalities.

My son, Arlo, who’s three, calls adults “lady” or “man” and that’s adorable because he’s three. For people he knows really well, he’ll sometimes address them by their child’s name and then daddy or mommy. So, for instance, “Jojo’s daddy.” Cute, but he can’t do that forever. Eventually, he’ll have to mature into “Hey, umm…” and then, “Yo, Steve.” But for the six years in between those milestones, what the hell am I supposed to teach him? He has two preschool teachers named, “Ms. Jenny” and “Ms. Peggy” but those are their first names and he can’t live his life addressing people like they’re adult puppets.

While I understand that it’s respectful to say, “Mr. McGillicuddy” or “Mrs. McGillicuddy” (I want so badly to know someone named McGillicuddy), when the twelve year-old neighbor kid calls me Mr. Good, it makes me feel like I’m moments away from requesting a new colostomy bag or a fresh tube of Polident. I told him to call me Jason but he seems reticent because, as he sees it, we’re not peers (his father taught him manners). I suppose I still want to be eleven, or at least young enough that a kid wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt and red Chuck Taylors doesn’t talk to me like I’m a guidance counselor.

At the same time, I don’t want to be the sad wanna-be-cool-dude who tells kids to call him by his first name. I remember those guys from when I was a kid, and they were usually named Dale, had mustaches and made mysterious trips to Florida.

So what should kids call me? Well, I will always respond to “Hey, excuse me.” And please don’t call me sir, because this isn’t a country club, nor have I been properly knighted (yet).

Unfortunately, kids want steadfast rules, and now that my elder son, Silas, is five, he needs to understand what they are, but in our counter-culture community in New Jersey, it seems there are none. He calls his best friends’ parents by their first name, which they still seem to be OK with, but when he doesn’t know someone’s first name, he becomes confused, walks away and mutters something about wanting a juice box. I think the proper thing for him to do is say “sir” or “ma’am,” but I don’t dress him in knickers, so it comes out sounding weird, like he’s had a little too much experience with the court system.

So, I’m looking for advice here. How should kids address adults? What should we be teaching them at what ages? I have a few suggestions and please, feel free to add your own.

1. “Person” as in, “Hello, person.” “Human” might also be acceptable here, but I fear it would expose them as robots.

2. Mister or Misses (without a last name). This has a wonderful old-timey ring to it. “Hey Mister, the newspaper costs five cents. You’re a penny short.” The problem here is that calling a woman “Misses” is extremely creepy.

3. “Dale.” Seriously, can’t we just call everyone Dale?

4. “Dude.” I have no problem with this. Thoughts?

5. “Frenchy.” I like this just as a general nickname. I could get my kids to keep a toothpick in their mouths at all times. “Hey, Frenchy, can I get a juice box?” Kind of cute, but maybe disrespectful.

6. How do we honestly feel about “Hey, ummm…”?

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here http://bit.ly/1exfm34. Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

188 comments On What Should my Kids call You?

  • A variation on “Hey Umm” is “Umm Excuse Me?” I used that a lot. Primarily my folks made me call people by Mr or Mrs LastName. Now everyone has different last names and human-to-human relationships with their kids (unlike my parents and their parents), so the formality doesn’t really work as easily. The one single mom who had me call her by her first name made me uncomfortable every time I used it — worse was hearing her daughter call my parents by their first names. So, Um Excuse Me is going to be where we start. I see no other choice.

    • This is an excellent point; the more human-to-human relationships. I get annoyed sometimes when the older generation scoffs at how “hard” modern parenting is. Well, guys it’s no longer acceptable to tie your toddler to a clothesline on a sunny day and go inside for a few hours, so things are a little more process-intensive now.

  • I tend to ask people what they want my son to call them, if it’s someone I know. I’ve taught him to call everyone else “sir,” ma’am” or “miss,” but I’ve been seriously considering switching him over to “toots” and “guy,” because that’s hilarious, and nobody can get mad at a four-year-old for that.

  • I sympathize with your struggle. Having worked at a daycare, I will forever introduce children to adults as “Mr. John” or Miss Kelly”, which usually adults find weird. My husband, specifically, is annoyed by it, but it’s too ingrained in my system, now.

  • I looked into this the other day after a talk with some friends. If I remember correctly, Emily Post says that kids should start out addressing everyone as Mr. or Mrs. Smith, and let the individual adults tell them if they’d prefer to be called Dale or similar. That way you don’t offend the more traditional folks and your kids come across as adorable and polite.

  • As a kid, I just stood next to the adult and said, “Excuse me?” until they responded back. The adult can tell the child what to call them. I tell my children’s friends to call me by my first name.

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