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Reality Check: Call Me

Q. I'm thrilled that my 20-month-old's language has recently snowballed, but she only calls me by my first name, Heidi. What should I do to get her to call me Mommy?

Hard as it may be to believe, in a year you'll find your memory of this to be funny. It may feel like it now, but your daughter's name-calling isn't an affront to your motherhood. Your toddler's not dissing you; she's just mimicking what she hears other people calling you. It works for them, so it ought to work for me, she thinks.

Like most babies, Ellie (our younger one) said "Dada" first, but she also called me Dada for what seemed like a long and annoying time. I guess it was just her all-purpose name for "those who meet my needs." At the time, I'm sure I'd have welcomed her calling me Trisha instead  -- at least it would have shown she knew I was a person separate from her father.

It's no surprise that the phase passed, and as Ellie soon started making clear  -- quite loudly and frequently  -- she knew perfectly well that my name was Mommy.

If it really bothers you to just wait this phase out, there's a simple solution, but it requires you to be at least as consistent as your little girl. This should do the trick, though it won't be particularly easy:

? Every time she addresses you as Heidi, ignore her, acting as if you didn't hear her at all, and demonstrating that "Heidi" doesn't get your attention when she uses it.

? Then, about every third time she calls out your name, look at her, point to yourself, and say, "Mommy." That's all  -- no admonitions or explanations. It may seem mean, and there will be some shared frustration, but it's a way your toddler will get the message that to her, your name is Mommy  -- and not anything else.

? When she starts using "Mommy" or "Mama" sometimes at least, reinforce it by telling her that this is her special name for you that no one else except her is allowed to use.

And then when she's 18, you can revisit the subject.