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What to Call a Grown-Up

Now that your child is talking and getting out in the world, she's going to start meeting more grown-ups whom she's not related to. How should she address them? Chances are, when you were a kid your parents taught you to call other adults Mr., Miss, or Mrs. Today the rules on titles are more relaxed, and kids call some elders by their first name. Is that disrespectful?

Not really. Titles remind kids of the differences between themselves and grown-ups, but this doesn't necessarily translate into respect. "Adults gain a child's respect by being respectful to the child," says Sal Severe, Ph.D., author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too!

These days, whether children address adults by using titles depends more on setting and personal choice than on strict etiquette rules. In places with adults in positions of authority—schools, houses of worship, and doctor's offices—titles are usually expected. But what your child calls her soccer coach or her best friend's mom should be based on both what you think is appropriate and what the person prefers. You may like the formality of titles and want your child to use them, or you may prefer first names for certain people. A compromise that's a favorite of nursery school teachers: a title with a first name, such as Ms. Melissa or Mr. Bill.

In any case, since the use of titles is something that's such a personal—and potentially sensitive—choice, when possible, it can't hurt to check with the person first before you introduce him to your child.