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My four year old daughter recently started calling me by my first name. She's only doing this to me, not her mother.

I found this to be a little strange and don't want to encourage it for practical reasons (e.g. if she throws a tantrum while putting her in the car, I'd rather she shout 'no, Daddy' so people think I'm a terrible parent instead of a kidnapper). Beyond that, I guess I don't care that much. I've told her she needs to call me Daddy, Dad, Dada, or any variation of that, but not my name. When she asked why, I didn't have a very good answer, other than kids aren't supposed to do that.

It's probably a phase so I'm not terribly concerned. But what is a good reason to tell a children that they can't call their parents by their first names?

Edit: I am my daughter's biological—not adpoted or step—father.

Edit Redux: This phase has mostly passed on its own. Being a dad, I found that calling her "daughter" "baby goat" (kid) back with a cynical smugness usually got laughs.

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    As long as they don't call me anything worse than my name, I see nothing wrong with this. I always called my parents by their first names. – pojo-guy Feb 18 '18 at 17:29
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    I am definitely no expert on kids, but maybe she just notices that other adults use their parents names in conversation and starts to mimic them. – mathreadler Feb 18 '18 at 19:21
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    My nephew calls me 'Pete' rather than 'Uncle Pete' because when he was young and said 'Uncle Pete', it sounded like 'ugly Pete'. It just kind of stuck from then. – Bad_Bishop Feb 19 '18 at 9:19
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    Do you have a common or an uncommon name? Does your kid realize that there may be many, many "Brian"s in the world, but only one "Daddy" ? – Tom Feb 19 '18 at 12:59
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    Maybe the four year old daughter just loves saying "Scribblemacher". – Michael Karas Feb 19 '18 at 18:55

12 Answers 12

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There's a difference between why a child does/should/should not address their parent(s) by their first name, and how to explain it to a child. The why is important when discussing the "why not" to the child.

An older child might do so because of emotional distance from their parent, because of egalitarian reasons, or both. Family culture is also important.

A child of 4 is probably doing it for one of several reasons: it annoys you or otherwise causes a reaction of some kind on you, it amuses her, it gives her a feeling of empowerment, she's copying someone else (does your wife call you by your first name?), or she does it to emphasize she is speaking to you (kind of like you'd use her whole name to get her full attention.) But at that age. it's usually not done for reasons of emotional distance.

The traditional parent will give the reason that "Daddy" is an honorific. It's analogous to calling a teacher "Ms. Smith", not "Zelda", or the doctor, "Doctor [X]", not Pat. This may strike liberal parents as outdated or authoritarian.

Another reason to call a person "Daddy" or "Dad" is based on intimacy. It signals that you are more closely related biologically but also emotionally to her than Brian, the next door neighbor. In this context, it denotes love (not only respect), analogous to you calling her "sweet pea" (or "possum blossom"*, or whatever your favorite pet name for her is), but calling the child next door by less intimate names (her given name or "sweetie"/whatever generic (which also includes a power dynamic, btw.)

How you approach asking her to use the preferred designation should have something to do with why she does it and why you object. You might want to ask her why she does it to you, but calls her mother Mom/Mommy.

If it really doesn't bother you, but you want her to go with Daddy because you don't want a long, drawn out scene with bystanders and the police when she throws a tantrum, talk to her about that possibility. Tell her that it's important that strangers know how the two of you are related so that people might not make mistaken assumptions that can cause trouble.

If it makes you feel less intimate with her, explain that as well. It's good for a child to know fathers need love, too. :) Ask her if she would like it if you stopped calling her "sweet pea"/whatever. If she doesn't want you to stop because "sweet pea" makes her feel special, say "daddy" makes you feel special to her.

*My first born started out with "sweet pea" in utero, which morphed into "peasome" (who knows why, maybe because he was a male), and because language works this way, it morphed to "peasome possum", and because he was beloved and language works this way, he ended up with the bizarre pet name, "Possum Blossom", which is maybe worse than "Sweet Pea".

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    Love your thing about kid's pet names. My wife is 'Pea' because years ago she used to pretend she only had a little pea in her head for her brain ;D. I regularly refer to her as Pea, specially if I can't get her attention. Online my kids are '2.0' and '2.1' and people who I converse with regularly online (but don't know offline) know whom I am talking about by these names, and with friends we have a few different pet names for our kids, from things they have said 'XXXbear' for both of them (with XXX being their real names) however due to a friends kid mispronouncing it, it became 'XXXbum' ;) – djsmiley2k Feb 18 '18 at 18:07
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    "It signals that you are more closely related biologically but also emotionally to her than Brian, the next door neighbor.". I've had this discussion with my kids and took the angle that they are the only kids in the world that get to call me daddy, so they are special and should use that. – Craig Feb 18 '18 at 19:03
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    An amusing story: my wife and I started getting concerned that our 2 yr old would only talk in the 3rd person. She always said things like "{Name} did it!" Then, one morning, I realized that we talked to her that way. "Daddy thinks you should wear the black shoes." It's rather fascinating how fast she picked up "I" once we stopped providing her contrary examples. – Cort Ammon Feb 19 '18 at 23:08
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    I like this answer, as I feel this illustrates a subtle, but important point that names are excellent bonding tools for families. recommend combining both of the last approaches to achieve your goal. also, personal note, kudos @anongoodnurse for the fun nicknames. I share this with my children as well haha weird names that came from the simplest things. they love it, it brings us closer. – NOP Feb 20 '18 at 14:44
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    While I'm marking this as the answer for doing a good job of discussing some of the subtleties, I'm definitely not telling her about the possibility of strangers thinking I'm not her father. I don't want to put the idea in her head that that's something she could do! – Scribblemacher Feb 20 '18 at 18:34
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I think it's only a problem if it's a problem for you.

When I was about that age, I started calling my mother by her name. We're pretty sure it's because I heard everyone else calling her by her name, so I just did too. My two sisters, when they got to speaking, started doing the same thing because that's what I called her.

She would have preferred we call her Mom at the time, but at the same time it was hard to tell us we were wrong because that was her name.

There was never a time where we didn't look at her as our mother, we just called her by her name. People questioned it from time to time, but it was never a big deal at our home. We're all in our 30's now and still use her name.

If it really does bother you, definitely correct them and say that you're Dad, or Daddy, or whatever name you use. It could be a phase they're going through and will grow out of, or will keep at it, but I don't think it should be a huge concern myself.

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    This is a Q&A site (not a forum for discussion, with which you might be more familiar.) As such, actual answers to the original question (not just sharing of experience) are expected. This answer doesn't adequately address the OP's question. The question is, "[W]hat is a good reason to tell a children that they can't call their parents by their first names?" You addressed what you did and what the result was, but not the OP's question. Please edit to focus on how to explain to a young child why they should be addressed as "Mom"/"Dad"/whatever. Thanks. – anongoodnurse Feb 17 '18 at 17:58
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    @anongoodnurse This answer says "There is no good reason". It's a perfectly good answer. – isanae Feb 17 '18 at 20:04
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    One of my friends when I was in my early teens called his mother by her first name. They were on good terms, and I think he'd always done this. (His parents were divorced and he lived with his mom). I never asked about the details, but it seems this is just one of those things that happens in some families, and it's probably not a sign of any problem when it starts from early childhood. (An older child to stop using "mom" would be much more worrying, in my totally uninformed guesswork opinion.) – Peter Cordes Feb 18 '18 at 9:40
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    I'm starting to remember my friend mentioning some of his reasoning. One reason was that if he wanted to get his mother's attention in a crowded place, there are far fewer people called Helen than people called Mom. (child) logic FTW. As he got older, he never saw any reason to switch to "mom", and @TheoreticalPerson's point about the seeing his mom as her own person and not just as his mom possibly was sort of part of my friend's reason for sticking with the given name. (Although I realize you meant that point from the other angle, about how the parent feels about it.) – Peter Cordes Feb 18 '18 at 9:54
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    After 2 weeks with her cousins, my daughter started to call me "Uncle Eric". We laughed about it and it stopped after a while. – Eric Duminil Feb 18 '18 at 16:42
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does your wife call you by your first name?

(Quoting from the answer from anongoodnurse...)

This is essential. Get mommy to call you daddy when speaking to the child. Doing so will be immensely useful for the next part of the answer.

But what is a good reason to tell a children that they can't call their parents by their first names?

Explain that the way families work is that young children use these terms to identify who their mommy and daddy are. If the youngster is part of the family, then that is the terminology they should use. When not using the terminology, the youngster makes it sound like she does not want daddy to be part of the family.

Is that what you want? No? You do want to be in the same family as daddy? Good!

Many children will continue to use terms like "Mom" and "Dad" for the rest of their lives, even when the younger generation are adults, and even (hopefully later) when the parent(s) are no longer among us.

If the child wonders why Daddy gets called by the family name, but daughter gets called by her first name, just explain that is "how it works", and is based on rules that are used by lots of families, including many families that have multiple daughters.

If your child does have siblings, note that using the term "Dad" to refer to you is an honor that your daughter gets to do because she is part of the family. Because your daughter is part of your family, you do not want her to disregard that special privilege. You want to be in your daughter's family, and you want your daughter to be in your family, and that is why this special privilege is a good thing, and that is a perfectly good reason for your daughter to embrace this good thing.

If applicable in your household and family, you can also note how your last name helps to identify your connection with your household, and to some of your family members. Some of your family members (commonly more likely the women and their descendants) may have different last names because they are also part of other families too. So relying on a person's last name is not a perfect indicator, but it can be help some people to recognize some of the familial connections that exist.

  • "This is essential. Get mommy to call you daddy when speaking to the child." Honestly, it sounds bloody confusing to me. What happens when the parents of the daddy come over for a visit and you keep this up? – Mast Feb 20 '18 at 0:24
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    @Mast You could do it like in finland where it's Mommydaddy, Mommymommy, Daddydaddy and Daddymommy if I can trust Linus Torvald's biography. I claim the only thing that really might have an impact on the child is if the parents make a big fuss about what might probably be nothing. – Haunt_House Feb 20 '18 at 0:59
  • Mast: Yes, you keep it up. When the term "Daddy" is used, particularly if talking about a later activity that will involve the child, people around will understand that term is being used for the benefit of the child in ear-shot. When the child is in another room, then such names are typically dropped. Parents are actually called by name, but not typically in the presence of the child (& children may be more prone to just ignore boring adult conversations). As such, the name that the child most frequently hears will be Daddy, so that will be the name the child will feel most natural with using – TOOGAM Feb 20 '18 at 2:14
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    My then five yr old daughter started calling my mother in law Mrs Smith after hearing me calling her this way. I had to correct her. I think this is just a part of a language development, and as adults we need to teach kids proper use of language. – user819490 Feb 20 '18 at 15:23
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It is probably a phase. A four-year old child is in the transition phase of learning to speak more like an adult, and less like a baby, she is unlearning a lot of baby words like 'bunny' and 'doggy', and she has observed that other adults don't call you 'daddy' either.

Do you and your wife call your parents by their first name? Does she have enough good examples around of it being normal adult use of language to call one's parents 'mom' and 'dad'?

Maybe you can tell her that if she calls you 'John' instead of 'dad', it sounds to you like she's talking about some other man called John; that your language works that way, to distinguish family members from others.

As a side note, I started calling both my parents by their first names around the age of four or five, never found this too problematic, but some years later, I started calling them (slang variants of) 'mother' and 'father', because that's how my friends were also operating.

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I think because kids arn't supposed to is a perfectly acceptable response. My favorite is "because i'm your dad and i said so". In fact when my kids call me anything except for daddy (or the dutch equivalent) i'll make it very clear that i'm ignoring them (i'm really deaf at times). The same things happens when they "demand" things rather than ask a question.

Maybe that isn't always the political correct answer but a more in depth answer would probably involve something like "it's courteous if kids show some respect to their parents because their parents work hard to provide food and shelter love their kids. In return kids love their parents and show some respect". However i feel that with a 4 year old that answer probable doesn't resonate. (maybe the because i love you part would)

Especially when they get in the stage of questioning everything just because asking why is fun i draw the line. The rules of this family arn't up for discussion. I can even leave them the choice at times (like you sit at the table or you don't eat dinner. Sometimes if they don't want to eat dinner and rather keep playing that's their choice, and it's a good way to let them discover consequences when they get hungry 15 minutes later). However the rule itself stands and isn't up for discussion.

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My son at that age called my husband daddy and me "hey you". If you asked who I was he would say mommy. But he called me hey you. I just rode it out. Temporary phase, let it go. You will have important things to fight about later, let the small stuff go.

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This is such a case-by-case question and depends so much on the dynamic between the kid and the adult. If you don't care, then I'm guessing that it's probably fine. Maybe this is is what works for you guys.

If you're worried about what other people think, don't stress. If someone thinks you're not her dad, they can just ask, "Is that your dad?" and she'll answer.

Regarding the reasoning for calling someone "mom" or "dad": It is a title for the person who is guarding and taking care of you in the world. You're not peers. It's a way of honoring the relationship. But if you guys have a good relationship and don't need the title, don't stress it.

... A year later, I actually changed my mind. I think it's important to call your parent 'mom' or 'dad' - so long as they are not abusive. I would say, because I'm the person that brought you into the world and takes care of you, and is bringing you up. I'm not just any ol' person to you.

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One way of reducing this behaviour is to not respond when she calls you by name. My 3 year old did this for a while and non-response worked well.

Disclaimer: This is based purely on my own parenting experience and I can't offer any other evidence or references. Also 'non-response' purely means not replying, you still keep an eye on them in case they are calling you for a reason.

  • Just curions for the reason behind the downvote? – Ubercoder Mar 28 '18 at 13:20
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She would probably respond well to something like "You know, lots of people get to call me 'Scribblemacher' but you are the only person in the whole world that gets to call me 'Daddy'. "

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    Has this added anything new to the answers already given above? If it does, can you expand on it so that it can be adequately appreciated? Thanks. – anongoodnurse Mar 18 '18 at 17:17
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All of my children (3) went through a brief phase around the same time (age 4, such an endearing phase in any child's overall development), of calling me by my given name.

I never made a big deal out of it, nor did I pretend not to notice. I just very naturally responded with a mildly surprised / quizzical look, as if thinking, "you usually call me Mommy, because you're my child, not an adult friend...I'm a little confused and a bit amused by the way that you address me these days." But certainly not the slightest bit shocked or upset by it.

I was careful not to over-react, which would tend to confuse and traumatize them. They don't really understand why they do such a thing. They act intuitively, subconsciously, and with noble intent. I would never intentionally spoil their happiness and their deep and abiding trust in me. I would never deliberately ruin the affection we had for one another.

Being that my children were quite sensitive and intelligent, and considering the close bond we had, they easily recognized my nonverbal response for what it was. There was no need to lecture them or to explain manners to them, in that regard (not that I would never do so, but in this case it was unnecessary, because I instinctively knew that they'd quickly grow out of it on their own, as long as I handled the situation diplomatically).

It took them only about a week at the most, to self-correct and revert back to the more familiar "Mama" or "Mommy". I doubt any one of them ever called me by my name more than about five times, total. And that's a conservative estimate, as it was probably even less than that.

I understood that my children were testing our boundaries, and on some unspoken level I felt somehow proud of them and honored that they thought enough of me to experiment with the quality of our relationship. They were always respectful, and I never feared that they would get out of hand. They were obviously just trying to be sociable with me, and I took that as a compliment without calling excessive attention to it.

Neither did I encourage it, however, which they also recognized subconsciously. But we always communicated very openly and respectfully, and I'm sure that if they asked me about it ("Mommy, can I call you Bread?" :D ) I must have said something like: "I don't mind if you call me by my name, because we both understand that I'm your mother and you're my daughter / son" (If indeed they did ask, the ensuing conversation was very light and brief, their place in my heart reinforced -- then on to more interesting things in a child's life, like play, food, and friends.)

By taking it all in stride, while remaining calm and caring toward them, and maintaining a gentle sense of humor about it, involving us together as a family (rather than laughing at, embarrassing, berating, or mocking them for it) -- I did my best to help them progress through an important developmental stage with their self-esteem wholly intact:

Psychosocial Stage 3 - Initiative vs. Guilt The third stage of psychosocial development takes place during the preschool years.

At this point in psychosocial development, children begin to assert their power and control over the world through directing play and other social interactions.

Children who are successful at this stage feel capable and able to lead others. Those who fail to acquire these skills are left with a sense of guilt, self-doubt, and lack of initiative.

When an ideal balance of individual initiative and a willingness to work with others is achieved, the ego quality known as purpose emerges.

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Several people hit near this but didn't give the simplest reason.

How do your wife talk to you? If she says "Paul, could you..." your daughter who is learning by mimicry (especially language skills) is going to copy her, just like she does with new words and phrases.

And I'm not saying how she talks about you, but how she talks to you in the presence of your child. Want a child to say or do something, just do it a few times in front of them. They will learn and repeat what they have seen, it's how we learn new skills. Want her to call you daddy, have mommy do the same thing. I'm going to guess you probably don't address your wife by name very often, I know I haven't because the person I'm speaking to is understood. But the opposite wasn't true, and I have no explanation as to why. Perhaps it is because I was in another room and my name was the signal to listen for the rest of the sentence.

"Paul, dinner's ready" "Paul, can you take out the trash?"

Replace Paul with Daddy and your little learning machine will adapt.

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Due to the number of response, I will post my own personal experience.

It starts with her mom. She hears mommy call you by your first name, therefore she will to.

Eventually, she will transition to Daddy lingo. She is mimicking what she sees and hears; therefore, if you don't want a certain behavior or talk in the home, then the two of you need to set the example for what is the expected behavior in the household.

protected by Rory Alsop Feb 21 '18 at 22:09

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