Q&A: son calls Dad Tim

More about names (and a softball for Super Bowl Sunday). Emily writes:

"My 5 year old son calls his dad Tim and Tim really doesn't like it,wants to be called "Dad."  Son is given lots of playful reminders, lots
of regular reminders and it is not out of defiance, just habit but it
is proving so hard to break and Tim is getting to the upset point."

It never surprises me how seriously we humans take our names and what people call us. So it kind of does surprise me that I don't get three of this question a week, since I think many many kids go through phases of calling a parent (or both) by a given name instead of an honorific. My mom still remembers when I did, and both of my kids have (although at younger ages than 5).

I would approach this the same way I approach whining. (I'm guessing this is pretty much the same way *everyone* approaches whining, not just me.) Don't understand what the kid says in the whiny voice, or when addressing Dad as Tim. "I don't understand who you're talking to. Did you mean Dad?" And just ignore a request or sentence addressed to Tim.

If the child gets no results from saying Tim, he'll start saying Dad soon. But you have to be consistent about it, and just matter-of-fact. it is hard for 5-year-olds to break habits sometimes, since they've got so much going on, but he'll figure it out when he gets a response right away if he says Dad, and not if he says Tim.

Did anyone else go through this with a kid this age? How long did it take to get your child to use the correct name?

40 thoughts on “Q&A: son calls Dad Tim”

  1. no real experience here, but a suggestion anyway. emily might need to bite the bullet and address her hubby as ‘dad’ too. i bet that’s how the child picked up calling him ‘tim’, because mama does.eek! i wilt at the thought of being 60 without children in the house, still addressing each other as ‘mother’ and ‘father’.

  2. Not exactly the same, but my 4.5 yo calls me Mommy or Mama all the time. Which is *not* what I go by. It makes me a little crazy, but most of the time it’s when she’s just come from school, where a lot of kids do say that (and the teachers I think refer to moms that way). I try to gently correct, but I don’t do the ignoring, which would be effective only over a long time–for her.I wasn’t sure she was even 100% aware of it, until yesterday when she says, “Ema, when I’m a mommy, I’m going to let my children call me Mom or Mommy or Mama because I love them.”
    Um. There’s probably something deep seated and psychological to go into here, but I’m not sure I *want* to.

  3. I echo Marci’s suggestion about you calling your husband ‘dad’ while DS is around, even if just temporarily until the problem works itself out. The 2-yr-old loves calling my husband and I by our nicknames for each other, but mostly because of the reaction it draws (laughter, in our case.)@Kate – It sort of sounds like your daughter feels left out, since it is what she is hearing from her peers. Perhaps there is a gentle way you can assure her that just because you go by something different doesn’t make your love any less?

  4. My DS isn’t talking yet, so I have no advice from the parent’s perspective. Apparently, I called my dad by his first name at about that age, so that’s why mom still calls him “Daddy” to this day!

  5. My 5-y-o daughter calls my husband “Pappa,” as he is European and that is what is appropriate in his language. She will, however, refer to him as “my daddy” or “my dad” when talking to others. She calls my parents “Nana and Papaw” but my husband’s parents by the appropriate names in his language — but again, she’ll talk about them to others as her “grandparents.” She’s more or less always done this, ever since she could talk in complete sentences.She may be somewhat unusual in that respect. But I guess my point is, Emily, that your son may be quite deliberate (on some level, consciously or not) in doing this because it punches your husband’s buttons. And *all* kids love nothing more than to punch their parents’ buttons (mine does it in other ways, believe me)!
    I think Moxie’s way of dealing with it sounds right on, but I’d make a big point of not showing him that it bothers either of you — just be very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. I bet once he gets it that a) calling your husband Tim won’t get a response, and b) that it doesn’t bother you, that this phase will pass quickly.

  6. I totally agree with the idea that he probably repeats what he ears. I do call my husband “Papa” since our son is born and our 3.5 yo son calls him Papa too. But yesterday, my son was talking to me while I was finishing something so he had to repeat to get my attention, and the second time he started his sentence with “Cheri!!” (what my husband usually calls me). That sure got my attention 🙂 So yes, they repeat the names they ear…I started calling my husband Papa even when our son is not around, and we realised that this is probably what happened to our grandparents who call each other Dad and Mom all the time…

  7. My daughter is only 22 months, but she’s taken to getting her papa’s attention by saying, “Hey, W-!” (papa’s first name). Yesterday she said to me “excuse me, Anna.” It is clearly modeling at this point, not a power struggle over our relationship. And we have a hard time not reinforcing it, because it is hilarious to hear a tiny, tiny child yell out “hey, so-and-so.”

  8. Great Simpsonian question. :)I did this to my mother when I was around the age of three. I did outgrow it. It may have been once my younger brother started saying “mom” that I joined in too.
    If a sibling isn’t in the works, I like marci’s suggestion.

  9. My five year old has occasionally called my husband or I by our first names, and my two year old has done it too. I think that it starts because they repeat what they hear, but it can also be an attention-seeking behavior because they know it is “wrong” a child to refer to his/her parent by a first name.I have handled it this way with great success. First of all, not making a big deal out of it or getting upset, because that just rewards the attention-seeker. Then I respond casually that I am very surprised that the child wants to call me by my first name. I explain that everyone else in the world is allowed to call me by my first name, but my two children are the only ones in the world that can call me Mommy. Then I basically leave it up to them if they want to give up their special status, although I indicate that I wouldn’t if I were them and point out that I still call their Nana Mommy. Miraculously the child reverts back to to Mommy very quickly! The last time (which may have been the only time my two year old did it) I didn’t have to even give him the Mommy is a special word only you can use for me talk. My five year old gave it to him for me!
    In this case, since it sounds like it has been going on for a while, if the Dad is a special name talk doesn’t work, I would probably also go with the ignoring the child until the proper term is used. Like Moxie, this usually works for me with whining and people who don’t speak to me politely!

  10. My parents deliberately raised me to call them by their first names. I have referred to my father as “my dad” when talking about him, but have never spoken to him using anything but his name. I went through a phase of calling my mother “Mumma” in my teenage years, but now I again call her by her name. We also were taught to call our grandparents by their first names, and always did so. Yup, we were the weird kids!I don’t think everyone ought to do what my parents did, and in fact my kids call me mommy (or, “Moooooooooom! in an exasperated tone, depending). But I don’t think it harmed us at all; it was just a weird thing my family did. I do think that it becomes important at some age for kids to realize that their parents do actually have names – I remember as a child I had some classmates who genuinely though their mother’s name was Mommy, which cracked me up.
    In the poster’s case, I agree it’s button-pushing, same as if he was saying “poopybutt” all the time, and the steps taken should be the same.

  11. We are all very trainable! When I was a little girl, all my family called me by my given name + “ie”. I hated it and just decided I would never answer unless they just said my non-diminutive name. Cheeky little kid, I guess! Anyway, it worked, and I had everyone calling me by the name I wanted. And I should add that I was given almost no choice as a child–I was born in the 40s and that was typical then. So, even tho my family wasn’t inclined to ‘listen’ to kids, this kind of behavorial program worked! I’m sure Tim will become “Dad” very quikckly if mom and dad are very, very good at ignoring! Hint: even sighing can be reinforcing to a little kid!

  12. My daughter is 25 months and calls her dad and grandma by their first names here and there. It’s kinda’ funny actually, but we don’t make a big deal out of it either way. She knows my first name, too but very rarely uses it. Strange, the workings of a child’s mind!

  13. I can’t read other comments (no, really, I can’t – I think something is borken)I call my parents by their first names often – especially in situations where it’s difficult or impossible to get their attention without doing it.
    In addition, I refuse to use the honorific with my father – he was abusive in the past, is far less so now, and it’s a coping technique I worked out with a therapist which works very very well.
    It also helps that I know he hates it – the first time I did it when I was about 3 is one of the first instances of abuse I can remember.
    With my mom, it’s because I’ve spent so much of my adult life caring *for* her that sometimes that’s just the first thing that comes out of my mouth. But I also call her mom, and half my friends also call her mom.
    One of my very most intelligent friends has called his parents by their first names from the very start, and it works well for him and for their family. His kids will call him by his first name, and I’ll probably have mine do the same unless they wish to do otherwise.

  14. My kids did this when they were younger than five, ususally when saying “Daddy” hadn’t gotten his attention. They did it less often for me, I think because I zone out less, but I suspect it was the same motivation.We went with the mild “I like it when you call me Daddy/Mommy” and made an effort to be much more responsive when they did. It sorted itself out pretty fast.
    I don’t think this is about what children ought to call their parents, because who cares? But I think they need to learn to call people what they want to be called. We’ve had to give up the firstborn’s nicknames because he’s told us he doesn’t like them. sniff.

  15. I have to admit that as unhelpful as it is my reaction was well, at least if he calls him… :)Anyways my son does this too and I do think it’s because he’s mimicking me. But I’m not prepared to get too into the calling-my-spouse-Daddy so we live with it.

  16. Funny story: We learned early to use the Dad (‘call your dad’ ‘your daddy will be home later’) in kid-related conversations, as a way to teach the terminology. We still use each-other’s names, though we rely a lot on Love and Sweetie and Hon (four kids, all of whom get annoyed at being called the other kid’s name), too.Anyway, once when Mr G was very little (maybe 3?), we went to a video store to get a movie. Ep and I were talking and looking at our level, and Mr G was looking at his level. He saw something he wanted to show Ep, and called out, ‘Daddy!’ … no response. Tried again, louder, ‘DADDY!’ … no response. Then he called him by his first name, using exactly the tone and inflection I use when I’m calling downstairs and he hasn’t responded. You know, the frustrated, slightly exasperated tone? PERFECT mimic of it. It did get his attention, along with the attention of every adult nearby, all of whom had some trouble suppressing their mirth at my expense (everyone spotted exactly whose tone he was copying). :wince: Anyway, sometimes it really is ‘what you say at home’ that is what they learn to do, yes? Modeling.
    We ended up with a hierarchy of titles, honorifics, nicknames, and names, and they know how and when to use them in a variety of situations, now (though the girls are still in single-use mode at 4 years old).
    At 5, it could either be ‘push dad’s buttons’ or ‘I really don’t understand how the rules for all these different names WORK, so I’ll default to the power name’. An explanation of the layers and use of the different names for a 5-year old *MIGHT* (maybe) actually help. It really depends on the kid, though. Not just ‘you call him Daddy and he calls you Son’ (note that some kids dislike that they get called by a first name and their parents don’t), but ‘when someone asks you to introduce me, you say This is my daddy, Tim; and when you talk to him, you call him Daddy; and when I talk to him, I call him Hon; His sister calls him Tim, but when she’s feeling fond of him she calls him Bro’ (etc., however you use it – note that you have to figure out how you DO use it, first…)
    I’ve also found that I switched to using my mom’s grandma name, I use it so much. So she’s become Baba to me as well as the kids. I had to consciously swap to using Mom when she was in the hospital last week (when the Mother/Daughter thing was dominant), and now I’m slipping back and forth between the two.
    Oh, and I still have trouble using honorifics evenly – but that is probably partly because of the rounds of parents I had. I finally settled on Dad and Father as distinct entities, with Dad being the title applied to a male parent with whom I have an ongoing warm relationship, and either Father or Name or NickName being the term for any that are not in close relationship, except for the one I never called Dad at all (he was always NickName). Confusing, huh?
    And you could also always go to the ‘Safe Respectful Kind’ thing, where you say ‘Daddy ENJOYS being called Daddy, and his feelings are hurt when he’s called Tim by someone who could call him Daddy. It’s not kind to keep calling him Tim, when it hurts his feelings. In our house we strive to be kind.’ Or try problem-solving to the underlying issue, which is that daddy feels there’s a distance being set up there in the relationship, and it hurts – how else could the son demonstrate his bond and affection in a way that heals that wound, without denying the need in the son? (It is possible that he just dislikes being called by a different KIND of name than he calls his dad? So calling him son or cub or pup or my-boyo or whatever might make a difference? Not as a punitive effort, but ask if he would prefer that. If he doesn’t, that might also help him understand the difference – because there’s a third option that he doesn’t understand how two names that are for him equal could be unequal to another.)
    Er, enough. Rambly.

  17. I’m so glad to read this question! My 4.5yo has been doing this for about a year. It bothers me, but not his dad. I’ve tried periodic gentle reminders, the special name talk, and I’ve been calling my husband Daddy (which I hate!) for at least 6 months, none of it’s working. He doesn’t just do it to his face, he talks to other people about “Eric” and often people don’t realise that’s his dad he’s talking about. I think that’s what drives me most nuts about it, that people will think he’s just the current man in our life, not my kids’ real dad. (And I don’t know why that bothers me, I know it shouldn’t.) My almost-2yo is starting to talk more, and he’s still saying Da, but I’m worried that he’s going to copy his older brother at some point, and we’ll have a whole family not calling dad “Dad.” Sigh. Since it doesn’t bother dad much, I don’t know if I have much hope of getting him to ignore him. Plus that wouldn’t work with the talking to strangers thing at all.

  18. And this is why I call Mr. Long-Suffering “Dad” around the kids. Although now, after all these years, I sometimes call him “Dad” even when there are no kids around and it freaks me out a little bit.

  19. i think there’s a difference between calling your spouse/partner daddy or mommy and referring to your spouse/partner *as* daddy/mommy in context of your kid- it’s ok to say “hey, pnut, can you go and see if daddy is upstairs in the bathroom?”i echo everyone else that this is probably a phase, the pnut calls us a few million different names (right now she’s in this phase of calling me ‘sister’ when she is playing some imagination games- it’s not disrespectful so, whatever) and also uses some of our terms of endearment for us as well. ignoring/referring to the parent in question with the preferred name will probably do the trick.
    otoh, we have a friend who is one of 6 and he and all of siblings call their parents by their first names, and have since childhood. i’ve know this family for 10 years and it still catches me off guard!
    @ kate- can you give me the right pronunciation of ema? i always hear emma in my head, and it irritates me that i’m pretty sure that that is wrong!

  20. A friend of mine who is in his late 30’s still calls his father by his first name. Has never ever called him dad, but he grew up in a household where it was not an issue. He told me that as he was never corrected, it jsut went on and on until it became natural to everyone concerned.

  21. @pnuts mama- its eeeee-mah. people variate(is that a word?) on the spelling, as im sure you’ve noticed.our boys have definitely called us by our first names, but its never stuck for too long. i do remember saying at some point: “mommy is my special name just for you; no one else gets to call me that except for boys.” to drive the point home.

  22. On a somewhat related topic, I was once meeting my mother at a museum exhibit after work. I was wandering around the lobby and bumped into a classmate and I jokingly said “have you seen a woman, gray-ish hair, loafers, answers to the name ‘mom’?”A woman of a certain age overheard me and replied; “Honey, you’ve just described half of this crowd.”
    It’s funny that people complain about this when kids are younger, but my mother stopped responding to “mom!” in public by the time I turned 16. I think it was her way of psychologically moving on.

  23. On a somewhat related topic, I was once meeting my mother at a museum exhibit after work. I was wandering around the lobby and bumped into a classmate and I jokingly said “have you seen a woman, gray-ish hair, loafers, answers to the name ‘mom’?”A woman of a certain age overheard me and replied; “Honey, you’ve just described half of this crowd.”
    It’s funny that people complain about this when kids are younger, but my mother stopped responding to “mom!” in public by the time I turned 16. I think it was her way of psychologically moving on.

  24. On a somewhat related topic, I was once meeting my mother at a museum exhibit after work. I was wandering around the lobby and bumped into a classmate and I jokingly said “have you seen a woman, gray-ish hair, loafers, answers to the name ‘mom’?”A woman of a certain age overheard me and replied; “Honey, you’ve just described half of this crowd.”
    It’s funny that people complain about this when kids are younger, but my mother stopped responding to “mom!” in public by the time I turned 16. I think it was her way of psychologically moving on.

  25. If my kids call me anything else besides “mommy”, I just say, “I like it when you call me Mommy. Will you please call me Mommy instead?”Occasionally I get a ‘why’ type of question, but I just tell them the truth. I say that they are the only ones in the whole world who get to call me that, and the only ones in the whole world who I get to have call me that, and that I like it. So far (3 and 4 1/2) that’s worked.

  26. obabe has the correct sound. Spelling variants include ima and eema.@ Diane: in our community, calling your parents Ema and Abba is *not* at all unusual. Sometimes there are combos of Mommy & Abba, Daddy & Ema, etc. She’s never tried to call my husband anything other than Abba. I think she probably feels more left out on not having a new baby in the family…for which she’s been lobbying for the past six months.

  27. Okay I’ve got a silly question. Has anyone ever asked the child why he/she calls mom or dad by his or her first name? I’m sure you thought of this, I just wanted to mention it as a way to find out what he’s thinking. Did he ever get the impression he was dad’s friend, so he’s begun referring to dad as Tim so he can be closer to him. Just a wild hair thought.I think Moxie’s description of how to handle this and things like whining is dead on. The way she described how *not* to acknowledge the child until he or she uses the name you wish her too or stops whining not only applies to this situation but to all discipline.
    Why do we as parents make things more complicated? Why do we apply our adult way of thinking when dealing with an emotional child or during the correction of misbehavior? I believe it’s entirely accurate to use adult thinking, explanations and large words when there are *no emotions* present. But when there’s misbehavior, tantrums or an emotional reaction to a situation, I suggest responding by dropping into the child’s world and speaking at their level.
    The adult world and how it relates to a child’s world has been my current focus for the last 3 weeks. It has so captured my attention that I removed all the marketing jargon on my website and rewrote things from a “what I wanted and needed when I was a parent” type of perspective. This has made me crazy enough to focus on how to make things easier, not harder as you deal with power issues like this one.
    5 yr olds are in the “bossy” phase. They think that their way of handling things is far better than yours. So they call parents by their first name, try to parent other siblings and things like that. They are trying on different hats. And your reaction to their current hat teaches them about how the world works in your home. Handling things like this needs to be easy and clear for both parent and child. There is no way to put your child on pause during a correction—it needs to be instinctive. Being instinctive comes from changing your mind about the child sees things, hence the idea to ask him where he got the idea to do this.
    Just a thought.

  28. When my little brother was 4, he suddenly began calling my parents by their first names, in a somewhat imperious tone. He also suddenly rejected the nicknamed we’d been calling him and insisted on being called by his birth name, claiming that the nickname was a “baby name”. It seemed to stem from a need to assert his autonomy. My parents didn’t make a big deal out of the name thing, and before long he reverted to mom and dad, though he never went back to the “baby name”.

  29. My husband is a perfect example of an over-reactor for this issue. When the tot (4.5) calls him by his name, or his mother by her name, he corrects her and often lectures her. What-Ever. She knows it bugs him and she does it to get to him.On the flipside, I’ve employed the “ignore” method, and it works for me with one small exception. The tot’s toys call me by name because, as my daughter reasons, I am her mommy, not theirs. I can’t argue that, so I’ve conceded that.

  30. Funny how this can be so infuriating–or at least it was to me. Our 4 yo took to calling us both by our first names (after a brief visit by the grandparents who address us likewise). We viewed it as a bit of a power play on her part (she’s very interested in control), so we either ignored her when she addressed us as “Ellen” or “Craig” or asked her to call us mommy and daddy. It went on for over a month and then disappeared.

  31. Our DD often called and refered to us by our first names from about three YO. Like Anna said above, I think it was modeling. She called us what we called each other. We didn’t make a big deal about it. It seemed to increase when we went on vacation and she was around only us – no other kids calling their parents mommay and daddy. It certainly got some double-takes! She did it off & on for a few years but now pretty much calls us mom / dad – but she refers to us by our first names (as in, when she’s talking to me about her father, she says “Lawrence”, not “daddy”) – which is fine with us. If it’s an attention thing obviously getting upset about it will be counter-productive. A five YO is old enough to be told, calmly, your dad prefers “Dad”, not “Tim”. Ignoring might incite (it would my DD).

  32. @amy, that’s so funny that your daughter’s TOYS call you by your first name! That’s pretty sophisticated reasoning. I wonder if she might have a bright future as a lawyer!

  33. My 3 year old DS does this on occasion but only to his father, my 20mth old has now started copying! It is actually hilarious to hear and my laughter fuels them I am sure! I know my hubby doesn’t particularly care for just as I am sure I wouldn’t either but for now we are ignoring it. You should hear this little Aussie accented kid saying; “Mick”!

  34. My parents were “Imma” and “Daddy.” (“Imma” pronounced “Eeemah.”)In my father’s family, there was a lot of calling people by their first name, without any honorific. I.e., “Irene” instead of “Grandma Irene” for my great-grandmother, “Jane” instead of “Aunt Jane” for my aunt. In my mother’s family, honorifics were very important, and my father even had to call my mother’s parents “Mom” and “Dad,” which he said felt weird to him. (My mother called my father’s parents by their first names, which she said felt weird to her.)

  35. I should say that my parents *are* “Imma” and “Daddy.” Still. Even though all (4) us kids are in their 20s and 30s. I wanted to switch to “Dad” in high school, but my father is such a “Daddy” and not a “Dad” at all.Also, weirdly, perhaps, we used to (all four of us) call my mother “Mommy” because that’s what my father called her (and still refers to her as, but doesn’t call her that way directly), but at some point we switched to Imma. (In case it makes a difference, my Daddy spoke English to us and my Imma spoke Hebrew to us growing up. But Imma referred to my father as “Daddy,” not “Abba.”) I think we may have switched to “Imma” because that’s the name we were taught in school? Or because other kids called their moms that? Not sure, really. It was a long time ago. It definitely wasn’t a top-down decision.

  36. Am I the only person who thinks it’s weirdly punitive to tell your child you won’t answer them unless they call you by the name YOU have decided is appropriate? We have this issue too and it makes us a bit sad, but I can’t imagine actually refusing to respond. It seems really manipulative and overly controlling.

  37. All I know is, I’m about to turn 36 and I still feel weird trying to get my mother’s attention in public by yelling anything other than “Mom!”

  38. @laury, it will really depend on your culture and your feelings. It seems just as not-right to allow a child to hurt *anyone’s* feelings repeatedly without addressing it. By this age, ignoring it is not going to ding their sense of self for most kids – it is just another form of modeling structure of behavior (‘we do respond to these behaviors, we don’t respond to those’), and I presume the parents in question would not do that if their child would be bothered by it (I have one who would totally collapse with that approach, but the other three would be – and have been – fine).I’m also assuming they (as was said) already addressed the reasoning (‘so, why do you do that?’) and the feelings (‘you know it hurts his feelings’), so the next step after the respect and kindness angle is behavioral management to develop a new habit. He’ll KNOW why they’re doing it, it has been expressed already. If it is just a habit, it will change under those conditions. If it isn’t a habit, it may change but come out in another way instead, or may not change, in which case they still have more information than they started with. It may also not be necessary to do more than just tell dad that it is a typical stage and may go away on its own (to manage his feelings).
    A milder version of this would be to answer but in a low-intensity way (not fully engaged) when addressed as Tim, and answer in a fully-engaged ‘you have my complete attention’ manner when addressed as Dad. Same function, less rigid application of the rule, perhaps?

  39. I understand why it would bother a parent to have this happen, but it is also something I have always found to be hilarious. My son (age 3) will call me what my husband calls me (DJ) but I just don’t respond to it. He will also say things like, “Mooom, Isaac is coming home.” But when “Isaac” walks through the door, he says, “DAAAAAD!” He never gets a big reaction out of it, but he does pull it out for attention (as other posters said–it gets attention when the usual name doesn’t). I agree with talking directly to the kid to see if there is a reason, beyond lots of attention.Also, my son’s toys call me “Miss Giant” because I am so big and they are so small. I don’t know where in the world he got that from, but I love it.

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