What is the Historical and Cultural Context Behind Children Calling Parents by Their First Names?

Kate Chered
4 min readJan 15, 2024

In many cultures, including Russia, children traditionally refer to their parents as 'mom' and 'dad,' signifying deep-rooted familial respect. Historically, these terms have undergone various adaptations, like 'papenka' and 'mamenka' in Russia, embodying affection and reverence. However, recent shifts, partly influenced by Western culture, have seen a growing trend where children address their parents by their first names. This development has sparked concerns among many parents, as it seems to deviate from conventional norms of respect and authority within the family structure.

Linguists explain the traditional use of 'mama' and 'papa' as the first words spoken by children due to the simplicity of the sounds' ma' and 'pa'. These terms are astonishingly similar across various languages, indicating a universal ease of articulation for infants. In Russian and Jewish cultures and societies practicing Islam, addressing parents by their first names is uncommon. 'Mom' and 'dad' are exclusive titles, symbolizing respect and obedience. In contrast, Western cultures, particularly in the United States and Europe, associate first-name addressing with equality and freedom in parent-child relationships. This shift is even reflected in legal terminologies, where terms like 'father' and 'mother' are being replaced with neutral labels like 'parent 1' and 'parent 2'.

Why Do Some Children Call Their Parents by Their First Names and Is It Cause for Concern?

Psychologists highlight that around ages two to three, children begin to mimic the most common forms of address they hear within their family environment. If grandparents, uncles, aunts, or even the other parent refer to a parent by their first name, it's natural for the child to follow suit. This phenomenon does not inherently indicate disrespect or emotional detachment.

In her book "Необычная книга для обычных родителей. Простые ответы на самые част(н)ые вопросы" ("An Unusual Book for Ordinary Parents. Simple Answers to the Most Frequent Questions"), author Anna Milovanova notes that in many families where children address their parents by first names, the relationships remain warm and affectionate. This observation suggests that the form of address may not significantly impact the emotional bond between parent and child.Milovanova encourages parents to introspect whether being addressed by their first name by their children truly bothers them. If it does

not, there might be no underlying problem. This approach highlights the importance of personal comfort and family dynamics over societal norms.

When Should Parents Seek Psychological Help Regarding Their Child's Way of Addressing Them?

While most psychologists see no inherent danger in children calling parents by their first names, there are circumstances where it might warrant professional attention. It's crucial to discern the context and underlying reasons for this behavior.

- **Sudden Change in Addressing**: If a child abruptly shifts from calling their parents' mom' and 'dad' to using first names, it could signal a response to recent family events or emotional upheaval.- **Accompanying Behavioral Changes**: If this address change is accompanied by signs of aggression, withdrawal, or other significant changes in behavior, it might indicate deeper psychological issues.When these signs are evident,Seeking a psychologist's help becomes essential. They can provide valuable insights into whether this behavior is a part of normal development or a reaction to external stimuli, such as family dynamics, peer influence, or media exposure.

How Can Parents Encourage Their Children to Call Them 'Mom' and 'Dad'?

What Psychological Principles Support Parents in Guiding Children's Addressing Habits?

In the realm of child development psychology, the principles of modeling and reinforcement play pivotal roles in shaping a child's behavior. According to Bandura's Social Learning Theory, children learn behaviors by observing and imitating adults, especially their parents. This theory supports the strategy of parents consistently modeling the use of 'mom' and 'dad' in daily interactions. Children will likely adopt these terms as part of their vocabulary by repeatedly hearing them.

Positive reinforcement, a concept central to Skinner's Operant Conditioning, is another effective tool. When parents praise or acknowledge their child for using 'mom' and 'dad', it reinforces this behavior. Positive reinforcement increases the likelihood of the behavior being repeated, as noted in numerous studies on behavioral psychology.

How to Implement These Strategies Effectively in Everyday Family Life?

Implementing these psychological strategies requires thoughtful application within the family setting.

  1. Consistent Modeling: Parents need to use 'mom' and 'dad' when referring to each other in all contexts, whether in conversation with each other or when talking to the child. This consistency helps embed these terms in the child's regular speech patterns.
  2. Positive Reinforcement: This involves acknowledging the child's effort when they use 'mom' and 'dad'. Praise should be immediate and genuine, letting the child know their effort is appreciated. This can be as simple as a smile, a hug, or verbal praise.

For older children, an explanation of the importance of these terms can be beneficial. Discussing why these titles are meaningful in a relaxed and open manner can help children understand the value placed on them.

patience and understanding are crucial. Habits take time to develop, and parents must remember that each child is unique and will adapt at their own pace.

By employing these strategies, parents can gently guide their children towards traditional forms of address, fostering a sense of respect and familial identity in a nurturing, non-coercive way.

Examples of How Celebrity Families Address This