Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 26-year-old married mother-to-be. Lately, I have been increasingly frustrated with children calling adults by their first name. I am not talking about adults to whom the children are closely related; I am talking about neighbors, friends, parents, etc. I have recently been introduced to the children of several acquaintances and neighbors by my first name. I realize that I am not elderly, but I AM an adult.

I was always taught to respect my elders and to refer to them as "Mr.," "Mrs." or "Miss" unless invited to do otherwise. It is not the children's fault -- it is the adults who allow them to do this.

I plan on raising my children to follow this rule of thumb: If you're not sure what a person prefers to be called, ASK! Some adults don't mind young children calling them by their first names, but have we become so informal that everyone is now a Tom or a Nancy? How do I get around this without sounding like a stick-in-the-mud? -- OLD-FASHIONED IN READING, PA.

DEAR OLD-FASHIONED: You are correct in your statement that your dilemma is caused by the thoughtlessness on the part of the parents, who should ask you, before the introductions are made, how you would like the children to address you.

Deal with this by making your wishes known in a friendly way. When a parent introduces you as "Nancy," say with a smile, "When Jimmy and Janie are 21, they may call me Nancy. But for now, I'd prefer to be called Mrs. Smith." And then direct a friendly comment (or question) to the child.

DEAR ABBY: I am writing this letter to warn parents how easily kids can get into things when you least expect it. My niece (I'll call her Karen) and her 1-year-old daughter, "Kimberly," were at home. Karen was in the kitchen and Kimberly was in the bedroom.

Karen became concerned because she couldn't hear what Kimberly was doing. When she checked on her, Karen found that the child had gotten hold of her purse and had the strap wrapped around her neck. Kimberly's lips were turning blue and she was very pale. Karen unwrapped the purse strap from around the child's neck and attended to her. Karen was terrified, but thankful that she had checked on Kimberly when she did.

It's amazing, Abby. My niece and her husband had baby-proofed the electrical outlets, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and even put doorknob covers on doors they didn't want Kimberly to open. Now, after that frightening afternoon, Karen also makes sure she puts her purse, diaper bag or anything else with straps out of reach. -- AN AUNT IN DENVER WHO CARES

DEAR AUNT WHO CARES: Thank you for the warning. I'm sharing it with my readers, along with the reminder that drapery cords and those for venetian blinds can also be very dangerous for toddlers and small children, and should be kept out of reach of tiny hands.

DEAR ABBY: I need to know the proper thing to do with my wedding rings. My husband and I have been married for 12 years, and are now divorcing. He is 85 and I am 73. This is his third marriage and my second. My first husband died after 38 years of marriage.

My husband purchased the rings for his first wife, gave the same ones to his second wife, and then to me. He has now asked me to return them. I really don't feel like giving them back, but I want to do the right thing. This is a mutual, friendly separation, and we are planning to visit each other after he moves out of state. Will you please tell me the proper way to handle this? -- ELOISE IN ASHEVILLE, N.C.

DEAR ELOISE: Since the rings were originally purchased for his first wife, be a lady and return them to your about-to-be-ex-husband. However, I wouldn't blame you if, as a condition, you request that he replace them with a lovely cocktail ring.

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600