Sir and Ma'am

Updated on June 21, 2010
S.T. asks from Oklahoma City, OK
44 answers

How old are children when they begin saying Sir or Ma'am on their own? I have been correcting my children to say yes sir or ma'am when they address either my husband or myself, but it tends to be when they are in trouble and I say "do you understand" and they say 'yes' and i say 'yes what' and they say 'yes ma'am'. But only when they are being corrected do I make them say it. I would like them to say it out of respect for any adult when they speak to them, but since it is not so common anymore how do i do that? Also do you say it or find it offensive? I am from the south (kind of) and it is a sign of respect here, but i know it is not respectful every where. thanks everyone for your help.

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answers from Jacksonville on

You model to them what you want them to say. For instance, when my 4 yr old ask me for something I say "Yes sir", and remind him to say "Yes maam" to me when I ask/tell him something. Sometimes he remembers, sometimes he forgets, but overall I think he has a sense of "respect" from doing it the time he does remember or is reprimanded for something.

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answers from Myrtle Beach on

People will probably not like my answer, but it is funny you ask, last night, I was getting dinner on the table, and my 3 1/2 year old called me Ma'am, my husband told her not to call me that, we are from up north, and raising her in the south, we do not use sir and ma'am, or miss C. or mr james.... People may think it is disrespectful, but I was brought up calling someone mrs or mr last name, not first name....
It is a matter of opinion, What ever you choose will be the right one!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I agree with the people who said actions speak louder than words. I respect the child who is polite, not the one who uses the right words. Eddie Haskell always said, "Yes ma'am" and "No ma'am".

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answers from Kansas City on

I may catch some heat here, but here it goes.

First of all I completely understand your thoughts and what you are trying to do. I completely agree that kids are not taught to respect their elders these days and it must come from home. And maybe if I was raised "kind of" in the south I'd look at it differently but if I would have said "yes ma'am" to my mom, or my kids to me, it would be with sarcasm.

I also feel that respect is earned and not a right. My father certainly does not have my respect just because he's my father (I don't need any Biblical teachings here, I was raised in the church). I do respect my step-dad because he was/is a good man and a good person.

My kids speak to me and treat me with what I consider "respect" but it was not forced on them. I think a "respectful" household is kind of like religion, it is how you act on a daily basis, not just what you "say" you do.

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answers from Topeka on

I think the key is RESPECT not the words. Depending upon how you say it and the tone of voice you use, "yes ma'am " can be very respectful and correct or can be highly sarcastic. Model the behavior that you want from respectful to them and they will learn to give respect to you and to others.
My husbands family is from Alabama and I can tell you that there is nothing cuter in the whole world than a sweet little 3 year old girl, with that adorable southern accent saying "yes ma'am"!!! Just melts my heart!!!
I would say, don't make too big an issue out of it, just let it come naturally and don't battle over it. And as far as demanding that they say "yes ma'am" when they are in can't demand have to earn it!!! Don't make "yes ma'am" be connected with being in trouble in their minds.

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answers from Miami on

It feels like I wrote this.....
I am going through the same thing with my kids.

I do not like it when people ( family, friends, strangers ) say
oh no honey you don't need to say that to me.
And then of course I speak up and always say YES, they do and they have to.

For me, it is the sound of respect.

If I am with two different kids and I say " are you two having fun "?
And one kid says " yep" and the other one says " yes ma'am " -- I will tell you that I will have more respect for the child that used his manners.

You are doing a great job. Keep up the good work.

= )

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answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter married a man from Arkansas. Their girls are almost 2 and just over 3. They say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" on a regular basis and if they don't they are reminded.

I think its a wonderful thing. Sure beats all the profanity that is so rampant.

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answers from Boston on

I'll pipe up with a perspective from the northeast which I mean in the kindest possible way - I think (my sister agrees with me) that ma'am is almost an insult - something sales people etc use to imply that you are old or being a pain in the butt. Around here anyway. And sir is a bit over the top for this century I think as well, unless you are in the military (which maybe you are - I mean no disrespect). I agree that respect is your overall behavior, not the word you tack on at the end of a sentence. Why isn't "Yes Mom" or "Yes Dad" considered respectful? Or if it's a family friend, yes Mr so & so. My point is I am not sure it's something to instill in them as a knee jerk response to being addressed by an adult because I don' t think it's universally interpreted that way. Just my two cents.

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answers from Kansas City on

Well I do agree that you should be teaching your children good manners and to respect their parents and other people in the community...but, I also agree with Lori K. a little bit here too! I think if you want to teach them to say sir and ma'am because it makes you feel good about manners and treating people well, then that's great. But if you're teaching them to use those words so they'll respect you, I think it's the wrong technique. I think they need to learn to respect you and your rules but adding those words onto an apology, a greeting, or whatever isn't going to change how they feel about you or anyone else. I'm not saying don't do it, I'm just saying make sure you're sending a clear message.

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answers from San Antonio on

It really depends on where you live. I had never heard people saying "sir" or "ma'am" growing up in Wisconsin. I moved to TX and everyone said it. I went back to WI and called a teacher "Ma'am" and you'd have thought I called her "almighty God" by the reaction I got from everyone.

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answers from Portland on

Hello Mama-

I want to thank you for teaching your children manners. I was raised with souther manners in Oregon, and when I was in grade school and would answer "Yes Ma'am" everyone including the teacher would look at me like I was crazy, but even then I felt it was right.

When I would teach manners to my charges (I was a Nanny), I would make it fun, "Did I miss hearing something?" or just wait until they asked properly.

As a child, it helped that my entire family expected me to say "yes ma'am/sir" (you never got away without it!), so I'd also suggest encouraging all adults expect it.

Thanks Again!

R. Magby

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answers from Birmingham on

I am from the South (Alabama) and it is not only a sign of respect but it is also just proper manners. My son is 7 and he says ma'am and sir - he does have to be reminded from time to time - but a good majority of the time he does say it. I have to say that I do not like to hear a child address an adult with just yeah or huh or what, etc. If we teach our children respect for others, they will have respect for themselves and it will take them farther in life. They will be less likely to fall in with the wrong people and do things that they should not do. I have visited the North and out West and people always tell me that they wished more people spoke the way I did because they felt as though they were being treated as a person and not nothing. Good luck and just remember that as a parent everything that you teach them (manners, consequence, discipline, etc.) will only help them with their future - do not teach them these things and it will only harm them.

God bless.

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answers from Tulsa on

I have a 3 1/2 year old daughter. My husband and I are teaching her to say ma'am/sir. I do not find it disrespectful at all. I am originally from Southeast Texas and it was just normal to say it... we would get in trouble if we didn't say it. I find myself still saying it to people who are only a couple of years older than me. I just find it a form of respect. I hate hearing children tell their parents or others "Yeah". I say just keep correcting them until they get it. They eventually will. Just because other children do not say it, doesn't mean your children do not need to. If you feel it is the right thing for you and your family, then go with what your heart tells you.

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answers from Santa Barbara on

I'm on the west coast and we don't use the ma'am and sir, but I love the respect that it shows. I make my son use titles as a sign of respect (Mr. Mrs. Ms. Coach, Dr. , Aunt, Uncle, etc). He is not allowed to call adults by their first name unless they are very close friends of mine.

I would keep it up. Make sure you're using it too. Kids learn through imitation.

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answers from Roanoke on

Good for you for teaching your children manners! That is how I was raised. I am 29 years old and I call everyone sir and ma'am, I have people tell me if makes them feel old but, it was ingrained in us as children and it just comes natural to me now. That is how I want my children to be and I plan on starting young with them. Once they get in the habit, then it will come natural to them. i Think as long you just repeat it to them or if they don't say it, keep saying yes what? like you do. They will pick up on it-also if they hear you saying it! Teaching/leading by example is one of the best ways! I am tip my hat to the other southern belles out there! My step son does not use his manners. His mother hasn't bothered to teach him any and it drives me nuts. I have him say them when he is here but, he doesn't usually remember. I always have to remind him to say please,thank you,sir, ma'am etc. For a while he was doing really well with them but, lately he has seemed to lose them again. He does say thank you on his on most of the time, thank goodness!

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answers from Columbus on

I have never used it for "in trouble" purposes, but my 4 year old son and 3 year old daughter to speak to other adults in that manner. If they need someone's attention it is always "excuse me ma'am and excuse me sir". My son is at the stage of always wanting to interrupt me or daddy when we are talking or on the phone. So, thats how they learned the excuse me part and then when we were learning about boys vs girls they learned that boys are sirs and girls are ma'ams. But sometimes, haha, they accidently call a woman "excuse me MAN" hehe. But they are still learning. Also I coincide with the please and thank yous. So many kids forget about their manners, but I just think it is a constant reminder.

Also, I talk to my children how I would like to be talked to as well (another form of reminder for them). When I want them to do something I make sure I ask them "please go and do this.... thank you!".

Good Luck and I think it is great that you are teaching Manners!

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answers from Chicago on

I started at 2 years and 4 years with my sons. I used it when they were trouble as you said. My youngest needs to be reminded more and my oldest remembers most the time. My youngest says 'please and thank you' more than my oldest. Just be consistent.

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answers from Columbus on

I think it's great to teach and model good manners. Just my opinion, but it's not the words so much that are used but the tone & feeling behind them. You can teach a child to say please, thank you, yes ma'am, sorry, ect. but just saying the words doesn't necessarily mean that you are getting the respect or feelings that you want. And, I wouldn't be offended if someone called me ma'am.

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answers from New York on

I'm in the north . Kids here are not taught to say sir or ma'am and adults don't expect to be called that. I think saying yes, in a respectful voice and doing what you tell them is enough recognition of authority. Sir and Ma'am here are what waiters in a fancy restaurant would call you, a sign of distance, or of subservience, not the closeness of a parent and child. Calling you ma'am and sir doesn't make them respect you more.
That may not be what you are looking for and it may be very important to you to be addressed as ma'am. YOu don't say how old your children are. I never had to teach my kids manners. They were saying please, thank you, etc on their own at two years old, because that is how they heard my husband and me speak. They just picked it up because they heard it all the time. If you use the terms ma'am and sir with your own parents or other elders, your children are likely to pick up the habit more effectively than you reminding them.

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answers from Fort Wayne on

Personally, I don't care for the 'sir' or 'ma'am.' To me, it's way too formal, even military. I was a substitute teacher for a long time after college and I hated it when people called me 'ma'am.' It made me feel like I was about 100 years old. That's just my personal feeling on it though. There are lots of things you can do to teach your kids to show respect.

I think the only way you can really teach them is to model it and make them say it all the time.

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answers from Austin on

I use "yes/no ma'am and yes/no sir" all of the time, Also "thank you, pardon me, excuse me".. So does my husband and daughter.. We do this all of the time WITH EACH other as well as others.

This is how I was raised and my husband was raised. It does not sound formal to us, it just sounds right.

Model it for your children by using it with them also.. Not just demanding it when they are in trouble.

Our daughter was told in a college interview, she was one of the only people to use proper greetings and manners throughout the entire interview. . She was shocked. She actually thanked me for making sure it was just natural to her..

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answers from Denver on

I am from the North East and my husband is from the South and we have discussed this before. In my opinion, you can be completely respectful with or without the Sir or Ma'am. You can be completely disrespectful with or without the Sir or Ma'am. As long as my children have a polite tone when they answer yes or no, that is all that matters to me. I think it may sound respectful because it sounds formal but I think actions speak louder than words and tone even more so. I am not bothered by it either way but it does bother me when my daughters answer "Yes" in a nice way and are corrected for it by my husband because they didn't say "Yes PLEASE" or "Yes SIR" when he asks if they want ice cream (for instance). You know the saying "When in Rome Do as the Romans Do?" Well, since we live in CO and no one says it here I don't think our girls need to be taught to answer that way. If we lived in the South, I guess I would have them say it because it is important to Southerners, even if it is not important to me.

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answers from Denver on

I am with the "model the behavior" and "prompting" crowd. You may NEVER have to stop prompting them - but you won't have to do it 100% of the time.

Though I am from the South, "Sir" and "Ma'am" would be odd where I live now. Still - I can't lett manners slide!

SO - I teach "Yes, please" and "No, thank you." As well as "thank you" and "you're welcome"....(which sadly, Dad and most adults say as "wookum" [sans "you're"] where I live now!)

I try to use these 100% of the time & I prompt my older kids (2 and 6) when they forget.



answers from Wichita on

when my son is old enough i will teach him to say yes sir and yes ma'am ... but not to his father and i.. For some reason it just seems too formal and kind of cold.. ( im not trying to put you down by saying that!) He will use sir and ma'am when speaking to other authority figures though... I agree that it is a sign of respect. big time.



answers from Little Rock on

I'm also a Southerner (Arkansas). I have three kids (ages 9, 7 and 4) and they all answer sir and ma'am. My husband and I both started teaching them to answer that way from the moment they started talking. My son (youngest) has to be reminded more often. When I call his name and if he answers with a "huh", I say ma'am and then he'll say ma'am. The correction is simple and it doesn't have to always be an instance where the child is in trouble. I was also raised that sir and ma'am are signs of respect. I have had individuals ask me not to say it because it makes them feel old. I just politely tell them, it was how I was raised. It's not an age thing.


answers from San Antonio on

I'm from texas and my two year old is learning to also say "yes ma'am" "yes sir" "no ma'am" and "no sir." I think it's GREAT that you are teaching your child manners.


answers from Detroit on

There is not a negative behind you teaching the children manners! that is something we have lost along the way, in the out with the old in with the new day and age, and that is why children are beating up on the parents and cussing out the grandparents! and they have a false sense of intitlement. They need to have a high expectation and who would give them that other than mom and dad the streets? or the friends? no you get that at home and it is sooo not military (it is simply a perent teaching a chld MANNERS) because the child gets love and understanding behind a parent teaching a child manners and not a pay check.

Your children will be better for it, we have also just begun to teach our children to say yes sir and yes maam, we just simply remind them to say it and we also respond to them with yes maam, so that they will understand it is not just about respecting your parents but it is about having respect for yourself. They have caught on very quickly and they also stand out from the children in our Detroit neighbor when they are responding to us with yes sir and maam but it is what it is and that is good manners! something we are sooo lacking in this day.


answers from Chicago on

I think you will always be prompting them to say Sir and Ma'am. I too am from the south and saying Sir and Ma'am was a way of life.
It is also a way of life for my children even though we no longer live in the south.
My son is 7 and my daughter is 6 I always have to prompt them to say it but I belive that just like me, my sister, my cousins, my own mother and so on saying Sir and Ma'am will become second nature.
I will correct them to say yes ma'am even when they are not in trouble, they hear me say it to my mother and they hear my mother say it as well.
Keep up the good manners not enough children have them!
Way to go mom!



answers from Anniston on

I was raised in Alabama and still live here so hearing kids use their manners when addressing adults is a way of life. But here lately you do not hear kids using any type of manners...I can not stand for a kid to bump in to you or knock something over and never say sorry, excuse me...please and thank. Manners are very important in our family everyone is suppose to use them. The "yes/no mam & sir" is something we are teaching our daughter who is 4. We started as soon as she could talk and understand language. It also helps that her daycare wants them to use it also. The best way is just to keep correcting/reminding them (if she says yes I will then say yes mam etc). It made me feel good when we were in TN on vacation and she said yes sir, thank you and please to the man behind the register. He was so impressed and thanked her for being so kind. That made her and myself both feel good. I am glad that someone recognized the effort we take to be polite. If it is not normal where you live then fine but if you are around my family we will be using our manners. Practice makes perfect just keep using it yourself and reminding and it will become normal in conversation soon. God Bless!


answers from Detroit on

I don't think you are being "too southern"! It's to bad other ppl are not teaching their children that. I know that times have changed but it seems as though as the times change the lack of respect that some ppl teach their children has gone down the drain. So i say keep up the good work. heck night even start teaching mine that.


answers from Los Angeles on

we teach our kids to say that. They are 3 and 5. My husband always says it too. If for some reason they don't say it, then they say Ms. or Mr. and then their name



answers from Saginaw on

My oldest daughter will answer yes ma'am to me when I yell at her and for some reason I absolutly hate it! I really dont know why it bugs me, it just does! I agree that you can be respectful with or without ma'am and sir, it all depends on the tone the child uses. But they are your kids so if you want them to say ma'am and sir then they should be! It would proly be more helpful if all the major adults in their lives also expected them to use sir and ma'am to make things more consistant for them. Good luck!



answers from Hartford on

I know down south it is deff. respectful, so when I do go there I dont mind, but in CT we say it makes us feel old. LOL. but it is often said here for respect too.


answers from Savannah on

I think its odd, they're not in the military for crying out loud. Children can be respectful without saluting every adult they come in contact with.



answers from Baton Rouge on

These are values that all children should be taught and at home.

I have to say all parents that do so will find that the children will well educated etc.

You read in the paper the problems of the schools, and they asks and do research on this by studying the students and the teachers.

How many of you have seen where they check on the guardians. Yes guardians as in todays world one never know who, or if any one is in charge at home!!!

God BLess



answers from Birmingham on

One thing that I'm not sure if anyone else has said mentioned (I see you have a TON of replies), is using it yourself. My daughter is 5 now, and she is getting a little better at using it regularly. When she calls me, I respond, "Yes ma'am?" Or when she asks me if she can do something, my response is, "No ma'am. Not right now, but in a few minutes." The more the children hear it, the more they will be used to using. it. By the way, the part you put about your "yes what?" response - I feel like I use that 100 times a day. Don't worry, they'll get eventually. Keep at it!


answers from Dallas on

Most of my friends require their children to say it but I don't. Sounds like military stuff to me. I think "yes" is fine and allowed as an answer.
I think that requiring them to say it only during correction tempers the "I'm the boss and your not" theme. Ugly to me. On another note I do use the terms "Sir and Ma'am when speaking with someone that is serving me (Check out person, waiter/waitress, drive thru etc....) out of respect and a sign of humility. I also make every effort to say thank you, please and your welcome and find that they are following my lead. Example is the best way to teach you children respect.
Best Regards,



answers from Seattle on

It's definitely regional. Here in the NW you only find ma'am & sir used in the country. We travel a lot, so we teach our kiddo to follow local customs. AKA ma'am & sir where appropriate; san (adult) & chan (child) where appropriate, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Miss, & Master where appropriate, titles where appropriate (in this country the only real title that gets used regularly is President ___whoever____ and that "President" gets used regardless of whether we love, hate, or are ambivalent towards who is in office... NEVER just their last name. ((Because it's respect for the office, not who holds it)). But in other countries one DOES find Lord, Lady, Grace, HRH, etc. being used... as well)).



answers from Sacramento on

I think you can do it the same way you teach kids to say anything... by modeling it. My son does not use sir and ma'am in conversation, but he doe TaeKwonDo and it is required there. They don't make a big deal about coming down on kids or anything they just model it before the kid has a chance to say anything else. I've seen little ones on their first day pick it up.

For example: "Sammy time to clean up your room. Yes, ma'am?" "Kate, I'm making root beer floats, would you like one? Yes ma'am?" If they don't respond appropriately, just repeat the model... Sam: "Okay" Mom: "Yes, ma'am?" Sam: "yes, ma'am." Mom: "Great. Thank you, Sam."




answers from Atlanta on

My girls are 3 and 5. We also have a son who is one (so of course not talking yet). We have always encouraged them to use sir and ma'am since they were talking. When I call them, they answer, "Ma'am?" not "WHAT?!?!?" or "Huh?!?!" I am still reminding them...not sure when it kicks in totally on its own! I think it is respectful. The main thing that I have done is to talk the talk myself. When they call me, I answer, "Ma'am?" or when they ask me a question I say yes, ma'am or no, ma'am. The sir thing has been harder--for awhile, everyone was a ma'am! :)



answers from Charlotte on

Thank you, Lori, for your post. I agree with her wholeheartedly. I'm a southerner, and I started out teaching my children to say sir and ma'am. But I came to the realization pretty early on what Lori is talking about.

I doubt that your kids will really say sir or ma'am on their own without you constantly badgering them about it, because it's not all that usual anymore in the south, and they won't hear other kids saying it to adults. It really isn't used anywhere else in the US either. I've heard it overseas, but from domestics talking to their employers.



answers from Los Angeles on

Im in with the new and out with the old, my opinion is that your children will do it on their own, dont make them afraid of u both, yes of course ur from the south, people there are really respectful and old traditions (some).. Talk to them face to face and tell them that they need to respect their elders!!! One question, y would u want to be called ma'am or sir? Doesnt it make u feel old?



answers from Fayetteville on

I am from the south as well and manners are very important. We taught my son to use manners as soon as he could speak and we speak to him the way we want him to speak to others. So if he is asked to do something it is followed by a please. He has been saying yes ma'am etc since he could talk. Of course, at first it was prompted. He turned 6 last week and he has no problem answering yes ma'am or no sir when asked a question. He is also allowed to answer with yes, please instead of ma'am. It is easy to do and if they know it is just another thing expected of them it will become a habit as well.


answers from Kansas City on

my husband's family is from the south and we have asked my son to say it from the beginning...he is 3 1/2 and still doesn't do it on his own. i have to say we are probably not as consistent with it as we could be, but at least it is on his radar as a form of respect. i hope that as he gets older he will know to use it in the right situations (i.e. with southern family!)

i have absolutely no qualms teaching my son this, i don't see it as any different than saying "thank you" or "please". the ONLY difference is that it is not a globally expected form of manners - some societies don't expect it and aren't used to it. there is zero harm in teaching one more tool for your child to show respect for someone. it's not "demanding" respect, it's giving your child a tool, like i said, another form of letting someone know that you respect them. my son does respect his elders though, and uses all his other manners quite well, so maybe that's the difference. i suppose if my children didn't actually respect me and i was trying to "force" them to say sir and ma'am and convince myself that it means they respect me, then maybe i can see the issue. but i don't think that is what you're doing, and i know it's not what i'm doing.

i have family in the north and south, and as an adult, i use ma'am and sir sometimes (i admit as a strong-minded female i am much more likely to use ma'am, saying "sir" to a man as an adult woman does feel a bit submissive to me). it's all about knowing your audience. but like i said, when my son goes visiting down south, he will know how to use sir and ma'am correctly, and he'll hear it down there (in their neck of the woods it is still used quite often) and he won't feel wierd joining in and using it too. i don't see how that can be a bad thing......

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