Why I Don’t Want My Children To Say Yes, Ma’am


“That’s when I started thinking, “Will Steven and I need to teach her to reply with yes or no ma’am/ sir?”

Yes ma’am. It’s a response that southerners teach their kids to say. And nothing but that. Even though I grew up in the south, my mother did not force us as children to respond with yes or no ma’am. And here’s why I won’t either.

Last week, my daughter and I were playing in the floor when she handed me a toy. I said, “Thank you.” Little did I know she would repeat me. That’s when I started thinking, “Will Steven and I need to teach her to reply with yes or no ma’am/ sir? As a new parent I never thought about it until now.

As I mentioned before, my mother did not require my sister and I to respond that way. So I decided to ask her why? My mother believed it wasn’t the only way to show respect. Then my mother reminded me of how my father liked to force us to say yes or no sir as a weapon.

If you’ve heard my story then you know I grew up with a physically and verbally abusive father. He never demanded my sister and I to respond with yes or no sir until he was shaking a fist in our faces. It was hard to respond respectfully to a man who is hitting or cussing me out. So for me I have a bad experience with that response.

My husband and I have talked in detail about this topic. He did grow up responding to his parents that way. But we both agree our children can still be respectful with their responses using other words. For example, a simple yes or no. Even a “no, thank you” or “yes, please” can still be respectful.

Is it wrong for parents to teach their kids to say yes or no ma’am/sir? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I do believe there is a time and a place for it. I believe children should know when they need to use it. Especially for elders. However, correcting my child with every response she makes is not something I think is right for our family.

The ironic thing is I respond almost 100 percent of the time with a ma’am or sir. When I worked at McAlsiter’s Deli I had a co-worker who always responded with yes or no ma’am/sir. Even to people like me who were younger. So after hearing it I automatically use this response. So even if I don’t require my daughter or future kids to say this, they may still pick up on it.

“It’s not just about the words you say but the attitude behind them. I can say yes ma’am but still be rude.”

Once again, I’m not an expert on parenting. I’m also NOT saying I’m against parents teaching their kids to respond with yes or no ma’am/sir. I personally don’t want that to be my children’s only response. Especially if they only say it because they have to.

It’s not just about the words you say but the attitude behind them. I can say yes ma’am but still be rude. I want to teach my children there is a way to respect others with your words and attitude. I know Steven and I are just beginning our journey but I really think this will give our daughter a more broad perspective on life and the way she needs to treat others. As her equal, not as those above or below her.

If you come from a similar background like me then this could be a alternative for your family. If you’re a parent who is all about the yes or no ma’am/sir then I say do your thing. Every family does different things which is perfectly okay. I wanted to share my thoughts to maybe help parents decide which route they want to take. Or even have the discussion. Again, it’s one of those things you don’t think about until you’re in the process of it.

Now, I want to hear from you. What did you grow up doing? Are you teaching your kids the same? Do you believe it’s disrespectful to say anything but yes or no ma’am/sir? Leave your comments below. I want to hear from you.


14 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Want My Children To Say Yes, Ma’am

  1. Elizabeth Leigh says:

    Well, you know how I was brought up…same as your husband! And we’re going the “ma’am” and “sir” path with our two. But that being said, I can say from experience that a 6 year old can say “yes ma’am” in such a way that there’s not an ounce of respect in it. Respect is so much more than words- it’s an attitude. And that’s really what we’re hoping to impart to our kids.

  2. Brittany says:

    I think it is respectful to say yes ma’am/no ma’am etc. the fact you had a bad experience is sad but it has nothing to do with those words only your experience! What you teach your child is your business but keep it that way! It seems people are going to have an issue with everything and anything and I don’t think things like using these words is what anyone should focus on! Being a good Godly person and respecting one another and loving one another is what the focus should be! I say yes ma’am etc. as a respectful jester to my peers and always will! Opinions should sometimes just be kept to yourself!

    • Healthylifestylemommy says:

      What I write about and the discussion in the post hurts no one. I did not say my child will never say yes ma’am. Nor did I say I was against it. I think there is a variety of ways to be respectful. That was the whole idea behind my post. My opinion is my opinion. Just like you have yours. And yet I am not bashing you nor telling you to keep your ideas to yourself. If we can’t have respectful discussions without being harassed for our thoughts then aren’t we completely going against the whole idea behind “yes ma’am?”

      Despite your comment I want to thank you for taking the time to read my post. I also appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the matter. That was my intention. To hear from others.



      • Dorean says:

        Heather! Kudos!! THANK YOU for actually showing Ms. Brittany how to respond with respect, grace & mercy for another’s opinion!! You definitely shared Jesus’ Love with your kindness ~ well done good & faithful servant. Keep writing from your 💜!

  3. Shan says:

    I am a yes ma’am/sir person, but certainly believe “yes, please” or “no thank you” is every bit as respectful. Yeah and nope are a big thumbs down. My manners pet peeve is “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome.” (Found your blog through Leigh’s Facebook page.)

  4. Joyce Meyers says:

    I think parents today have bigger fish to fry. What I hear from GRANDPARENTS, those about 10 years older than myself (my children are almost all grown, but not married and no children) is that the little ones come over and totally dismantle the house. “But they don’t know better.” No. Children need boundaries that they learn NOT to touch what is NOT theirs. I have not heard one grandparent say anything about the way the grandchildren address them, but LOADS on these little monsters who given toys to play with, think that grandma’s picture frames are fair game. So, in response, it doesn’t matter if they say ma’am or sir, but parents SHOULD be concerned if they don’t understand boundaries and “No.” When questioned, the grandparents respond, “Well, my children don’t believe in discipline.” Seriously, that was the answer I got.

    • Healthylifestylemommy says:

      You make a great point. Being respectful with our words is important but so is how we treat others. Especially in their home and their property. I’m trying to teach my daughter to not destroy her things so she doesn’t do it at other people’s homes. Thanks for sharing this. Another great topic of conversation.

    • Tess says:

      I think this problem with kids treating everything as theirs comes from spending time in a classroom where everything is public property for them to do with as they wish. Broke a pencil? There’s another one in the jar. Etc. It’s simply a matter of how the children are spending their time.

  5. Christa says:

    I’m from the north. People here mostly just say, “No, thank you,” or “Yes, please.” Getting into a bunch of rules about only one or few exact phrases being polite is just legalism. Politeness, gentleness, kindness, and so on are all in the heart. The word used isn’t all that important to me. Our actions speak louder than words anyway.

    • Healthylifestylemommy says:

      Surprisingly when I wrote this I completely forgot about how different parts of the country responds to yes ma’am. I live in the Midwest so no one uses it here. I’ve had other people talk about how it is considered rude in some cultures. It’s always interesting to hear things like that. Thanks for commenting on my post.

  6. Rachelle Harris says:

    When my 6yo argues instead of obeying, then I pull out the yes ma’am requirement. I get it that ma’am and sir can be harsh reminders of the past abuse. I don’t require it for every response, just when he gets mouthy. Many times he responds with, “I’ll be happy to.” Or, “Sorry, I forgot Mama, but I’ll do it now.” Those are quite respectful responses which I never taught on purpose or require such wording.

    I also have ma’am and sir issues. Some things just stay tied to past abuses and it seems wrong to repeat it, even though it’s not wrong by itself.

    Thank you for this post and opening yourself up.


  7. Alysabeth Colon says:

    I live in Ohio and I use sir/ma’am a lot and I wasn’t even taught it as a child. I do make my 10 year old use it when he is being mouthy or disrespectful to remind him of his manners and attitude. But he amazed me today we had handed out flyers for his snow shoveling business he wanted to start this year to make money to buy toys for his new puppy and things he wants that he knows I cannot really afford to buy him. Well he got his first call tonight from a perspective customer and she asked was she the first caller or had others called yet. He said no your the first but I just want to thank you for calling me. It came out uncoersed and so naturally I was proud of the polite young man he is becoming. Sometimes I think as parents we overthink things if our kids are showing signs that they are catching what we’re teaching then there is no need to be legalistic on terminology used. If you’re kids are being raised with manners and to respect all human beings no matter if they are worthy or not then kudos you’re doing an awesome job! Don’t sweat the small stuff.

    • Healthylifestylemommy says:

      That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing. It sounds like you’re raising an awesome son. It’s amazing how much kids honestly pick up on things. Just when you think they’re not paying attention they surprise you. I wish him the best of luck with his snow shoveling business.

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