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Where did my child's manners go?
Q: My 3-year-old used to say "Yes, Ma'am" all the time, but he will no longer say it. He still says "Thank you" and "You're welcome." What can I do to get him to start saying it again? I want him to be respectful to his elders.
A: Do you think someone possibly laughed at him for saying it, or told him not to say it? I grew up saying “Yes Ma’am” and “No Sir” and was still doing so when I went to college. The woman who supervised student employees in the Dean’s Office, where I worked, took me aside and suggested firmly that “Yes” and “No” would be sufficient. Something about the way she corrected me let me know that what I thought was being polite was actually being “countrified.” I stopped using the more polite versions around her but still used them with my professors and with all the older people in my family.

Frankly, I think it’s a nice custom. It is particularly associated with the South, like the regional “you all,” and not everyone approves of southern speech patterns. But what is important is for your son to talk in a way that fits the values in your family. Try not to make too big an issue of it, but let him know that most older people will really like hearing him say “Ma’am” and “Sir” just as they like hearing “Thank you” and “You’re welcome