Will Calling Parents Sir or Ma’am Teach Children Respect?

These sorts of questions usually are met with tons of opinion based on what a parent wanted as a child themselves, their current level of control over their own house, and what they think others will think about them establishing this habit. Rarely is it looked at for its own merit.

Calling parents sir or ma’am will most definitely teach children to understand their role as children and not adults, give way to those with more experience, and allow them to understand the roles they will be taking on once their adulthood arrives. That is respect.

This kind of dedication to the betterment of your children’s lives in the future actually takes a bit of courage to implement. In today’s culture of ‘you do you, and I’ll do me’ despises respect and giving deference to those with more experience and position in society.

Populism has some good qualities, but it has ruined the notion that some people have earned position and respect and it should be given to them without question.

What Does Saying Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am Have To Do With Respect?

What we do shows who we are and what we have inside. You can say you are generous person or an honest one, but if you are doing things that go against your claims, no one is gonna buy what you’re selling.

We all say this about politicians. They make promises we know they won’t keep, take credit for things we know they didn’t have anything to do with, and get caught doing things they said they’d never do.

You might say, this is the same thing. If someone is made to say yes sir or yes ma’am then it is just words and not what is on the inside.

You could say that, but it is not the same thing. Making claims about yourself doesn’t mean much without action. The same goes for empty claims about someone else. The difference here is this is showing, not telling.

Yes sir or yes ma’am isn’t making a claim, but giving deference. It is an act more than it is a group of words. They stand as a declaration of status, like a title would rather than a truth claim. Saying those words is akin to an action rather than a declarative statement.

This is how they represent respect. There is a ton of unsaid meaning behind this action. You are giving place, authority, acknowledgement, respect, and dignity. You are not saying, you are doing.

This is the action that is showing what you have or are learning about your place in the world. You are acknowledging someone’s higher status than your own.

Don’t think it is true? The entirety of the 6 branches of our armed forces disagrees. This is exactly why they use this without fail. It is not a statement, it is an action.

Teaching Your Kids Their Place Is An Immediate Cure For A Real Societal Problem

Let’s say you are in a restaurant and the manager comes to the table to see how your food was and if there is anything he can do. He asks you or your spouse and you let him know everything was great.

He then turns to your daughter and asks her if her food was to her liking. She looks up at him and says, “Yes, sir. It was good.”

What did she just give that man? She gave him place. She offered him what he deserved since she is a child with less experience. Even though he is in a service industry and she is a customer, he still deserves his place.

Now, imagine he was a different race, any race. How much more did she just give him? She told him he was equal to anyone else and deserved the same place and respect. That is powerful.

What that does for her is help her act out in a much more meaningful way than any listen and repeat lesson she could hear on race relations, what it means to live together as equals. She learns by doing and ingrains it in her spirit by doing.

You might want to control what words children use to describe what they have learned so that it meets the latest fad in rubrics for tolerance. But I say two words is more than any of that times ten.

Yes sir or yes ma’am. That’ll do.

This doesn’t mean that all that say it will mean it. If they don’t, consequences. It has to be taught every day. Making them follow through with the consequences reminds them of their place.

Try to get a surly teenager to say yes sir to a service industry worker and see what happens. Respect has not been fostered in them. They are not going to say it unless it is laced with sarcasm for all to hear. The sarcasm will show who they are.

Yet, if you teach them to be it when they are young, it will come out real.

Want To Get Unruly Boys To Respect Teachers, Get Them To Say Yes Ma’am

One of the problems with most people’s approaches to discipline is that they don’t understand why kids are pushing the boundaries in the first place.

I will let you in on a secret I learned with the experience of over 20,000 children. They want to know you will push back. They don’t know you are able to protect them and care for them if you don’t.

Here’s the problem with physically strong, iron willed, defiant boys. They don’t think women are strong enough if they are openly defying them. They think this about some men as well, but if they know you are strong they will only do it until they feel the strength as you push back.

This is immediately apparent when grappling (wrestling) with teenage boys. I have always known, you have to squash them the first time or it will take several times before they understand you were holding back.

This is the same way they raise Rottweiler pups. They don’t stick them in with the teenager dogs that are trying to find the hierarchy. They put them in with the much older dogs. They will be gentler, but still won’t take any crap.

They beat up on the pups a bit and something strange happens. When the pups grow up to be as big as the old guys, they don’t mess with them. Why? Because long ago the old guys put them in their place, and they understand their place when they are around.

Strong willed boys are like this. They need to be taught their place. One tool is requiring them to say yes ma’am and no ma’am without fail to remind them who they are and who their teachers and mothers are. The men in their lives should require and back this up.

Dads and other male figures in these boys lives: don’t care if others think you are being overbearing. They can take a hike. This boy is more important than their opinions.

I made all three of my boys say yes sir and yes ma’am with no exceptions until the age 16 years old. My oldest is now in the military. You think it helped him. Yep, his superiors love him, and he has a wife and two kids that hang on his every word. Why? Because he gives respect where it’s due.

He told me the other day, one of his superiors let him in on a secret. He said most don’t get promotions on schedule, picked for assignments, or given good words up the line for one main reason. They talk like gangsters.

How does a gangster talk? Myopic, self centered, and disrespectful. Their own appearance of sounding cool is more important than giving proper due to the person to whom they’re talking.

I will be honest. This was an unruly boy especially in his teen years. He would seriously be in jail in the hands of an ‘I don’t know what to do with him’ family. We put in the work and made him show respect.

What Is A Parent’s Role That Makes Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am Necessary?

Parents are the ones with the keys to the castle. They are the royalty of any family. If they are not treated as such, it is their fault for not setting up boundaries they intended on enforcing. Your kids are not your equals and friends. They are your children, which is so much more important.

Many come to me and ask what to do when their 3 year old says ‘no’ or simply ignores what they say.

My response?

You are the parent. I hope you are smarter, bigger, stronger, and a lot more stubborn than that toddler. You can outsmart them and make them do whatever is best for the situation with simple will and tenacity. You have to be willing to leave the movie, let your food get cold in the restaurant while you take them to the car, and actually take away everything in their room until they earn it back.

If you don’t do this, what are you gonna do when they’re 16 years old and they tell you to go jump off a cliff? You are gonna hate life and it is pretty much too late. They don’t understand respect.

Start by simply requiring yes ma’am and yes sir with the tenacity of a blood hound. Take away when they don’t and give back when they do. They have to know their place.

You are the adult that gives their world stability. If you seem weak, their world becomes insecure. They have to be able to rely on you to save them from themselves.

Here is what a parent’s role is like. I told this to my kids at an early age anytime that they complained about something being theirs.

I would say, “Everything in this house is mine. You own nothing. You are just borrowing it. I will gladly let you use it, but I will take it away in a heartbeat.” That was not all. To make sure they understood their place, I would name things in their room and they would tell me who owned it.

That went for phones, laptops, and game consoles in teen years as well. Those that think ‘nice’ is a virtue won’t like this kind of thing. I wasn’t rude, I did it out of love. When we would go to restaurants, people always, and I mean it got annoying how often, would tell us about how good my kids behaved.

I always said, “It is by design.”

This is the most important job you will ever have. Those kids are not accessories or possessions. They are people that need your effort and many times your last bit of energy. They are pushing to see if you will take up your role, they can trust their world is secure, and they can move out from there.

You have to take up that role and let them know they are safe. Telling them is fine for a surface conversation, but they are watching what you do and usually forget what you say. Show them by taking control. Do it early or pay for it later.

What Is A Mother’s Role

Whether your lot in life has been given to you to work a full time job or stay at home with your kids, your role is still the same. You are the heart of the home. Your kids have to respect your role as their mother. Yes ma’am is giving that respect through words. They are not describing, they are ascribing worth.

Mothers are there to provide the safe haven of accountability and forgiveness right along side of encouragement and support. This is done best by example and never changing the rules and boundaries.

This perspective might sound foreign to some, but this is how a mother’s love works. For example, teen daughters need to come to you when they are guilty, knowing you will not tell them that it is okay that they went too far with their boyfriends.

They need to know you are not going to ease guilt or sweep something under the rug. But they need to know you are the one that will accept their repentance and help them back on the right track. They need your empathy and your counsel. That is a mother’s role.

How are they going to get this if there are grey boundaries and they are allowed to dig themselves into holes only to be told they aren’t really in a hole. Their conscience is eating them alive and they need to actually face it.

The same goes for smaller children. They want to know how to fix the thing they know they did that they shouldn’t have done. Mothers can empathize with their plight, and they need to know they can come to you with anything. You will fix it, even if it means there is a consequence.

Mother’s have unique roles and that role should always be acknowledged. How can it be acknowledged many times a day?

“Yes, ma’am. I took out the trash already.”

Not… *eye roll* “It’s not even full. I’m gonna have to start this whole level over if I stop now.”

Being a dad, I want to get my hands on that kid’s console right now. That brings us to a father’s role.

Why Do Dad’s Need To Hear Yes Sir?

Let me tell a story first and then the rest will make sense.

There was a kid, big for his 9 years, that came to my class with a mother at her wits end. The boy was getting violent towards her and his grandmother and he didn’t have a father in the home. I knew immediately when class started that he thought no one could physically make him do anything.

He was mistaken.

I decided to dive right into this one before he could hurt himself or another kid. I told him to go sit on the other side of the lineup. I knew he would balk, and he did.

I told him to sit out until I told him he could come back and then he said it. “No.”

The look on his face was classic. He was asking with his facial expression, “Are you gonna do something about it.”

You bet I did.

I taught the next half of the class, thirty minutes holding him between my legs in the exact spot I told him to sit. I used to teach this to teen crisis orderlies from a psychiatric hospital not to far from my location.

He wasn’t hurt and I ignored every attempt at pleading, demanding, and threatening. I just held him there until it happened.

He stopped struggling. Then after a few minutes I asked him if he was going to sit there on his own. He nodded and said it, “Yes sir.”

He knew who I was at that moment. He had been yearning to have someone show him his place. That boy never gave me a problem from that moment on. His mother would use my name and even call me when he would forget. I would talk to him and tell him the consequence when he got to class.

That boy needed a father like he needed air. His mother was doing her best, but a father’s role is irreplaceable. I couldn’t be that for him, but I showed him what a man was supposed to be.

Father’s have to not care if their kids like them all the time. Their role is to be the rock. That immovable boulder that the house is built on and will not change. Kid’s need that stability.

When my wife had had enough of the manipulative begging kids try from time to time, she would pull out her go to card.

“Go ask your dad.”

All of my kids at one point have heard this, and a few of them many times. My oldest son one time said, “But he always says no.”

And he was right. I did not care one bit to be the bad guy when my wife needed one. It was an unwritten rule in our house, if they pestered her too much and I knew they had been to her first, I always said no.

I was also the guy who worked out with my oldest son, woke my daughter up every morning sitting on her bed, and chased my twins around like a monster. I know they liked the ‘fun dad’, but they respected the ‘yes sir’ dad.

What Is a Child’s Role That Makes Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am Appropriate?

Children are not the center of a house, but they are intrinsically valuable members of it. They get protection, instruction, and love. They are in turn to give respect, obedience, and effort to become contributing members of society.

This means one of the first things children should be taught in a family is their place and role. They can’t move forward until they understand and accept that they are not the adults or the parents. They are stuck in a loop of uncertainty and misery until they realize they are not equal with the adult members of the group. This is even true with younger and much older siblings, they are not equal.

When I say equal, please don’t make the mistake that many love to jump to in order to gain some sense of superiority. Anyone being honest with what I am saying and has read to this point knows I am not talking about intrinsic worth. I am talking about the authority and standing that the experience that only comes with age and the right education can bring.

There is also the fact that the parents are solely responsible for their very existence. All of this has to be accepted by a child. If we tell a child by word and action that they are equal in standing and at the center of a family, we are doing them a great disservice.

To truly be happy, they have to sit back and learn to be. We as parents show them this as they watch our struggles to stay on the path of good character.

This will show up again in relationships with the opposite sex that are leading to marriage. Each person has to know who they are and their role, be comfortable with it, and know what they have to do to uphold it before they can ever have anything to offer another person. If they are confused about what it means to be an adult, trouble will happen on many fronts.

Take for example those that balk at a child, teen, or college aged student addressing them with ‘yes sir’ or ‘yes ma’am’. What is it that they don’t understand when someone giving them credit for their adult status offends them? They don’t understand the differences in roles that more experienced and older people have from younger less experienced ones.

They balk at being called sir or ma’am, because they are not owning their own roles and don’t like someone pointing it out. This is more than likely subconscious, but there none the less.

Children are to learn, immolate, and absorb so that when it is their turn to be the adults in the room, they actually know what that means. As children, it is not their turn.

The Yes Sir, Yes Ma’am Takeaway…

The first and most important part of this entire issue is to know your role as a parent and help the child to understand theirs. Making it mandatory to say sir or ma’am to you as a parent is a tool that helps them to understand and remember this.

There are many other layers to teaching and enforcing child and parent roles to your kids, but this is a tool that brings up the topic every day. You also have to enforce it every day or they will slip right back as soon as possible. Their friend’s parents aren’t making them do it, so why should they?

This is the core of the problem. These kids are raising each other in our public and even private schools. There are too many kids in one class for the teacher to guide and that guide should be the parents in the first place. Then there is the fact that many parents won’t use a tool like this or many other means at their disposal to teach their kids respect.

None of this means you shouldn’t take your role seriously and combat the problem. Meet it head on and require them to start saying it and address every time they don’t. You can’t pretend you didn’t hear them leave it out. They have to know this is the way it is and by this time next year it will be effortless.

Mathew Booe

Mathew Booe is a father of four, husband to Jackie since 1994, retired international competitor with over 50 wins, an international seminar instructor, a master instructor of hundreds of Little Ninjas each week, and the one bringing you the great content like you just read. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about his upcoming books before they are released to the public.

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