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Instilling Southern Manners in Northern Kids

On vacation in the South, our Mom Patch columnist wonders how to get a "yes, ma'am" out of her kids.

Yes ma’am, no sir, excuse me please. I am sitting on the beach with my family and this is how the teenagers are talking to us.  

For years, we have been impressed with how the neighborhood Southern children talk to adults. It seems they always remember to pack their manners on vacation. You never hear them sassing their parents (at least not in public view). When their mamas tell them to do something they say yes ma’am. No rolled eyes, back talk, or my favorite “ok mom, in a minute.” 

My son was asked to put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. It is next to the sink. Come back to cottage four hours later to find the dishes in the sink. What’s the big deal—it’s vacation—he answers. I feel the shrill trying to escape.  

I have repeated this mantra for oh maybe 13 years since you were 5! Where are your manners? Where is my yes ma’am?   

I asked the “Dixie Chick” moms on the beach to reveal their secrets to cultivating manners in their children. They looked at each other and laughed – wooden spoon and fly swatter. 

Is it a cultural thing? Does a Southern drawl automatically ooze gracious hospitality and manners? Think about it, Southern ladies wore those big hoop dresses in the sweltering heat because it was proper. White gloves, cotillions and Rhett Butler. Scarlett I do give a damn and I want my children and the children up North to mind their manners especially around adults. 

Barney the dinosaur was a good role model. He reinforced what we were trying to teach our children. The pleases and the thank yous of life. Somewhere along the path of adolescence good manners became too ol’ school for them.  

I know being called ma’am causes you to turn your head in search of some older adult. If you were in France you wouldn’t blink twice on being called Madame. You would love the fact that you were greeted with bonjour at each shop you entered. International manners! 

Greeting another person is good manners. I cheerfully say good morning to the children in the school carpool. When I am walking the dog and pass another on the street I acknowledge their presence and say hello. Unless you are in a NYC elevator or getting the heebeejeebees why not practice good manners and say hello.   

Years ago one of my son’s friends rang the doorbell. I opened the door. He stood there. I stood there. A standoff. He looked at me and I smiled back. No words were exchanged. Finally I broke the silence. I am going to close the door and when I am going to open it you are going to say hello. I will respond hello. You will ask me if my son is home and I will say yes. Please come in; he downstairs playing video games I hear my children have good manners outside the home.  

Maybe some of the gentle reminders of please, thank you, and pardon me did become part of their automatic vocabulary. I am glad to know my training was not in vain even if I don’t always get to see it in action.  

Time to rally the troops. Moms, if we lead by example and teach our children we can win the manners battle for the North. So please, pardon me while I go clean up the sink full of dishes.   

Sarah Schwarz July 06, 2011 at 10:05 PM
Looking for a fun way to teach your children manners? Check out my award winning game "Blunders." It was featured on the Today Show as Kathie Lee's "favorite thing!" You can visit my Facebook page for more information http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Successful-Kids-Inc/106203996138241 I am also on Twitter @BlunderMania where I offer daily manners tips as well.
Matthew A. Carpenter July 07, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Madame, Excellent points. I think it might also really help if the children see their father being highly respectful of their mother. Manners are absolutely cultural and the home if the first place where culture is formed. I always like to think to myself that I'm (speaking as a father) not raising children I'm raising adults. Au revoir

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