Sir or Ma'am: An Either/Or Proposition?

At a recent training, we were discussing how to respond if a child asks if another child’s parent is a man or a woman. A colleague from Georgia suggested asking the child why they wanted to know. In some regions of the country, children have been taught to use sir and ma’am to show respect.

My nieces in Texas and Georgia always say Yes, ma’am and No, ma’am.  A close friend grew up in the South, and her daughter called me Miss Kimmie. It always came across as very respectful. Manners are really important to me (ask any of my former students about my selective hearing when the word please wasn’t used). I thought teaching my child to use sir and ma’am was a great idea.

But what happens when someone doesn’t fit into those categories? Trying to force someone into that binary would, in fact, be disrespectful. It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since that first conversation. The best solution I can come up with is to have the child ask the adult how best to address them respectfully. Maybe it’s sir. Maybe it’s ma’am. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, the intent is to honor that person by calling them what they want to be called. And for me, that’s the right thing to do.