It’s not uncommon in Alabama to hear the words “ma’am” or “sir” being uttered by a child still toddling around in diapers. Like “please” or “thank you,” to many Southern parents, saying “ma’am” or “sir” is part of raising your children right, a way to show respect, part of common manners. If it’s not said, some believe, then it reflects badly not only on the child, but the parents, too. And so, I can imagine the shock and dismay that Teretha Wilson must have felt last month, when her 10-year-old son Tamarion was disciplined by his teacher for calling her “ma’am.” His punishment: Having to write the word “ma’am” four times on each line of a piece of notebook paper, front and back. Wilson told the WTVD news station that she first noticed that her son was upset when he came home from North East Carolina Preparatory School. He explained what had happened, showed her his “punishment” and explained that he was required to get a parental signature on his paper. However, Wilson told WTVD that they had taught Tamarion to use “ma’am” or “sir” as a sign of respect when talking to adults. After Tamarion was sent home, his mother met with the teacher and the school’s principal and asked that her son be transferred to a different school, which was granted. When the news first broke about the incident, there was outcry on social media, largely from fellow Southern parents. Surely that teacher was new and not from the South, I thought. Bless her heart. Or perhaps the child may have used the term repeatedly in a way to irritate the teacher after she requested that the boy not use the term. Still, it seems that a little compassion and communication with the parents would have been better than requiring a written punishment for something that, culturally, is seen as a positive behavior. I might get my “Southern card” pulled for this — but unlike many of my friends and fellow moms, I don’t require my children to say “sir” or “ma’am.” They know the words, and know that it’s a polite thing to say. But it’s not something that I institute as mandatory requirement in my own home, especially between my kids to me or my husband, because it’s a level of formality that I wasn’t raised with. Perhaps I don’t teach it because it wasn’t something that was required of me as a child. Blame the fact that my parents aren’t Southern, I guess. But you better bet that I instill “please” and “thank you” with my children. If they ask a question, they better say “may I” and they know they must ask to be excused before leaving the dinner table. The thing is, manners are a part of preparing your children for the world around them. And it should be up to the parents to decide in which way — whether it’s using “ma’am” or “sir” or being taught to say “please” and “thank you.” The child should not be punished for using those signs of respect, but instead praised. It seems as though the teacher needs a few lessons of her own on manners. — Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.