goodManners: You Are Welcome Why it’s just as important for children to learn as “thank you”

When was the last time someone said, “you’re welcome” to you; or the last time you said, “you’re welcome” to someone else?

At times it seems as if the phrase “you’re welcome” has been dropped from the English language.

It’s an interesting phrase whose origins began in the early part of the 20th century. Since that time it has morphed into an American idiom that is casually defined by most dictionaries as a polite formula for responding to “thanks”.

I’ve had parents say to me “I’m just so thrilled when my child remembers to say “thank you”. The idea of teaching them to say, “you’re welcome” is a little much.”

I would agree that teaching and raising polite children can be challenging at times, but teaching your child to say “you’re welcome” is equally as important as “thank you”.

Saying “you’re welcome” should be more than a formula. It should be genuine, expressed with eye contact and delivered in a pleasing tone. Saying the phrase demonstrates respect for the act to which the person is being thanked. It shows appreciation and consideration for others is a “two-way street”. This is a very important and worthwhile concept for children to learn.

Are there worse etiquette faux paus for children than not saying, “you’re welcome”? Clearly there are, but that does not excuse omitting the courtesy of saying “you’re welcome”. A child who says, “you’re welcome” with sincerity appears confident and kind.

Additionally, teaching and gently reminding your child to say, “you’re welcome” is fairly easy.

Children as young as 3 years old can learn to use the phrase appropriately. Children this age love to play games and mimic the world around them. Try exchanging a toy or book so your child can remember the sequence of “magic words” (please, thank you, you’re welcome). For example:

Mom: Jodi, may I please have that book

Child (Jodi): Yes, you may. Here it is.

Mom: Thank you Jodi.

Child (Jodi): You’re welcome. 

You can even try to have fun and exaggerate the “magic words”. Praise your child when she plays the game correctly and encourage her to also use the words in everyday situations. The more children say, “you’re welcome” the more like second nature to them.

Grade-school children and teenagers usually know that the phrase “you’re welcome” exists. So teaching them from scratch isn’t necessary, but subtly reminding them to say “you’re welcome” is the challenge. The following strategies may be helpful: Let them hear you say, “you’re welcome”. Pause with eye contact when you do not hear them say, “you’re welcome”, discuss how nice it was when you mutually observe someone saying “You’re welcome”.

There are other words or phrases in our culture that could be expressed to acknowledge a “thank you” such as, “It was my pleasure” or “You’re quite welcome”. However, making a fuss and exclaiming, “It was nothing” is not appropriate.

Listening to a child say “you’re welcome” is graceful and polite. We live in fast paced times, but don’t let the courteous nicety of saying “you’re welcome” disappear. Encourage your child to say, “you’re welcome” with meaning and pride.