Polite Preschoolers: Ages 3-4
This is the prime time for teaching hard-core manners, since children this age love to master new "big kid" skills. But it's still a gradual process that will take many reminders from you.
WHAT TO WORK ON
Following simple table etiquette. By the time she turns 3, your child should be able to eat with utensils. Now is also the time to start enforcing basics: Use your napkin (not your sleeve!), chew with your mouth closed, don't talk with your mouth full, sit up straight, and ask to be excused when you're finished. Focus on one or two behaviors at a time so your child doesn't get overwhelmed, and try to make it fun. Have a "good manners" tea party and use a British accent. And it's okay to let things go sometimes, says June Hines Moore, author of You Can Raise a Well-Mannered Child. "Don't be the manners police, fussing at your children constantly."
Expanding his polite vocabulary. Work with your child to say "may I please." Give him a do-over when he forgets, so he has a chance to correct himself. Also introduce the all-important "excuse me." He should say it after burping or passing gas, as well as when he needs your attention. When he goes to a playdate make sure he knows to thank his host for having him, and to thank friends for coming when they visit your house.
Being kind. This means taking turns, not grabbing, and saying she's sorry if she hurts someone. When a conflict arises, avoid vague reminders like "Be nice." Instead, talk to your child about what to do, so she'll eventually have the words to work things out on her own: "It looks like Ruby isn't done with that doll. Let's talk to Ruby. Ruby, when you're done with the toy, can Ava have a turn?" If your kid needs to apologize, ask her to say what she's sorry for, and talk about what she can do to help -- whether it's giving back a toy or getting her friend a play bandage.