As a child nears the age of 4, they can handle rules and restrictions a lot better than before. Preschool Milestone 13 starts around 3 years, 10 months and brings with it a child who can hold many complex variables in their mind and make decisions with them. They can play a more advanced game like a modified (cooperative) version of Clue. They can make the decision of when to cross the road pretty well (though I still recommend supervision). One thing I found, almost by accident, is that if need be, you can ask of them to follow rules and they adhere so much better.
Here is a story from when my daughter was just about to turn 4 years old. I told this story as an example of being willing to sit through difficult emotions (my own):
I was having a real issue going to karate with my kids. There is not enough room for people to sit, let alone with 2 active, small children. Instructors kept asking the children to be quiet. Parents, embarrassed by this, did nasty things to their kids to get them to be quiet. I refuse to be a yeller and was in a pickle. (And I have a real issue with being around parents who are nasty to their child, compounding my emotions in the situation.) I threw my phone at my daughter, who tends to be a screamer, something I really don’t want to do, just to deal with it in the moment. I felt angry that they don’t have a better design to deal with this life problem and questioned if maybe we should withdraw.
I read the rules on their board. It was like … be on time, sit quietly, etc. I was straight up mad, but I accepted that they want a quiet atmosphere. I started to work with my daughter on being quiet. She proudly told me, “Ok! I won’t scream! I’ll be quiiiiiieeeet!” And she did. She stepped up and did. I was shocked. I wondered why I doubted my child so much.
How can this help you? Can you prep a kid before going somewhere about what you expect of them? Perhaps to be quiet at the library? Perhaps to work on something like if a child has a toy, you can’t take it from them? Would it help to work with them, in calm times, about communicating their needs with words instead of whines?
You might also like the idea of having family meetings starting at this age to try to manage behavior, as they can talk about the “rules” that the family abides by and can give their input and also know what their parents want.
My daughter at this age:
See my book Misbehavior is Growth: An Observant Parent’s Guide to the Toddler Years for more highly age-related descriptions, tools, and activities.