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When non-parents confidently declare how they would parent in XYZ situation (a toddler throwing a tantrum in Target, a child who refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets, a teenager who is perpetually glued to their cell phone), they often don’t realize that the parent they’re smugly judging from afar is parenting not All Children Who Ever Lived, but their one unique, specific child. And that child has their own personality, needs, and temperament.

Understanding your child’s temperament—which they are largely born with—is more than half the battle.

You can already start to see indications of a child’s innate temperament even in infancy. Some babies will cry when they’re hungry; some will scream. Some will be all smiles nearly all the time; others are more serious. Your toddler might be trying to climb every structure of the playground practically before they can even walk; mine was the one who stood on the sidelines for the first half hour, trying to decide whether or not that shit was safe.

Although we can’t change our child’s temperament, per se, understanding it can help us adjust our own expectations and improve our interactions with them.

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