Some parents would rather their children be bullies than get picked on. To some, it seems the latter hurts worst. (Imagine your child constantly coming home with either his body battered and bruised or his ego.) However, there are damaging consequences for a child who repeatedly picks on others. For example, bullies become adults who bully: research concludes that bullies are more likely to steal, fight, and commit a crime by the age 24. Bullying can also be a sign of a much deeper issue, such as school failure or substance abuse. These reasons and more make it necessary for parents to be cautious of bullying behaviors in their children and stop them, even before they start. Read on to find out how.

Identify your child’s insecurities

Anti-bullying programs cite a number of different reasons why children bully. However, in my eight years of teaching, I have observed that students who bully most often are ashamed of themselves. Whether it be their low reading level or dated gym shoes, bullies often prevent people from picking on them by hurting others first. This “fronting” can make a bully seem more secure in their abilities and appearance. Along with many other reasons, reports that “sometimes [bullies] pick on kids because they need a victim…to feel more important, popular, or in control.” With this in mind, notice what your child keeps from his or her peers. Perhaps he is embarrassed by his acne but never talks about it, or maybe your daughter despises her weight and wears baggy clothes. If your child constantly teases others despite his or her own issues, challenge your child to deal with his or her insecurities.

Expose children to the consequences of bullying

Bullies like attention, and sometimes the attention they get from peers while bullying others outweighs the negative consequences they get from their teachers and parents. Therefore, make your child aware of the consequences that far outweigh high-fives or smiles from close friends. For example, as of 2003, at least 15 states hold laws on bullying in schools, and Illinois is one of them. Let your child know that bullying is such a serious offense that lawmakers have created rules for such behavior. Also expose your child to the consequences for victims. A National Association of School Psychologists’ fact sheet on bullying reports that bullying is often a factor in school related deaths. There are several national news stories that you may use to convey how victims of bullies hurt themselves or others. In fact, just last month, a Pennsylvanian teenager’s parents cited bullying as the cause for their child’s suicide. Other national news stories that attribute bullying to student deaths can be found using a search engine such as Google or with help from your local librarian.

Examine your own behavior

Bullying is a learned behavior, so take note of how you treat your child and others. Using insults, a loud voice, and quick smacks to the back of your child’s head can persuade your child to do the same to others. If you have been guilty of such behavior in the past, try calmer ways of interacting with your child. For example, take a few moments to calm down before addressing your child the next time he forgets to wash the dishes or doesn’t complete his homework. Demonstrate socially appropriate ways to interact with others, and your child will be able to pull from them in their future interactions.

Contact a counselor

As stated before, there are many factors that could cause a child to repeatedly hurt others. If your child is aggressive in this way and you need help, contact the counselor, social worker, or director of student services at your child’s school. A school services personnel may invite you and/or your child in for a consultation. Many schools have programs or groups that deal with youth issues, such as anger-management and self-esteem, within the school to help children learn better ways of socializing with their peers. If your child’s school does not have such resources, ask the principal to refer you to a free or affordable agency that can assist you in helping your child.

Finally, remember that your child is not his or her behavior, and believe that your child can become a more assertive, socially responsible child, with your help.

• China Hill is a curriculum writer for KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.