Back to school can be a frightening time for some children, especially if they've been victims of bullying in the past. Bullying can take a toll on a child as it impacts their self-esteem, their ability to cope and meet the demands of life, experts say.

Dr. Steven Tobias, director of the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown says it's important that everyone take responsibility for stopping bullying in schools. That includes the administration, teachers, victims, bullies, parents and even bystanders.

He says there has to be a clear message in the schools that bullying is not going to be tolerated.

Teaching kids to stand up for themselves

To help a child who is being bullied, Tobias says it's important to reassure the child that if they report the bullying, it's not going to get worse. That's what gives the bullies the biggest control. Kids are afraid that if they say something or if they tattle, it's just going to get worse and nobody is going to do anything about it.

It's important to teach victims of bullying to be assertive in their communication, not only how to confront a bully but also how to ask for help. Kids cannot do it alone, Tobias said.

"We need to teach kids how to stand up for themselves, how to make eye contact and what kinds of things to say to the bully," Tobias said.

One thing Tobias does not recommend is to ignore the bully. He says that is so difficult for most kids to do and it's possible that the bullying would get worse.

Signs of bullying

Some symptoms of bullying that parents should be aware of include avoidance of social situations. A child who is being bullied tends to withdraw and avoid social settings. Look for a change in behavior, a drop in grades, difficulty with school work. Look for signs of depression, changes in eating and sleeping habits, changes in self-esteem. Kids who are victims of bullying tend to be extremely self-critical of their looks and intelligence because bullies like to tear a kid down whenever possible.

How to react

Parents should reassure their child who is being bullied that it's going to be OK. Tobias says make it clear that bullying is against the law and that it will be stopped and it will be taken seriously.

But a parent should not just get involved and call the school right away. Tobias said it's very critical for a parent to ask the child how they want to deal with the situation. Does the child want the parent to go to the school and speak with the guidance counselor? Does the child want to go with the parent and talk together?

"But I would tend to follow the lead here. Whatever the child is most comfortable with, the parents' role is to support the child," he said.

A bully's parents

If your child happens to be the bully, he says the first thing a parent should is find out why. Many times bullies were bullied themselves in the past. Some suffer from low self-esteem and are now looking for power and control over their lives. Once you find out why, then you have to let the child know that this is not be tolerated by the school or the family and consequences have to be set in place.

For witnesses to bullying, Tobias said they need to report it because it can be very hard for the victim to report it. The victim may be afraid, lack the social skills to do it or just withdraw and shy away.

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