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Background:

Almost 6 months ago I met a great woman and she has a son, who just recently turned 7. His biological father is out of the picture, and essentially has been for his whole life.

I am 24 and I have no experience with children, other than having been one once.

It is also worth noting that our relationship right now is long-distance and I visit them every third weekend.

Question: I seem to have a number of challenges arising from my lack of "knowing" him, as well as what I'm guessing comes from his expectations on how he'd like to interact with me.

1) Rough Play - I'm not a very strong or physical person, but he seems to like to play-wrestle and I am considerably larger than him. It makes me nervous that I will accidentally hurt him, especially since the playing seems to escalate until basically I tell him to stop. At this point he doesn't stop, and then he gets in trouble for what we were just doing 5 minutes ago. Should I even play this way with him or how do I de-escalate the playing?

2) Attention, possibly jealousy? - Last time I visited I spent nearly the entire weekend playing with him (legos, dinosaurs, etc). Then I try spending one hour with his mom and he can't leave us alone. He doesn't like it when we spend time together without him. One example (which was amusing at the time), is when I'm playing with him, his mother may call for me - to do something or another. He tells me to wait there and goes and does what his mom wanted me to do. I think he believes I'll do whatever she wanted and then I won't come back. Admittedly, it may take me an extra minute so I can give her a smooch, but not more than a minute. At this point it isn't really a problem, but i get the feeling he's developing an expectation that I should spend all my time with him. I've watched some of his movies with him, and occasionally it shows the "perfect dad" (to a kid) and he does everything the kid wants. I'm worried his expectations may come from this.

I'm also wondering if there are other things I'm not even aware of that I should be looking out for, since I am becoming a part of his life and I have no prior experience with children. In particular, things to be aware of since I am coming into his life now (as opposed to when he was born). Any advice is appreciated.

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First off, good for you. As a recently single dad (from divorce), I was glad to see your question and it sounds like you want to be a great part of his life. That's wonderful and I wish the best for you all.

I think your two questions center around one key fact. It sounds like he hasn't really had a father figure in his life. Kids learn so much from parents and from adults. I see how much my kids model their behavior after me.

1) Rough play My kids (both daughter and son) like to have some physical play (trying to ride me like a horse, etc. It's a good way to let off steam and burn some energy. It's tough to set a good boundary. My rule of thumb, both with myself, and my girlfriend, is to say "no, stop, red light" if it hurts or goes over the line. It sounds like you have a good idea here, but he hasn't yet learned the limit. Just be firm that there is a line, and "no means no" and "stop means stop." Kids of all ages take time to learn new rules, and it will probably take time for him to learn this. Your relationship is new, so be patient and firm.

2) Attention seeking I think he's forming an attachment to you, which is a good thing IMHO, particularly if he hasn't had a father figure. I was amazed at how fast my kids formed an attachment to my girlfriend. So on one hand it's a good sign that he wants to spend time with you and he's a bit jealous of you spending time with his mom. Again, what you need to do is set a firm, patient limit. He's 7, right? So you can reason with him. Tell him "hey, I need to spend a bit of time with your mom, I'm visiting her too. I'll be back in X minutes." Then when you come back, say "thanks for being patient. I'm back, let's go play Legos some more."

Being on the dad with soon-to-be-stepmom side, I can understand a lot of what you're going through. Remember that he's new to this whole thing too and be patient. It sounds like you have a great start on a good relationship with him.

There are a ton of great resources on step-parenting and on parenting in general. Some of them are on Parenting.SE too. Talk with his mom. Don't be afraid to ask for help. And be loving and patient.

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Rough play - you can use your superior size / strength to keep the game under control. When he starts to escalate you can do the opposite to rein it in. Always be on the lookout for the sudden attacks / swift kicks and such - the kid doesn't know how much he can hurt someone and he assumes ( on some level) that there is nothing he can do that would actually hurt you.

As an aside - don't try to be a parent. Be a friend. As the 'outsider' you have no authority with this kid and he may see you as an opponent for his mom (on some deep level). If this relationship is important then take the time to get to know the kid and build a rapport. If there is any parenting / disciplining to be done make sure it comes from the mom - but make sure you support her. It's never a good idea to undermine the parent in an effort to get close to the kid. It will backfire on you.

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