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I have the feeling that my one-and-a-half-year-old son often wants to play wildly in the evenings or even have a kind of tussle. However, this almost exclusively follows the pattern that it is initially a kind of tickling and light tossing around, but after a few minutes it turns into violent scratching, nipping and biting on his part. He laughs at first, but the mood quickly changes when I make it clear that it hurts me and that I won't continue playing like this.

My son is very cuddly and very focussed on my wife. She has a much calmer way of playing with him. I'm not at home much on weekdays and of course most of the time with my children consists of watching books or playing quietly. In addition to roughhousing, he also occasionally demands affectionate closeness, although he mainly seeks this from my wife, as he is also breastfed in the evening. I don't see this problem with my two years older daughter, who also seems more calm and prefers things to be less wild.

I realise that children of this age like to test boundaries and are not yet capable of much empathy, but I still wonder whether it is possible to teach the boundaries between friendly roughhousing and actually hurting without overtaxing the child. Or would it be better to avoid playing too rough altogether?

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Some kids just like an evening runaround and some roughhousing! He's possibly getting over excited by the playing which is leading to him scratching/biting. You're right to stop, tell him he hurt you and stop playing. It's an important lesson for him to learn, people won't play with you if you hurt them. And he also shouldn't put up with people hurting him when they play. Tell him beforehand that if he hurts you, the game will stop. Comfort him when he's sad the game has stopped, but remind him of the rules.

You could possibly try and find another activity that satisfies the "wild play" need but with less chance for scratching. For example; climbing up and jumping off a small stool/chair (while holding your hands), a "dance party", get the cushions off the couch and make an obstacle course or have him chase you around the house?

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    Thank you for your answer. The day before yesterday he asked me to chase him in circles in the living room. Whenever I grabbed him he squealed with joy and excitement. When I picked him up after a few rounds of catching him, he clawed my cheeks with both hands so hard that I bled. It was probably really his excitement. When I told him that I wasn't going to play with him like that any more, he just ran the laps himself and occasionally called for me. I hope he leaves this phase behind him soon.
    – Jan_B
    Commented Apr 26 at 6:21
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I'm not a parent quite yet, but I've had related experience with dogs in the past. I used to get home and my family's dog would go wild. I realized she was excited that someone was getting home because most of the family would make a big deal about her when they got home. I started to give her very little attention when I arrived and only show affection once she had calmed down. When I played with her I would play until she started to get too excited, then it had to stop or I found a more gentle way to play. I think that rough housing is a great way to bond with your kids, and if you are careful about stopping or finding ways to slow down when it gets too rough it will help teach your son where the boundary is between acceptable roughness and too rough.

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