A few playful jabs turns into blood and tears, and before you know it, the game of rough-housing has gone bad. There's a thin line between an amusing game of cat and mouse and unwanted pain. Plenty of warnings are present to tell when the game is going outside of play-fighting and turning abusive. At the first sign of these telltale indicators, stop the game and make the players find something else to occupy their time.
Calling It Quits
Repeated calls to stop playing is usually the first way someone will tell you the game is about to go in the wrong direction. Teach the principle that "stop" means just that, and it is the final say on getting punched around. There's no reason why the word should be screamed repetitively before the contender eases up.
If it's unusual to hear cursing and name-calling when the heat is on, take heed that the game is getting too serious and an argument is likely to ensue. This type of language is likely to ignite more fire in the game and should be monitored for verbal abuse.
When playing causes pain and the victim is crying, it's time to stop. Things have gone too far when crying begins. When other emotions such as complaining and frequent requests to stop are combined with crying, this isn't a laughing matter and the game needs to end.
Bite marks, scratches and bruises are immediate grounds to end all games and are a serious matter. When play-fighting has escalated to physical abuse, it's no longer a game, and actions need to be taken seriously. These signs are a precursor to fighting and deeper physical abuse.
Defending & Fighting Back
When the victim must resort to physical violence to defend himself, all activity should cease and the two play fighters should have a conversation. Both players should be told that the art of play-fighting is recreational and should never involve someone getting hurt. Provide details, and allow each to discuss when play time crossed the line.
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