This post is titled “Martin’s Dejection.” It’s more about my elation.
Martin has been going through a biting phase. He has a mild oral fixation; he also grinds his teeth and thrusts his lower jaw forward. In the case of biting, if he finds himself with his mouth open and pressed against flesh, such as when I’ve picked him up and his head is on my shoulder, he exercises the oral fixation by tightening his jaws against what is conveniently before him—flesh. It’s more a crime of opportunity than malicious, or even particularly intentional, biting. Nevertheless, Adrian and I are keen to put a stop to the behavior, ASAP.
When he bites, typically I kneel, stand him before me, hold his face firmly, and say, “No biting. We never bite. Never.” Then I make him repeat, “No biting,” several times, apologize to me, and hug. This method has not been particularly effective, but I’ve been at a loss as to what else to do. The primary problem is that Martin is not yet good at reading faces, or judging the seriousness of a situation, so his reaction is to laugh, to cry from distress, or to look away and exit the situation by doing something cute. (Our RDI therapy is aimed, in part, at helping Martin read faces better.)
This evening I was getting Martin ready for his bath. As I completed one HANDLE exercise, Martin ended up with his face against my neck, and he bit. He was sitting on a changing table, at my eye level, so I left him there and started my usual admonition.
After a few seconds, Adrian emerged from the bathroom, where he’d been preparing the bathtub. He brushed me aside, seized both of Martin’s wrists, lowered his voice and spoke very slowly, enunciating in a manner I’d never heard before: “Martin, look at me. You cannot bite Mommy. You cannot bite anyone.” Martin tried to smile and wiggle away, but Adrian stood his ground, holding Martin’s wrists. I remained behind Adrian, looking over his shoulder, with my arms crossed and wearing the most serious expression I have.
Martin looked from Adrian to me and back again. After several seconds he lost his smile. He stopped trying to free his wrists from Adrian’s grasp. Finally, a pure, unaffected look of dejection crossed his face. He didn’t cry, as he does instinctually against being restrained. Nor did he protest. It was a new look for Martin. In that moment, it appears, Martin understood that he’d done wrong, and he felt bad about it. He seems to have experienced an emotion something like guilt, or sadness.
The moment passed. Martin said quietly, “Sorry, Mommy,” and allowed Adrian to take him to the bath.
His dejection was my elation. We may have turned another corner.