Unfortunately, some of the more historical common solutions for a 2 year old who bites have been things along the more punitive line: a quick slap to the face, biting the offending child in response, spanking, scolding. As we have ‘progressed’ in more recent years “time-out” has been added to that mix. Ostensibly I would say the purpose of one of those choices was probably because the effect was immediate. The thought process behind such punishing measures is that the child would associate the behavior (biting) with an unpleasant consequence and therefore discontinue the practice.
Glasser would say that the child’s misbehavior was due to boredom, frustration, or that his basic needs were not being met. Glasser would stipulate that because a child’s behavior is a direct attempt to meet his/her own basic needs that one of four possibilities was occurring:
1. their sense of belonging was jeopardized
2. their power (I also interpret ‘control’ to fall in this area) or sense of importance is not being valued by others
3. their freedom is threatened
4. they are not having any fun
Because the child’s pleasure is reduced considerably when these basic needs are found wanting, Glasser would say that biting is this child’s way of expressing his/her frustration and attempting to restore balance to his/her world through this behavior. Glasser would suggest that some kind of discussion with this two year old should take place. It would need to be on a very simplistic level for a two year old, but needs to include conversation that would allow the child to express his/her own take on the situation, identify what goals they need to set in this area of behavior and periodically review their progress in this area. The conversation might go something like this:
Mom (M): Do you think that is the way we should treat our friends?
Child (C): No
M: How should we treat our friends?
M: If you get mad, what are you going to do?
At this point it might be necessary to help the child formulate some concrete ideas for behavior responses: M: Maybe you could tell Mommy you’re mad. You could say in a loud voice, “That doesn’t make me happy.” You could fold your arms and turn your back on your friend to show them you’re not happy with them. Any number of suggestions could help the child brainstorm about other solutions or expressions of their emotions. Glasser’s important point here is that the child have input in their behavior choices and get to explore ways to express the emotions in a more productive way. He would suggest they will be more likely to exhibit the desired behavior if they have the chance to set the goals and to identify the ways to achieve them. They will experience greater freedom to achieve those goals if a warm and supportive environment surrounds them in their endeavors.
The advantages to Glasser’s approach is that it is far less punitive and reduces the chance that a parent would react in anger to behavior that is not appropriate. It will have a more lasting effect on the child if they have had the chance to be involved in the solution. Their ‘buy in’ is going to be greater and will give them the steps to handle other difficult challenges in the future that they might encounter. This approach takes greater patience and more creative ways of addressing a difficult situation, and with a two year old may be difficult indeed. A two year old will have a difficult time being able to grasp the concept on any level, but Glasser would say that if we are “providing a stimulating learning environment, encourage . . . , and help them as much as possible”, that we are going to be effective parents and see the desired behavior increase or the undesired behavior decrease.