By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Blanket training is a child training method advocated by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo and popularized by the Duggar family through their TLC show. It has its own Wikipedia page and has its own featured page on the Duggar Family Blog. Parents have adopted this child training method specifically because of the Duggars.
In its simplest form, blanket training consists of 3 actions: (1) place a young child (usually an infant or toddler) on a small blanket, (2) tell that child not to move off the blanket, and (3) strike that child if they move off the blanket. Rinse, repeat.
The training can be more elaborate than this. Some advocates may describe it more gently, poetically, or less fearsome-sounding. Others prefer corporal punishment to be a last resort if a child moves off the blanket. But despite linguistic dress-up, at its core it remains the same: you punish a young, still-developing child for wanting to indulge its natural curiosity and crawl off a blanket.
Blanket training is essentially a specific manifestation of “first-time obedience” training, also popularized by the Ezzos as well as Michael and Debi Pearl. The Pearls use this same technique but instead of a blanket they use an object the infant or toddler will find attractive:
Place an appealing object where they can reach it …. when they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, ‘No, don’t touch that.’ Since they are already familiar with the word ‘No,’ they will likely pause, look at you in wonder, and then turn around grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, No.
While the forms differ, the technique and message is the same: Set up boundaries for the child that impinge of the child’s natural curiosity and development and then punish them for acting on that nature. Ultimately, this technique (and its message) rest upon an idea that children’s nature is hell-bent rather than innocently curious. Voddie Baucham would express this idea by saying children are “vipers in diapers” and thus require significant restraint.
Families that grew up in Bill Gothard’s IBLP or ATI programs are likely familiar with blanket training. Gothard and his cohorts advocated it. A former IBLP attendee remembers Lori Voeller, wife of former ATI President Jim Voeller, teaching blanket training in the following way:
I remember Lori Voeller in her message on blanket training telling us that her child was so “trained” to stay on a blanket that she had been calling the child and she would not dare get off the blanket. The child knew this was a baiting technique. Lori thought this was admirable. I was horrified. I was thinking, “Yeah Lori, what if the house is burning down and your child can’t think for him or herself about getting off of a stupid blanket because they are so fearful of doing the wrong thing.”
Here is another example of what blanket training consists of, from Sarah Rose at Make Something Beautiful, a self-proclaimed advocate of the training:
The first thing you need to do is put the blanket on the floor. You can use a heavier “fleecy” blanket or fold a big blanket to a reasonable size. Both of our girls have been trained to sit on a 2’x3′ blanket. You just want to make sure that the blanket doesn’t move around too much because trust me, your child is going to test the limits anyway and you don’t need the added frustration a thin blanket will cause. Place your child on the blanket with their toy and book, and tell them to stay there. Set your timer (I suggest starting very small…five minutes is a long time, especially for younger babies) and get busy with your busy work.
But watch that baby with at least one eye, because I guarantee that baby is going to find out if you mean what you say. When your baby ventures off the blanket (be it a finger or their entire body), gently remind them that Mommy said to stay on the blanket. Follow up with your preferred method of discipline…I think you know what I mean here…let’s just say that “time out” won’t work in this situation. Your baby will probably cry, and you might want to as well. Just stay the course. Repeat this process until time is up.
Note what Sarah Rose says about the “fruits” of this method:
The boundaries of the blanket have brought us tremendous freedom. We can take her to meetings and expect her to sit quietly.
Rose minces no words here. The best part of this training method is not what it teaches the child but rather that “we can take her to meetings and expect her to sit quietly.” In other words, it trains children to be seen not heard, that old adage which expresses nothing but contempt for children and the beautiful chaos they bring into our lives.
Reb Bradley, another popular child training “expert” in Christian homeschooling circles, advocates a similar method (and with a similar goal, that of children’s silent stillness) in his 1996 book Child Training Tips:
Rather than waiting until Sunday morning and using a church worship service to teach a child to sit still, it is helpful to have them practice at home…Pull up a chair, and have them sit quietly for increasing increments of time. Try 5 minutes the first day, 10 the second, 15 the third, and so on. Chastise them each time they get down without permission. Start when they are toddlers and you will be amazed at what they are capable. This is a very simple means of teaching them first-time obedience (p. 141-2, emphasis added).
Stillness. Silence. Control. Broken will. These are the fruits of such “discipline.” Yet Theologian Janet Pais provides an excellent reminder concerning these fruits in her 1991 book Suffer the Children: A Theology of Liberation by a Victim of Child Abuse:
Adults, often unconsciously, act toward children out of an attitude that the child is a possession properly subject to their control. Because adults have power over children, too often they use it, not for the true good of the child, but just to ‘show who is the boss.’… ‘Christian discipline,’ calmly and calculatedly administered, may abuse the child both physically, in the use of the rod (or ‘spanking’), and emotionally, in humiliating the child, in breaking the child’s will, in forcing submission to the adult’s greater power, and in refusing to accept the child’s natural reactive feelings (rage, anger), while requiring the expression of other supposedly repentant feelings. Such ‘discipline’ manifests adult contempt for the child and resulting overt forms of abuse. A slave too will be submissive after physical and emotional abuse and humiliation…
God creates the child who brings chaos into our lives and into our worship. And Jesus says if we receive the child in his name, we receive him, we receive God the Child incarnate. In fact, doesn’t Jesus himself, God the Child, bring chaos into our lives? We would like for conversion to be nice and neat and under control—our control, that is. But often conversion, faith in Christ, turns our lives upside down… Receiving children in Christ’s name, accepting the chaos, even embracing it, can be a sort of spiritual discipline. It means yielding one’s life to greater necessities than keeping things tidy and rational. It means letting life itself, new life in the child, come first. It means having faith in the child, and in God, the child’s Creator. The child truly does bring God’s truth to us. (p. 10, 43, 146-7)
Welcoming children into our midst should bring the opposite of blanket training’s fruits. Welcoming children means embracing the loud, wild, reveling child. It means understanding, as Joyce Mercer says in her 2005 book Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood, that, “The very idea of associating Christ with the silencing of children appears preposterous to anyone even vaguely familiar with New Testament stories about Jesus’ interactions with children” (p. 2). And we do indeed see, in Matthew 21:14-16, Jesus embracing the reveling children:
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?”
At its core, blanket training is not for children. It is for parents who desire their children’s spirits broken and their voices silenced. It is for parents who have contempt for the essence of what childhood is: noisy, raucous, and a handful. It is for parents who want to quiet the children crying out in the temple.