Blanket Training is About Adults, Not Children

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.

52 comments

  • Well, yeah. Children gain little from being 100% obedient all the time. If anything, that kind of thing can be harmful, especially if they never break out of it.

  • And they wonder why their grown children flee from Christianity as if from a coiled snake.

    Because blanket training is so horrific, something else that is sometimes called blanket training has been tainted by association. It works like this:

    1. Put blanket down.
    2. Put toys baby likes on blanket. If possible, maintain a small collection of special blanket toys.
    3. Allow baby to investigate toys, blanket, and environment at edges of blanket. If baby moves off blanket, get off your butt and move baby gently back onto blanket.

    It doesn’t work quite as well as terrifying your children into sitting still like little mice watching a snake, but it works well enough to let two moms hold a conversation at the park. I called it “blanket training” in all innocence once; the reaction I got was one of the things that prompted me to learn more about the Pearls and their ilk.

    • This was a premise in B F Skinner’s Walden Two as a way to create a predictable society by conditioning infants for their place in society. Skinner’s book was dystopic view of humanity and never meant to be a guideline.

  • I was raised on this. I know the Ezzos personally and was once a poster child at many of their conferences. It’s taken me years to realize just how controlling and messed up this stuff is. I knew in high school that being around my parents made me suicidal. It’s taken me years to be able to understand and articulate how it was the extreme level of spirit-crushing control that affected me so much. It horrifies me that my mom still does this with my nieces and nephews when she babysits them.

    • Thank you for giving your testimony. I’m sorry you have that testimony to give.

    • I hope you don’t leave your children alone with mom when or if you have them. Thanks for letting us know how true it is.

      • Well..I’m gay. And while my parents may be trying to figure out how to still have a relationship with me as I follow my heart, they definitely do not accept me. So there are about a million and one reasons why I won’t be leaving any future kids with my parents.

    • Before all the hifalutin books that gilded child abuse with sciency respectability, there was plain ole mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, “children are property” fundamentalism. Note that I said before. It still lives today and in some circles, thrives. When your ultimate guide for morality is supernatural, you have an unlimited supply of de facto get-out-of-jail-free cards.

    • Kim-L, is there any way you can get the authorities involved enough to stop your parents from repeating such abuses with their grandchildren/your nieces and nephews at all ? If you can succeed in stopping your parents, please update everyone.

  • My god this is sick

  • I just want to pick up and hold every baby who has been ‘blanket trained’. It is horrible. I read this book: Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child By: John Gottman, Joan DeClaire and thought it may be something helpful for all those who are home-schooled in this damaging way to read.

    I have been looking at this website because my brother and sister-in-law are ‘home-schooling’ mainly, as far as I can work out, in an attempt to keep the children from ‘outside influences’. Their oldest child recently left (escaped) and has a tale to tell I find very upsetting. While she has definitely suffered emotional (and educational) neglect, there is no evidence of abuse that would fall within child-protection services (in Australia). The family has been homeschooling outside the regulations (governance varies greatly here from state to state). The best I have been able to do so far is to get the authorities to insist that they fill in the forms and apply for registration in the state where they reside. I feel they will soon move to a state with much slacker rules. So hard to know what to do to get the best outcome for my nieces and nephews.

  • This is how dogs are trained, minus the smacking.

    • Even with dogs, you don’t put them in a stay, then call them to come, only to punish them for obeying you.

    • It’s how I train my dog to “stay” except for the smacking and that I set my dog up to succeed rather than fail. Put the dog in a sit. Tell her to stay. Move 6 inches away. If dog stays for split second, quickly return and give treats and pets and praise.

      If dog moves, say “uh-oh,” gently guide dog back to place, ask for sit, say “stay,” and move only 1/2 an inch away and quickly move back.

      Praise dog. Give dog treats. Pet dog. Make dog feel happy and loved and proud of itself. Yeah…sort of the opposite of “blanketing”.

  • Asspunch McGillicutty

    I knew Christians were typically pretty OK with child abuse but this shit goes too far. A double barrel is too good for this type of scum.

    • Your comment is heart-wrenching. I’m sad that your experience has led you to this conclusion. Christians are pretty much NOT ok with abuse. Any “Christians” who are ok with abuse are practicing something else. They might call it Christianity, they may think it’s Christianity, their views might share commonalities with Christianity, but abuse has no place for true followers of Christ.

      • The No True Scotsman fallacy. Used more recently to say Not MY Islam (or Christianity or Faith or Police or whatEVER).
        It’s STILL 100% BOGUS and can never be anything else. The speaker is claiming to be the standard bearer – apparently embued with superpowers of discernment (which YOU, obviously, lack).
        As said elsewhere, it’s a juvenile position unworthy of being taken seriously in a developed culture. Not that they’ll stop trying. A cornered rat will fight to the death.

      • WILL404, I wasn’t aware my expression of disappointment and explanation of the basics of Christianity would be considered debate, subject to judgment for fallacious reasoning. If you’re looking for fallacies to root out, take a look at the post to which I was responding, where we can see confusion of correlation and causation, composition fallacy, confirmation bias, or bandwagon fallacy. Will you be condescendingly commenting on his or her position as well?
        I’m not interested in debate, but let’s clear this up. I intended not to persuade, but inform the commenter his statement is false. I’m not ok with abuse, and my Christian friends and family are not ok with abuse, and we find abuse at odds with our faith. I don’t claim to be the standard bearer — individual Christian denominations have condemned violence and abuse in public, official proclamations.

  • Discipline is intended to teach a child the consequences of misbehavior. These parents deliberately BAIT their child to misbehave. They assume the child is “bad” just for being a child.

    • HH, you are right about baiting the child to misbehave. Pretty much the opposite of training as practiced by the majority of dog trainers. In dog training, the main concept is to set your dog up for success–not failure. It’s a crying shame that these supposedly “good Christian” people treat their children worse than many, many people treat their animals. My dogs have several obedience and performance titles and not one of them has ever been beaten or slapped or spanked or any other type of physical punishment. Same with my husband and his horses. We do not hit animals–yet others insist on hitting their children. I just don’t get it.

  • “Place an appealing object where they can reach it ….” This is how my father was trained. He was born in 1907. He used his watch for us.
    I don’t know how you can say you love a child and then treat them that way. I never even spanked my child and I took him every where with me.

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  • I’m a secular homeschooling mom who was raised by a Fundamental Christian family with this method. I was abused by one parent while my other parent and the Christian community looked the other way.

    I am horrified to read about this in relation to homeschooling, as a parent that homeschools. I was not homeschooled and was abused! I think partially my personal neglect and abuse is why I am homeschooling my family, to give them the best. Teachers, clergy, and extended family did nothing but stand by my abuse and neglect from my parents! Religion is often used as a smokescreen! I’ll bet you Rachel was definitely abused and to cope developed a personality disorder and identified/assimilated with her abused Black siblings, other victims of her parents.

    I’m presently in a large group of homeschooling families and find that most of the parents in this group, including myself, to be former k-12 teachers, school psychologists, college professors. and non-profit lawyers! Because I worked in public education and the private college sector, for 15 years, in many varied demographic areas of the United States, in my personal experience, sadly, I observed many of the children I worked with to neglected and/or abused, pushed to excel, ignored. I believe maybe 25 percent of the kids with whom I personally worked with and observed from kindergarten through undergrad college students were from genuine loving families.

    Child abuse, it’s rampant. It’s why our society is so sick now, is my belief. Why have kids? Is it for your ego and because everyone is doing it? Prestige? Welfare checks?

    I’ve worked with poor inner city students and über weathy students. Still, I find 1/4 or so to be truly loved or treated with respect by parents. My goodness, take a look at the highest ranking high school in California with some if the wealthiest students in the country and the unbelievably high suicide rates! Public school kids are bullied so badly. I believe the bullying is directly taught by families first and then reinforced by peers and ignored by over-burdened teachers.

    When I was a teacher I had a strict no bullying policy that included a safe room for kids at recess and mediation for the bully and the victims. This was my own implementation. When I left, the bullying became such a problem that the principal ultimately resigned and told me the climate changed after the no bullying room was taken away and not another teacher would take over. The bullying starts in the home, again, this is parents fault!

    I do not want my kids in public school, even though I live in one of the nicest public school districts in the nation. If I have to pay $70 k a year for a good private school, I’d rather do or myself, high-quality personalized classes and hobbies for my children, and spend quality education and recreation time with my family!

    After reading your blog, I do think that homeschooling parents should have to check in though with authorities, maybe have them make home visits? However, in my years of homeschooling, I would say 100 percent of the hundreds of families I know truly love and have best interest for individual growth and happiness of their children as opposed to the 20-25 percent of the children and young adults I saw in the public sector. And that’s just sad.

    I’m truly sorry you had a hard life and horrible parents. Join the club of many of us! If I could fix the broken American school system, lousy parenting, I would, but it’s too big for me to fight, and I’m taking care of my own family, first.

    I respect your blog and thank you for taking me out of my Utopian view of my homeschooling life and our well adjusted kids. I’m apparently living in a unusual homeschooling climate, although not perfect! It makes me extremely upset to read about the abused homeschoolers.

    There is a new amazing documentary film called “Class Dismissed” about homeschooling. I suggest you watch it!

    Big hugs to you!

    • Thanks for the note, WW. I haven’t had time to watch “Class Dismissed” yet but it’s on my to-watch list.

      Also, just to be clear: I myself had a positive homeschooling experience, my parents are not horrible, and my parents and I have a healthy relationship (though we’ve certainly had our ups and downs as any parent/child relationship goes).

    • It is nice to see some positive feedback about home schooling. I have two grandnieces that are and have successfully home schooled their children. Thank you so much! Those that prefer home schooling needs that support.

  • I also want to note, although I’m
    Secular, I do believe Christ had good tenants and was an example to follow, however, many of his followers are the ones I do not like! The dogma kills it for me. If indeed humans could be more Christ-like, we wouldn’t have a need for this blog! I do respect my friends who are truly CHRISTian.

    • Thank you for this. One of the most damaging things to Christianity is using its name to disguise evil. I appreciate your knowledge that Christians who strive to be Christlike are the ones ‘doing it right.’

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  • The way this was used in my circles was to have a bag of favorite toys and a special mat…so yes, it was to make certain situations easier for the parents…But the toddler was taught to play with favorite toys for 30 minutes to 1 hour once a week without getting into things. The boys all had cars and mats with roads. And yes, there were a few times of punishment required, but a lot more putting the kid back on the mat than anything else.

    After a brief period, my toddler learned the expectation and was actually quite content to play on a mat. Stifling freedom and curiosity is funny b/c that was available for 99% of the time. Contently playing on a mat is much better than the child who is fighting the parent to get down and get into things and having to be physically restrained for their safety or to protect the property of others (grandma’s breakables for example). Cruel and overly strict parents may do it different, but the method can be a good one that gives the child freedom to play in an environment where they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

    • Oddly, repeated applications of “No!” and removal from the area seems to have reliably taught my kids (All approaching adulthood) that the musical instruments, power tools, knives and guns (only out under supervision) were not toys for them to play with.

      The positive reinforcement is to allow them supervised access to the beautiful and intriguing items when they ask, and it is not inconvenient to the adults to do so (not while cooking dinner, for example).

      They come to understand that the valuables and dangerous things are for adults, but if they follow the rules, they can do adult things more and more as they get older. And they learn to treat the things, and by extension, other things and people, as valuable and worthy of care. My daughter now plays 7 instruments, from guitar to harp, and has thousands of dollars worth she mostly bought herself, and maintains carefully. She outshoots most soldiers (we are both veterans).

      The new 1 year old in the house has learned that a restaurant visit consists of a short wait with people, TV and fish tanks, etc, a sitting and adjustment, a small amount of tea or ice water, some nibbles of appetizer, some real food, another brief wait, and a ride home. She enjoys this and doesn’t cause trouble.

      They are small people with little experience, and crave knowledge and experience so they can be like the big people. Give it to them in controlled doses without demand and they’ll develop naturally. Overwhelm or deny them and you’ll create problems.

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  • This reminds me of the Cult I was raised in, the one that goes “knock,knock” on your door every Saturday morning. I remember a couple in our Congregation saying that they had their little kids practice sitting still on the sofa for 20 mins or so, so they would sit still at the meeting, absolutely sickening !!

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  • So do people who feel it is inappropriate to train their child to sit still, feel it is inappropriate to train them to wear clothes? In each case the child is taught to deny their natural desire in able to better integrate with society.

    • I feel it is inappropriate to use the word “train” in the context of children. They are not animals, they are human beings. We teach them how to be humans. I teach my children in which context it is appropriate to wearing clothing. I do not set them up to fail then smack them when they don’t learn on my time frame. You really cannot compare blanket training with teaching a child when and where to wear clothing. They are not the same things at all.

      It is also ridiculous to assume that people who believe blanket training is developmentally inappropriate and disrespectful must therefore also believe that teaching children anything is wrong.

    • Is this a joke? Wearing clothes is not against our nature, we have a whole reflex developed just for that, since it is necessary for our survival.
      How is getting baited to act a certain way, then getting beaten for doing as expected, a way to “better integrate into society”?
      It is actually insanity.

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  • Maureen F Anderson

    The concept is interesting, however no one has said that all children are the same. My older child happily sat in his playpen playing with toys and later books. He had no problem entertaining himself. He also was an outgoing little boy and new situations did not face him. My younger child was so different. He really did not /could not entertain himself and playpen time consisted of a lot of tears. He also wanted me in his sight all the time. He was shy and very awkward in new situations. Two different children with different personalities and often two kinds parenting. Children are not cut from the same cookie cutter. Home schooling may be very beneficial – but what about the parent who has no talent for it or the parent who must work outside the home? Public school teaches a great deal, good and bad, but a great deal is also learned at home after school.

  • I never used blanket method. I am also not Christian. But there’s things I do agree with. I never once allowed my children to be disrespectful towards anyone, especially me. I expect my children listen the first time I give them instruction. If you do not listen, youre going to be held accountable for it. I do spank, although infrequently. My children are now 10 and 6, I have absolutely no behavioral issues with them as I TRAINED them to behave at a young age. There is a difference in crushing a childs spirit and holding them accountable for bad behavior. Thats whats wrong it this world. We have people who either make our future generations whiney, entitled brats with no self control or we want to beat the crap out of a child. How about we allow kids to be kids and hold them accountable on an age appropriate level when they misbehave. A spanking for serious infractions doesnt crush a childs spirit and neither does a ruler…

  • On the recommendation of Christian friends, I read the Ezzo book with I was pregnant with my first, and naively believed it would work for me. A few weeks after his birth, crying in frustration, I googled “fussy baby” and found Dr. Sears site on attachment parenting and have never looked back! Attachment parenting much better aligns with my understanding of Christianity.

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