When it comes to raising a child, everyone has an opinion on everything — especially discipline. Most parents agree that kids need discipline, and many think you can lay the groundwork for this fairly early.
But how it should be done is highly debatable.
Blanket training — also called blanket time — is a controversial parenting method used to teach obedience and self-control to babies starting as young as 6 months old.
It’s gotten some press lately as a method reportedly used by members of the Duggar family, a reality TV family known for their many kids and conservative views.
At its core, blanket training consists of placing your baby on a blanket for a certain period of time — perhaps starting with a 5-minute interval and working your way up — and only allowing them access to any toys or activities on the blanket during that time.
In theory, the method emphasizes positive reinforcement — but in reality, many believe that some of the disciplinary tactics used when baby crawls off the blanket before time is up are questionable at best.
Part of this is because the method has its origins in the book “To Train Up a Child” by Michael and Debi Pearl. First published in 1994, this book has been criticized by many for advocating the use of physical force (“corporal punishment” including spanking and hitting with implements like rulers) against rebellious children.
So, in the case of blanket training, parents can hit or spank their child when the child leaves the blanket.
Further, to really reinforce the child’s total obedience even in the face of temptation, parents may place beloved objects just off the blanket and use corporal punishment if their baby crawls to these items.
Proponents of blanket training say that it leads to greater self-control and obedience.
They point out that once a baby is blanket trained, you can enjoy a day at the park, the beach, a friend’s place, or anywhere else without worrying about your little one wandering off or getting into potentially dangerous areas that haven’t been babyproofed.
Also, while the method may have its roots in a book that praises corporal punishment and the use of physical force, some people point out that blanket training doesn’t have to include this. It can be done with positive reinforcement only.
Positive reinforcement could mean praising your baby for staying on the blanket and reaching for toys that are on the blanket. (Pro tip: Many babies love it when you clap for them!)
The criticisms of this method mainly point to its often-included element of physical force, such as spanking with a “switch.” In fact, many reputable organizations have taken a stance against this.
For example, the American Psychological Association, in February 2019, adopted the Resolution on Physical Discipline of Children by Parents. This resolution states that physical discipline doesn’t help behavior and — in fact — can do emotional and behavioral harm over time.
The American Academy of Pediatrics — drawing on 20 years of research — also opposes corporal punishment in its policy statement on disciplining children effectively.
When it comes to enforcing discipline in your child, it can be difficult to know what method to use. Blanket training is popular in some circles, but it’s also controversial.
Generally, 6 months of age is considered too young for most forms of discipline, and dozens of pediatric and psychological organizations state that corporal punishment is never OK.
Yet, having a comfort object, like a blanket, can be a positive for your baby. It can start out as a safe place for tummy time and become a spot for your child to play.
Using positive reinforcement and attention redirection — and a firm no when your baby or toddler goes for something unsafe — can help establish a good foundation for obedience later on.
Ultimately, teaching your child right from wrong and how you want them to behave is a process that takes place over time, with real-world experiences and positive reinforcement. Boundaries are appropriate — your child has to know not to dash into the street, for example — but harsh methods don’t help and may even hurt.