The Duggar Family Follows The Deeply Disturbing "Blanket Training" Method
Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets explains the controversial methods employed by the Duggars to teach obedience in babies.
Trigger warning: This article mentions instances of child abuse and corporal punishment.
Now that the long-awaited Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, a tell-all documentary about the titular reality-TV famous family is available on Amazon Prime, fans, one-time fans, and people who’ve been generally aware of the family for the nearly 20 years they’ve been public figures have been dissecting the various interviews and revelations that are detailed in the four-part docuseries. Among the various disturbing details in Shiny Happy People is the Duggars’ use of a practice known as blanket training.
While most of the information presented had been previously reported in other outlets, the series highlights the “timeline” of the family, and their various controversies, with more detail and to a new and broader audience. It also connects the Duggar family and their desire to promote their conservative Christian lifestyle with the overtly political Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), led for most of its existence by the now disgraced Bill Gothard. (According to the documentary, the family was active in IBLP since the 1980s.) IBLP is not a Christian denomination in and of itself, but rather an umbrella organization whose teachings permeate ministries and churches around the world (but mainly in the United States), emphasizing patriarchal authority. Children obey their parents, wives obey their husbands, husbands obey godly authority (conveniently interpreted by Gothard and the IBLP).
So what does this have to do with blanket training (also known as blanket time)? And what is blanket training? Blanket training theory was developed using the methods of Michael and Deb Pearl, authors of To Train Up A Child, a book popular in Christian fundamentalist circles and recommended by Gothard. It purports to be about “training” rather than “discipline” and puts a premium on unwavering obedience. (We’ll talk more about the book in a bit.) There are variations on blanket training, but it typically begins when a child is in the crawling stage (under a year). Michelle Duggar talks about “blanket time” with her children, specifically her twin sons Jeremiah and Jedidiah, in her 2008 book 20 Duggars and Counting.
“At first, I just set them on their blankets with nothing to do but look at me and listen to my voice. They sat on their blankets while I sat on a chair within reach of them, telling them what good boys they were to stay on their blankets. If they tried to get off the blanket, I instantly corrected them.” The next step, she wrote, was the incorporation of a special toy that only came out during blanket time. If the child “made a loud noise or tried to crawl off the blanket” she would correct them. Some families, as highlighted in Shiny Happy People, blanket train by placing desired objects beyond the blanket and physically “correct” their babies if they reach for them.
Michelle never divulges what she means by “correction,” but blanket training proponents advocate anything from an uncomfortable squeeze of the hand to striking them with objects like switches. “Whatever it is,” she writes, “should be momentarily unpleasant.” Amy King, the niece of Jim Bob and Michelle, who is interviewed for Shiny Happy People, attests to physical punishment being a part of the Duggar children’s lives, generally euphemized as “encouragement.”
To Train Up A Child, which inspired blanket training (but did not develop it) is a deeply controversial book that has been tied to multiple child abuse deaths in the United States. (A tie the Pearls have dismissed as invalid as “over 1,000,000 parents have applied these Biblical principles with joyful results.”) The book likens children to animals (in early chapters, specifically, to training horses) and encourages readers to know that a child is “never too young to train,” before discussing how the authors would take “little spats on the bare legs” of their precociously mobile 4-month-old daughter “with a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.” The Pearls encourage striking children with a spatula, wooden spoon, ¼-inch dowel rod. They vehemently deny encouraging the use of plumber’s supply line for spanking, as observed in other outlets, but note they observed a mother “with ¼-inch plastic plumber’s supply line around her neck on a string to be ready at hand when needed” before adding “it is flexible and will roll up in your pocket or purse.” The book also encourages dousing children with cold water from a hose (this is recommended for potty training); and “a little fasting” (aka denying the child food). There are no dearth of other “notable” passages that could be highlighted, but this gives one a flavor of the contents.
While legal in all 50 states, corporal punishment is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization. Despite multiple petitions over the years, To Train Up A Child is available on Amazon. It has received mostly glowing reviews.
On June 1, Jim Bob and Michelle issued a statement posted to the Duggar family’s website in response to Shiny Happy People. “The recent ‘documentary’ that talks about our family is sad because in it we see the media and those with ill intentions hurting people we love,” they write. “This ‘documentary’ paints so much and so many in a derogatory and sensationalized way because sadly that’s the direction of entertainment these days.”
They did not respond directly to any specific content or allegations presented in the documentary.