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Advice about Sleep: Ezzo Method

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Sleep > Advice about Sleep: Ezzo Method

March 1999

I don't want to be antagonistic, but someone recommended the book On Becoming Babywise and I just feel I must mention that this book and the others by its authors have been roundly criticized as potentially harmful by many doctors and is soon to be evaluated by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Obviously the parent who recommended it did not find it harmful for their child, but other children apparently have been harmed. If you decide to get it, please follow it only loosely. I have read even in the newspaper that children have been found malnourished by parents following this book very strictly.

Here is an article from the Washington Post:

A Tough Plan For Raising Children Draws Fire
'Babywise' Guides Worry Pediatricians and Others
By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 27, 1999; Page A01

Start early and teach your baby "highchair manners," parents are advised 
in a series of popular books on the "Babywise" approach to child 
rearing. A child as young as 8 months should sit with his hands on the 
side of his tray or in his lap. To avoid whining and fussing, the baby 
should learn hand signals to express "please," "thank you" and "I love 
If the child disobeys, parents are told, the best thing is a moderate
squeeze or swat to the hand. If the baby is older than 18 months, then 
it's time for "chastisement" with a flexible instrument, such as a 
rubber spatula.
Developed by a California couple named Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, the
Babywise books are designed to counter what the Ezzos see as a plague of 
"child-centered parenting." But their goal is not only to raise babies 
who are less fussy; they want to ensure children who are more morally 
centered and faithful to God.
As the Ezzos see it, teaching children their principles of obedience is 
"Growing Kids God's Way," as one of their books is titled. And their 
views have struck a responsive chord among parents who are worried about 
the effects of overindulging their children and convinced of long-term 
damage done to society by the child-rearing advice of Benjamin Spock. 
Their most popular book, "On Becoming Babywise," has sold more than 
290,000 copies since it was published in 1995, and by one estimate a 
million parents have had some contact with the Ezzos' philosophy, 
through classes, tapes or the books.
But many pediatricians warn that the combination of strict rules 
packaged as gospel by the Ezzos can be dangerous. Promoting "highchair 
manners" and telling parents their children can sleep through the night 
in five weeks instead of the three- to six-month average pushes 
discipline to extremes, they say. And when those methods are sold as 
"God's way," parents are afraid to bend the rules and follow their own 
instincts on feeding, for example, causing their babies to gain weight 
at dangerously slow rates.
Last fall, in response to a letter from 100 doctors and health care
professionals calling some of the Ezzos' claims "untrue, misleading or
unsubstantiated," the American Academy of Pediatrics passed a resolution 
to evaluate programs such as Babywise and its Christian counterparts. 
The academy has since issued a media alert saying "scheduled feedings 
designed by parents may put babies at risk for poor weight gain and 
dehydration."  Their final evaluation is expected later this year.
Many evangelical groups that share the Ezzos' belief in the need for 
greater discipline have also joined in the criticism. Christian radio 
broadcaster James Dobson, who has written several books on child 
rearing, called the program "too rigid." When Gary Ezzo left Grace 
Community Church in Simi Valley, Calif., where he started the Babywise 
program, the board of elders issued a public statement accusing him of 
confusing "biblical standards and personal preference."
Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo declined to be interviewed. But a spokesman 
said that parents who carry their tenets to extremes are ignoring advice 
sprinkled throughout their books. The books discourage parents from 
being "hyperscheduled clock watchers," said Robert Garcia, executive 
vice president of Growing Families International, the Ezzos' company, 
and tell them to stay flexible. The books include all the tools to avoid 
danger -- growth charts and diaper counts. They remind parents that they 
lose the right to spank if they are not also loving.
The proof of their wisdom, Garcia says, is in the hundreds of thousands 
of happy families who have used their methods -- methods the Ezzos 
developed while raising their own children.
Neighbors and friends always approached Gary Ezzo to say, "Wow, your 
kids are so well behaved and polite," recalled Garcia. So in 1984, Ezzo 
began teaching an informal parenting class at church.
The aim in the beginning was not to start a business, and according to
Garcia, the Ezzos have never bought radio ads or passed out pamphlets. 
"Our best advertisement is our own kids," said Garcia. The program 
spread by word of mouth, from church to church across the country. 
Initially it had an overtly Christian theme, backed by biblical verse. 
But when pediatricians told them they did not feel comfortable 
recommending it to all families, Garcia said, they wrote "On Becoming 
Babywise," which stresses the moral effects of their approach but does 
not mention God.
For the Ezzos, choices a parent makes from the first day affect a 
child's character. "Child-centered parenting," where a parent responds 
to an infant's every desire, including the one to be fed on demand, may 
be well intentioned but fosters a "sinful disability called me-ism." 
Stevie, an imaginary child in one book who is raised this way, is an 
insufferable brat and a bully. He pushes other kids off the swing, 
steals toys and is generally "ill prepared for real life." He is, they 
claim, at higher risk for obesity and learning disability.
Some actions, such as walking or coloring, are morally neutral, the 
Ezzos write. "But the fact that a child has no moral understanding why 
food shouldn't be intentionally dropped from a highchair doesn't mean 
that we should hold back instructions and restrictions," they write. 
"Parents should insist on moral behavior long before their child is 
capable of understanding moral concepts."
Signs that an 8-month-old is rebelling include: "arching her back 
defiantly" in a highchair, touching her food, playing with the remote 
control. "Failure to correct a child today will lead to moral tyranny 
tomorrow," they write.
Critics say that the Ezzos' warnings about moderation and flexibility 
are lost in the overall rigid focus on discipline, and they point to 
some of the messages posted on the Ezzos' Web site as examples of 
parents who follow their methods instead of common sense.
One parent complained that her 2-year-old remained disobedient despite 
"the constant stream of welts on her bottom from the glue stick," and 
wondered what more she could do. A father fretted that his 13-month-old 
"will go back and forth from isolation to the highchair for up to 4 
hours and still refuse to sign 'all done' " -- an Ezzo hand signal 
method -- "even though she has done it before and knows exactly what we 
are asking of her."
Another complained that to her "astonishment," her 6-month-old had begun 
arching his back and fussing when she put him in a highchair. "It's so 
sad to see that they're really sinners," she concluded.
"We're now on Day 5 of Timothy's retraining for naps," a Michigan mother 
wrote recently. "Yesterday was the most difficult day ever. I thought 
the screaming and crying for 45 minutes was difficult, but I could 
endure because I felt sure that this was the right thing to do. However 
yesterday, when I saw a little blood, it was hard not to panic and 
question my methods."
After writing an editorial criticizing Babywise in a magazine of the
American Academy of Pediatrics, Matt Aney said he was flooded with calls 
from nurses and other pediatricians complaining about Babywise parents 
who would not give up strict feeding schedules against medical advice. 
In eight months, Aney has collected about 300 summaries of medical files 
of babies with diagnoses of abnormally slow weight gain or "failure to 
In one extreme case, a 5-month-old was taken to a hospital when he 
refused to eat. The parents, who were Christian missionaries who had 
taken an Ezzo class, were feeding the baby every four hours. ("A 
flexible 3-4 routine" is what the Ezzos recommend). In two months the 
baby gained only two ounces, far below the normal ounce per day. The 
baby spent the next seven months hooked up to a feeding tube.
While the Ezzos emphasize the need for a schedule, "there will always be 
a few special circumstances," said Garcia. And their books give parents 
all the tools they need to assess those, such as diaper counts and 
growth charts.
Still, he adds, "we found that women who don't stick to a routine run
themselves ragged, and it doesn't have to be that way. There's hope, and 
our goal is to get you to enjoy your child even more."
Richelle Barrett, a Kansas mother who raised two of her three children
without the program, said reading "On Being Babywise" actually mellowed 
her. "Babywise helped me to not be a clock watcher, and get over my 
perfectionist tendencies," she said. She recalled discovering that one 
of her sons had been fed off schedule at his nursery school. "I threw a 
fit," she recalled. "But now I've learned to consider other people's 
As a day-care worker, she has tried applying the Ezzos' methods but says 
the children's mothers often don't use the same approach. "It's 
frustrating to train them all day according to a higher standard and 
then have it all blown to pieces when mom walks in the door, but you 
just do the best you can and leave the rest to God," she wrote on the 
Web site.
Terri Smedley of Concord, N.C., has not had such a positive experience. 
She was initially excited when a friend gave her a Babywise book at her 
baby shower; Smedley has a seizure condition that requires her to get 
enough rest, and she thought having a baby who slept all night would 
But as soon as the baby was born, she found herself "obsessed" with
schedules. "We were so stressed out," she recalled. "We were in bondage 
to our house. We never went anywhere because we were afraid we might get 
off schedule." After a few weeks she gave up and "enjoyed the baby much 
much more that way."
Ginny Hunt, a mother of three in Fredericksburg, Va., also cooled to the 
Hunt took a video course in California on the method and remembers 
thinking, "Wow, if we don't do this we'll be putting our child in 
danger. Who knows what they'll grow up to be like?"
She started using Babywise methods with her two older children but when 
her third came along, she didn't follow the recommended nursing schedule 
because she already had raised two children as demand feeders. But she 
did try to let her 4-week-old sleep through the night. Her epiphany came 
on the third night, when he cried for three hours.
"Suddenly, I jumped up and rushed into the room and grabbed the baby and 
begged his forgiveness," she recalled, saying "I'll never do this to you 
again." She said she also became disturbed by the behavior of her older 
children. They were like "Stepford children," she said, asking, "Can I 
appeal your decision?" every time she said "No" to something.
"Of course it worked. They were model children. But the cost was too 
high. I don't want them to look at me that way," she decided. "I don't 
want them to view God that way."
* Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Sept 1998

I've read Ezzo's book on raising babies. Has anyone tried his sleep training program? Charlotte

I have used the program, as have about 15 other families I know. We go to each other for questions, how to handle situations, etc. It did work for us and our baby well, although each family must decide for themselves. As is evident, most childrearing advice is debatable and often controversial. The Ezzos have received their share of criticism too, but we found the principles to be very good. We looked at the families around us who seemed the happiest, with the best relationships btw parents and children, and found they used this program. Most of us try to stay out of the parenting "debates", and just let the results speak for themselves (if it does indeed work). Dorene
There is a great deal of contraversy surrounding Ezzo and his method of "Growing Kids God's Way". In particular, for breastfed babies it can lead to failure to thrive. He also advocates "physical chastisement".

There's a lot on the net about it and it strikes me as pretty scary. You can do a search. Myriam

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