Interview: Child Safety Expert- Debra Holtzman

October 5, 2016

Debra Holtzman is a nationally recognized child safety and health expert, she is the author of THE PANIC-PROOF PARENT and THE SAFE BABY, which won the National Parenting Publications Gold Award. She’s also served a consultant and developed training material for the Red Cross.

During an interview with, she discussed her books and provided child and baby safety advice for parents. If you have little ones at home, you’ll definitely want take heed of Debra’s advice.

Interview with Debra Holtzman

Debra Holtzman child safety and health expert

By Clarke Illmatical

In 2000, you published THE PANIC-PROOF PARENT, what was the impetus for that book?

“There weren’t any books out there that addressed not only child safety but how to create a safe and healthy lifestyle. I had a background in occupational health and safety, so I decided to use my background and research and create a book that could be a very user-friendly and helpful resource for parents.”

I recently spoke with a child care worker and she recommends that all parents take a basic first-aid and CPR class. As an expert on safety, what are your thoughts?

“I think that’s an excellent recommendation. I also recommend that parents get a good resource, my book is very complete and it provides simple steps to help prevent injuries. And take a class in baby safety and infant and child CPR. It’s one of the best investments in time, that they’ll ever make.”

As an expert on safety, what areas do you think most American parents can have problems with or what areas can they improve upon?

“Large and heavy items, like dressers, bookcases, TV’s and heavy furniture, they need to be anchored. Because even the smallest amount of weight can cause these items to tip over. Sadly, one child dies every two weeks when a TV or furniture falls onto him or her. Preventing tip-over incidents is easy, inexpensive, and only takes 5 minutes.”

When you look at prenatal safety, what are some areas that mothers can improve on?

“I think it’s very important that they consult with an obstetrician early on. Also, it’s really important that they avoid exposure to toxic chemicals and environmental hazards. The main thing is early on, take better care of yourself… Take charge as early as possible…”

In your book The Panic-Proof Parent, you had a comprehensive on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Is this an issue with parenting today?

“I think it’s an important point for people to be aware of. It is preventable. No one should ever shake a baby out of anger or in play. If we ever get to the point that we feel like we’re losing control, put the baby down in a safe place like the crib and leave the room for about five to ten minutes. Try to calm yourself down.”

Even during play, is this an issue?

“It is never okay to shake a baby. The main reason a baby is shaken is because a parent or caregiver becomes frustrated and loses control because of persistent crying. They don’t realize the devastation that even a few moments of shaking can do. It’s important to learn strategies for calming a baby and yourself. Singing can be an effective a way to calm yourself and your baby. When you get to that point, when you feel like you’re losing control, put the baby in a safe place…”

What about the area of child care and safety. In the book THE SAFE BABY, you had a chapter that involved child care. What should be parents be looking for when it comes to safety and childcare?

“The key attribute you look for when you hire someone is maturity, experience, trustworthiness, responsibility. Ask the sitter general questions, get insight into the potential sitter’s personality. What are their goals? Interests? What do they do for fun? And the specific answers may not be as important as the way they are answered…”

What was the impetus for your second book THE SAFE BABY?

“Because it was more of a niche and because I teach safety for babies in the hospitals and that’s what parents seem more interested in. So I figured I could do something for the people that I work around on a weekly basis. Most people are more interested in baby safety than in general child safety. When kids get to be a certain age, it’s not as necessary that they have a book. Whereas new parents, they really treasure the information in there…”

You have two children yourself. Accidents are going to happen. Even though you’re an expert, what’s the worst accident that your children have had?

“My dad had some heart medication and he said that he did, but he didn’t really lock it away and my son was found playing with the bottle. It turns out he didn’t take the medicine. As a precaution, we had to call poison control and take my son to the emergency room… It was eye opening to my dad to learn to that you have to lock things up. And that’s another point that I make with parents.

Everybody, every person who cares for your child, needs to be on the same page. That’s why it’s important to have parents and grandparents and caregivers all take the same class, read the same material. That way they all learn the same safety guidelines and they all know the importance of following those guidelines.

It’s not enough to just hide pills and other poisonous items, you need to lock them up. A precocious toddler can figure out how to find things… That was the worst thing.

Thank god nothing serious happened. The point is that it can happen potentially to anyone.”

For new parents, what can they do if they don’t have experience with children at all?

“If you have a friend that has a child, spend some afternoons with them. Learn their routine, see how it is. That could be invaluable as well…”

When you think about the main safety areas indoors, you mentioned locking things down. What are some other areas that parents and anyone who is caring for the children, are there main points for security and safety around the home?

“It’s so important that parents of young children get a reference book so they can use it and keep it handy. In THE SAFE BABY, I provide many checklists, for example, room by room and what kind of safety equipment you need and how to make your own baby food… You need to be able to identify what a dangerous situation is and sometimes a list can give you that insight. Also, it’s about creating a healthy and safer lifestyle, to minimize the chemicals, using much less toxic pest control measures, how to make safer cleaning products. Those kinds of things. It’s taking charge of the whole situation. Safety is more than just putting up a baby gate. It’s about creating a safer lifestyle…”

When it comes to baby food and safety, many parents like to make their own food these days. Are there any precautions or safety measures that parent should take?

“The most important thing is having a discussion with a pediatrician… Another thing is to consider is the size, the texture and the shape of the food that they give their child…”

When accidents do happen, what attitude should parents have? Some new parents get overwhelmed with guilt if their baby has an accident, they think they’re a bad parent.

“They shouldn’t think they’re a bad parent, we all do our best under the circumstances. It is important, especially with young children, to learn what could be potentially hazardous.

Educating yourself on the issues… For example: window blind cords and anything with a cord can potentially be a hazard… not smoking around your child, providing a crib that meets current safety standards, and having a safety plan for emergencies.

If you can’t afford it, there are resources to get a new car seat, to get a new crib.

These are things that every parent should know. They’re important, they save lives. Accidents do happen, well all know that. It’s important to do your best and do your homework and there are a lot of great resources out there that can make it easy and are there to help you.”

Parents who have a newborn, what information from THE SAFE BABY would they really appreciate? For first-time parents, what information — key chapters or information is going to really appeal to them?

“When we talk about the nursery and how to buy safe baby equipment, choking and drowning hazards and also, car seats and the room-by-room checklist…”

In closing, if you have a message for parents, as a safety expert, what message would you impart to parents?

“My safety tips are not meant to scare you. They are meant to empower you to make the safest and healthiest choices for your family and just by following a few simple prevention methods and by closely supervising your children, you can really protect them from common household hazards…”

For more information on Debra Holtzman and purchase her books visit:

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