HOLIDAY STORY IDEAS

December 12, 1995
Media Contact: name, phone and e-mail address of media contact person is listed below each individual story.

Listed below are story ideas from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. To pursue any of these stories, contact the person listed.

BUILDING HOLIDAY TRADITIONS

Remember the wafting scent of roasted turkey, or the giggles and noise of a over-crowded house? The holidays are a special time, says child psychologist Leon Rosenberg, Ph.D., but it is "tradition" that rekindles the strong, happy memories of our youth.

Parents can build family traditions by repeating just one or two activities each year, says the Johns Hopkins Children's Center physician.

"Whether it be baking a festive cookie or reading a favorite story, it is exciting for a child to have the same event to look forward to," says Rosenberg. "These often become their fondest memories of the season, and they often grow up in love with the idea of recreating them again and again." For media inquiries, call Michele Fizzano at 410/955-2476 or E-mail: mfizzano@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

KIDS CAN FEEL HOLIDAY BLUES, TOO

Adults aren't the only ones who can get a little down around the holidays. Kids who have recently experienced the death of a loved one might be battling the holiday blues, too.

According to one child psychologist, it is natural for children to remember deceased family and friends at happy times, normal to mourn the chance to share that happiness, and healthy for families to talk about it.

"During the holidays, parents can expect a recurrence of the same intense feelings the child felt just after the loss of a grandparent, parent, friend or pet," says Leon Rosenberg, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. And he cautions parents not to ignore a child's sorrow in an effort to keep the holiday "happy."

"It's not helpful to the child to suggest they box up sad feelings like an unwanted Christmas present," he says. "Address their grief. Offer the child a hug and ask why they are sad. Let them cry if they want, and don't forget it's okay for adults to do the same."

According to Rosenberg, younger children will be more susceptible when the loss occurred within the past few months. "But even a 5-year-old spending his first Christmas without his grandfather could become melancholy," he says. "Watch for signs of quietness, withdrawal or isolation and treat them with reassurance." For media inquiries, call Michele Fizzano at 410/955-2476 or E-mail: mfizzano@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

BE WATCHFUL OF EATING DISORDERS

With their emphasis on food and feasting, the holidays can aggravate the symptoms of eating disorders, say physicians with the Johns Hopkins Eating Disorders and Weight Program.

"Like substance abuse, those who suffer from eating disorders often refuse to admit their problem. It's important for family and friends to intervene to get them to seek professional help," says James B. Wirth, M.D., Ph. D., assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the program.

Anorexia and bulimia are the two most common eating disorders afflicting an estimated 8 million people in the United States. Health professionals speculate that the number of patients with the disorders is increasing. Many are triggered by a life event, such as going away to school, the breakup of an important relationship, pregnancy and puberty.

For media inquiries, call Debbie Bangledorf at 410/ 955-4948 or E-mail: dbangledorf@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu -

"The December holidays can be a source of extreme anxiety and depression for those who suffer from eating disorders," says Angela S. Guarda, M.D., a fellow in psychiatry and assistant director of the program. "Parents, for instance, can easily spot the symptoms in children returning from college: abnormal weight loss, excessive exercising, broken blood vessels in the eyes and extreme preoccupation with food, body weight and body shape, among others."

Left untreated, eating disorders have serious health consequences, including: osteoporosis, esophageal tears, dehydration, loss of sex drive and reproductive capacity, tooth and gum erosion, and electrolyte imbalance, which can lead to lethal heart rhythm abnormalities; and suicide Three to six percent of eating disorders patients die of their disease, a far higher death rate than for any other ental illness. Victims range in age from 5 to 70; 90 to 95 percent are female. For media inquiries, call Ruth Whitmore at 410/955-4276 or E-mail: rwhitmore@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

MAKE SURE YOUR RELATIVE'S HOUSE IS A SAFE ZONE

Most parents are diligent about child-proofing their homes, making sure that cabinets are secure and medications are out of the reach of young children. But what about when families are traveling? What can parents do to safeguard their children while visiting a relative's home?

Jean Ogborn, M.D., assistant director of the pediatric emergency department at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, says that although parents don't need to see danger in every piece of furniture, they can look for these potential hazards:

Lack of emergency exits. Ogborn says that parents should create a mental picture of potential fire escape routes in any home they visit.

Medications sitting out. Many people keep their medications at a bedside or on the kitchen table as a reminder to take them. They should be moved to avoid ingestion by a child, Ogborn advises.

Unsafe fireplaces. Beware of children running and playing near a brick hearth or other hard surfaces. "A simple fall could lead to head injury," she says. In addition, always monitor children closely when a fireplace is lit and never allow them to play near the flames. A spark can burn a child or set clothing on fire.

Glass coffee tables. Glasstop tables can break on impact. "Children can be cut by shards of glass if the table shatters or the child can incur head injury," says Ogborn. She advises removing glass tables from rooms where children play, or protecting the surfaces with a soft padded covering. For media inquiries, call Debbie Bangledorf at 410/ 955-4948 or E-mail: dbangledorf@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu

CHILD-PROOFING AFTER THE PARTY

When you have children, cleaning up after a holiday party is an important part of the festivities, according to physicians at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Leftovers can prove sickening or even deadly.

Jean Ogborn, M.D., assistant director of the pediatric emergency department, says children are curious about half-empty glasses of alcoholic drinks, cigarette butts, hard candies or peanuts. "It only takes a few swigs of alcohol or ingestion of a few cigarette butts to make a child ill," says Ogborn. Half a glass of wine, for example, puts the small body of a child at risk for intoxication and possibly death. As few as four or five cigarette butts can lead to nicotine poisoning, Ogborn adds. To spot a child in trouble, look for symptoms including headache, nausea and irritability.

In addition, she warns, always put away small snack items, hard candies and peanuts that may lodge in a child's throat. Ogborn says an inexpensive way to test potential choking hazards is to drop items through a toilet paper roll. If the item is small enough to fit through the roll, it can pose a choking hazard for a child.

For media inquiries, call Debbie Bangledorf at 410/ 955-4948 or E-mail: dbangledorf@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu


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