Getting the most out of your kid’s annual checkup

A child’s annual school physical is often viewed as a routine part of the back-to-school regimen by parents. Make the appointment, show up, get the doctor’s signature and check it off the lengthy list of to-dos. But, a pediatrician views it as much more than a quick touch-base to tick off a list of minimum health requirements. We see it as a “Well Child Visit” – a crucial step taken annually to ensure the healthiest possible growth and development for your child. To get the most out of these visits, parents should spend a couple of minutes preparing some thoughts in advance. Here’s why.

A well child is healthy physically, emotionally and socially. The physical assessment checking growth trajectory, ears, lungs and heart provides an indication of your child’s physical health, but that should only be the beginning. Additional considerations vary by age, but commonly cover how your child is doing within his or her community, their performance in school, if they’re learning to make friends, if they’re getting enough exercise or if there is an appropriate amount of TV and computer screen time. The evening before your appointment, jot down a few of your child’s recent accomplishments, as well as any recent concerns.

When you arrive with a few key areas of focus specific to your child, the pediatrician can be of greatest value. Your simple preparation provides a jumping-off point for the doctor to ask the right questions. Then they can lend expertise, perspective and suggestions to validate and support your specific daily efforts to meet the needs of your child.

As your child matures, how to assess their emotional and social health changes. As you prepare your thoughts in advance of your Well-Child Visit, here are some ideas of what to keep in mind.

Infants and toddlers

As a new parent, those early check ups are important to monitor infant growth and development. The doctor’s office is a safe place to ask important questions and receive critical reassurance that you are doing a good job as a parent. As children reach toddler age, parents have so many questions about social and intellectual development. Children of this age receive many vaccines against the common severe infectious diseases of childhood and the physician is there to guide the parent regarding the risks and benefits of these immunizations. Furthermore, the physician can help the parent feel comfortable that their child is reaching the appropriate developmental milestones, or refer the family to help their child reach their potential.

School-aged children

For school-aged children, it’s an important time for a child to establish a comfort level and trusting relationship with their doctor, who ideally serves as a constant through their childhood. Their physician needs to be established as someone they can go to, rely on and talk to. A lot can be gained from the simplest of conversations about books, movies, sports or music. Not only can the physician get a sense of your child’s interests and temperament, but also establish some common ground on which to build rapport with your child. It’s important for the parent to foster that conversation between the child and their doctor.

Children in junior high

Junior high students are a tough bunch to gather information from. It’s generally all about self-esteem at this age. My practice begins administering a brief mental health survey at age 12. We ask them to complete it in private. It is surprising the information that these kids will reveal on a piece of paper that they will not say out loud. The insight they provide then serves as a conversation starter about the pressures they face with their peers and at home. This often presents an opportunity to help kids build self-esteem.

Teens and young adults

Teens and young adults are out there in the world and it is a great time to talk about risk reduction. In private, a teen may be open to talking about alcohol, drug use or sexual activity. The pediatrician is a great asset who can serve as another voice, that isn’t mom or dad, talking about these issues.

Health physicals by a physician are not only required by schools. Similar forms also are required by daycare, scouts, sports organizations, Special Olympics and for overseas travel. All of these present opportunity for a check up. However, they are all an opportunity to be so much more to ensure your child is thriving and well.

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