Time to Check Up on Your Checkups

By Jonathan Burnett, MD

During the first 2-3 years of your child’s life, you become very familiar with her doctor’s office. You stop in every few months to see how your child is growing, developing and learning and to make sure she’s caught up on her vaccines to help protect against many nasty diseases. But as she grows, are you keeping up with the well-child check-ups?

Stay up to date with Well-Child Visits

After age three, checkup visits or well-child checks become less frequent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a regular visit once per year after three years of age. While these well-child checks may not involve as many vaccines as the previous ones did, there are still many things your physician will want to check on and discuss with you.  

Elementary School Well-Child Visits

During the preschool and elementary school years, growth and development is a major portion of these visits.  Your doctor will ask questions and discuss with you your child’s development to ensure that she continues to meet the appropriate milestones to optimally prepare her to succeed in her early education.  If there are any developmental concerns, your doctor will work with you to make sure your child has resources available for testing and intervention.  

Your doctor is also prepared to discuss any concerns you may have with your child’s eating, sleeping, social behaviors, toilet training, safety in the home and on the playground, bullying or stranger danger as well as attention and learning problems.   Your doctor will also perform an examination making sure that your child’s heart, lungs, abdomen, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, muscles, nerves, and bones are healthy and to ensure there are no early warning signs of illness.

Teenage Well-Child Visits

As your child continues to grow, the yearly well child-checks remain an important part of her healthcare.  Growth and development remains a key portion of the visits as a child begins to become a teenager and enters puberty. Your doctor is a great resource for any questions that may come up about the changes happening to your child at this time.

You or your teenager may have questions that may seem embarrassing or difficult to ask. During this sensitive time, your doctor will strive to make sure the physician’s office is a safe place where you or your teen can feel comfortable asking any question. Your doctor is prepared to discuss alcohol, tobacco, drug use, depression, anxiety, social issues, peer pressure and many other topics.

Physical Exams for Organizations

During these years, organizations that your child is involved with may require a physical exam with their physician. This may be for Scouting, summer activities/camps, youth groups, religious activities, sports, etc. Regardless of the activity, your physician will perform a thorough examination and ask questions relevant to your child’s health while performing her activity or sport.

Your physician will ask you questions about symptoms of asthma, chest pain, fainting, dizzy spells, history of heart issues in your child or the family.  Your answers to these and other questions will help your doctor determine if there are any risks factors that will need to be evaluated further to make sure that your child can be safe and healthy while she has fun in the activity of her choice. (Helpful Tip –schedule these physicals early so there is time to do additional testing, if required, before your doctor clears your child for her activity.)

Screen for Health Risk Factors

As the years pass and as your teenager continues to grow, your doctor will still want to meet with her at least once a year to screen her for potential health risks. Many illnesses that we used to think of as only affecting adults are now being seen in our teenagers or even younger children.

Your doctor will use your yearly well-child check to screen for risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol among other things. Catching signs of these diseases early give us a better chance of helping you combat them successfully. Your doctor will discuss how healthy eating, exercise and other lifestyle changes increase the chance of a healthy, happy, and successful life for your child.

Your doctor is an expert on child health, while you are an expert on your child.  Working together we can strive for our common goal of maintaining the best physical, emotional, and developmental health of your child.  Yearly well-child checks are an important step in helping us reach that goal.

For more information on the importance of well-child checks please see the American Academy of Pediatrics website or ask your doctor.