At some point, nearly every parent feels he or she has seen more than enough of the pediatrician. Between winter colds and springtime sprains, you may feel as if you qualify for frequent flyer status. But while your child might have had ample face time with the doctor this year, don’t forget to schedule and keep the appointment for an annual physical exam.
Dubbed “well-child” visits, these physicals are about more than height and weight checks or getting the OK to play soccer. They’re a time for the doctor to assess your child’s development, nutrition and fitness; screen for illnesses or conditions; and counsel on emotional problems, learning difficulties and puberty. Go with a list of questions or concerns and encourage your child, if old enough, to do the same.
Specifically, an annual checkup allows the doctor to:
- Conduct a thorough physical exam. In addition to measuring and assessing your child’s height, weight and head circumference, the doctor will examine his or her skin, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and musculoskeletal and neurological development. The doctor also will review your child’s health history and update immunization records.
- Order screenings and tests. The doctor may prescribe vision and hearing tests. Other diagnostics may include a lead screening; a tuberculin test; a urinalysis; and tests to check for anemia, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- Update your plan for chronic conditions. Does your child have asthma, diabetes or another health concern? Review how you manage it. Have any symptoms changed? Discuss with the doctor how the condition affects your child emotionally and scholastically.
- Promote healthy lifestyle choices. Does your child hound you for too much candy or fast food or battle you over computer time? Your doctor can explain the importance of healthful eating and suggest appropriate sports and physical activities.
- Tackle tough topics. It can be hard for parents to talk about alcohol or drug use, smoking, sexuality, depression and other difficult subjects. Your doctor can discuss injury and violence prevention and explain the changes of puberty—especially important for a middle-schooler or teen who seeks advice from peers and others outside your family.
Yearly physicals offer a chance for your child to build a trusting relationship with another adult and establish a lifetime of healthy habits.