A child’s trip to the doctor doesn’t always involve sickness or injuries. Regularly scheduled well-child exams are the time for a pediatrician to assess whether a child’s growth and development is on track.
What happens during a well-child exam?
During a well-child exam, a doctor will typically:
- Check height
- Look at weight (BMI, check for child being overweight)
- Listen to lungs and heart
- Check that immunizations are up-to-date
- Conduct vision and hearing tests if needed
The doctor will also look for information about a child’s behavior and activities, which can offer clues about potential areas of concern.
“There is a predictable schedule in a child’s development,” says Dr. Jeanne James, VP and Chief Medical Officer of BlueCare Tennessee. “During a well-child exam we measure growth, look at the child’s medical history and their family’s medical history. We observe, but we also ask questions that can help us know if there are things we need to examine for.”
While some of the questions a doctor poses to parents and children don’t seem connected to their health, the answers can offer clues to underlying problems.
- For example, if a parent says that their child is struggling in first grade, it might spur the doctor to check their vision.
- If physical development seems stalled in some way, that can be an indication of a medical issue that needs further investigation.
If the doctor does find a problem, early intervention can make a huge difference in successfully treating many conditions. The visit also allows the doctor to advise both parent and child on preventing illness or injury, offering guidance on everything from healthy eating to sports gear to immunizations.
Preparing for the annual check-up
Until age 2.5, doctor visits to measure growth and development occur fairly frequently, with greater gaps between visits as a baby becomes a toddler. Starting at age 3, the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends annual check-ups. It’s an important habit to build so children will continue regular doctor visits as they become adults and move from pediatrician to primary care provider.
Parents know their children in a way that others don’t and can play a big role in ensuring their child’s exam is productive. Doctors want to hear parents’ observations and concerns and are ready to answer questions.
Questions to ask
The AAP offers pre-visit questionnaires for every age up to 21 so that parent and child can think about topics they want to discuss such as:
- Attitude toward school
- Eating habits
- Sports participation and safety
- Drug use
All questionnaires are age-specific and can provide a solid starting point for discussion. Once a child enters adolescence, a doctor may politely request the parent wait outside during part of the exam. This is an important step for the child that parents should honor.
“We want to make sure that they know how to be their own health advocate, and sometimes they may have questions or give answers that they don’t want to say in front of their parents,” says Dr. James. “This is not a matter of keeping secrets, but of allowing a child to learn how to interact with their doctor themselves.”
That, says Dr. James, is the foundation for a healthy child to become a healthy adult.