Every person has memories of childhood checkups, and mostly, they consist of stressful shots ending with rewards of stickers and suckers. For parents, however, when these visits are packed into busy schedules, it’s common to feel unprepared. Read on for pointers on what to expect from your kids’ wellness exams.
Childhood wellness exams start soon after birth, in order to ensure on-track development, growth, and health. Visits are most frequent from birth to 2 years of age, occurring at 1, 2, 4, and 6 months, and then 3 to 6 months. These appointments typically include checks on your child’s speech, fine and gross motor skills, and for developmental concerns.
Around this age, pediatricians will routinely check your child’s weight, height, and percentile for growth. A general developmental screening is typical, and expect questions on your child’s eating, peeing and pooping, sleeping, and development. (They are there also to address your concerns and offer guidance in all of these areas, so don’t hold back!) Pediatricians will carry out a physical exam on your child with you present, as well as update you and procure the necessary immunizations.
As your child grows and makes her or his way through the 3 to 13 age range, the appointments will begin to change. Expect added discussions on your child’s sleeping and eating habits and developmental milestones, such as speech, movement, and cognition. Once your child begins school, your pediatrician will have questions about her or his academic and social well-being and offer advice on healthy eating. Puberty discussions will begin whenever the signs start showing up.
Once an adolescent, officially ages 13 through 21, your child will be more independent and may spend time alone with her or his pediatrician during appointments. (Don’t worry — doctors still check in with parents and often will bring in parents after the teen has had a chance to visit privately.) Their discussions will be kept confidential unless your child seems in danger of hurting her or himself or others or is facing a serious health problem. Pediatricians’ discussions with teenagers typically address friend and dating relationships and ordering any necessary tests, including for sexually transmitted diseases, if applicable. In the teen years, individuality comes into play at the appointments. For example, whatever interests your teen has, such as sports, the arts, or volunteering, will prompt well-being checks (or concerns, if there is no involvement in anything). Mental health screens start around this age, as well as drug, alcohol, and tobacco and driving safety conversations. Healthy social media usage is really important at this age, as well as screening for cyberbullying, sexual assault, and at-home stressors.
Remember, your child’s doctor is here to support and guide not only your child, but also you as a parent! It is common to have fears that the doctor is out to criticize your parenting or take sides with your teen, but this is not the case: S/he is not a judge, but a coach in your child’s well-being.
If you have any unanswered questions on childhood wellness exams, the American Academy of Pediatrics is an excellent resource.
By Emma Strick