As you gear up for another school year, scheduling a back-to-school well visit with your family pediatrician should be on your to-do list. Patty Sabey, MD, a pediatrician at Altos Pediatric Associates at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, explains how these visits can set the stage for a healthy start to the academic year.
Well visits are a proactive way to catch any potential health issues before they become actual problems. During a well visit, your child’s doctor will do a complete checkup, check growth and development, and address any concerns you might have about your child’s health and well-being.
“These visits promote the health of your child physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally,” Dr. Sabey said. “Your child receives preventive care, including vaccines and screenings for vision, hearing, dental, and cardiovascular health.”
For kids who play sports, well visits additionally provide a comprehensive evaluation for sports clearance. Older kids could also have a private talk with the doctor to check how they’re feeling mentally and get advice about staying safe from risky behaviors, Dr. Sabey shared.
According to Dr. Sabey, one of the things pediatricians look for is evidence of lead exposure and tuberculosis. If your family has a trip planned, your pediatrician will give advice about travel and any extra shots your child might need, such as hepatitis A, typhoid, and medicines to prevent malaria.
Well visits are a good time to talk to your child’s doctor about any concerns like behavioral issues or developmental delays.
“Early intervention ensures your child receives optimal resources to improve their prognosis for things like autism, ADHD, and learning differences,” she said.
Another benefit of yearly wellness visits is that they cover potential gaps in care. These include things like not taking care of teeth, getting inadequate sleep, spending too much time on screens, and not eating well. All these things can affect your child’s health if they are not addressed, Dr. Sabey explained.
In addition to assessing your child’s physical health, the pediatrician will check to make sure your child is meeting age-appropriate milestones. For example, Dr. Sabey explained that preschool-aged kids should know some basic safety information, such as how to dial 911, remembering a caregiver’s phone number, and how to be safe around other people. Children this age should be able to recognize colors and opposites, have a basic conversation, predict what comes next in a familiar story or situation, and get along with other people.
Children in kindergarten should show some signs of readiness for school, such as counting to 10, knowing some letters, and writing a few letters in their name. They also need to be up-to-date on their immunizations.
“At this age, your child can participate in simple household chores, such as cleaning up books and toys, helping with food preparation. They can get along with other children, can follow rules, and can be interested in reading for pleasure,” Dr. Sabey said.
When a child begins first grade, a lot of the well-child visit attention shifts to how they’re doing in school, both in their studies and in getting along with others. Your pediatrician will continue to talk about good habits like sleeping well, eating right, and staying active.
Starting in the third grade, kids will be learning about puberty in school and when they see the doctor. The doctor will talk to both you and your child about how school is going, any behavior worries, and if there’s anything else your child might need help with, Dr. Sabey explained.
As kids get older and start attending middle school or high school, your pediatrician will continue assessing their physical growth, such as puberty and other milestones. They will also address your child’s mental and emotional health.
Dr. Sabey recommends preparing for your child’s annual wellness exam by being ready to discuss your child’s development, nutrition, sleep, travel history, and social changes. It’s important to update your pediatrician about any family medical history changes, since these could indicate potential health risks for your child in the future.
For more advice from Dr. Sabey, read Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters During Distance Learning; and for more back-to school information, see What You Need to Know About Back-to-School Vaccinations.