Well-Child Care: A Check-Up for Success

It’s time to make your back-to-school to do list: shop for school supplies, get a new backpack, and most importantly–schedule your child’s physical.

Back-to-school checkups may be the only visit most kids and adolescents have with their doctor every year, aside from the occasional visit for a cold or earache. The annual physical gives the pediatrician an opportunity to give your child a thorough physical exam. It is also a chance to address questions, especially with teenagers, about risky behavior issues.

During the visit the pediatrician will cover a few key topics, including:

General Health: The doctor will screen your child’s height and weight to see if he or she is growing appropriately, check blood pressure and temperature, and administer a vision test. You will have an opportunity to discuss your child’s growth–with obesity becoming a growing national concern, it’s a good time to review healthy eating and exercise habits.
Physical Exam:
A complete head-to-toe physical exam is performed by the doctor including a scoliosis screening which should be performed yearly. The doctor will talk to you about preventive care including dental care, vision and hearing. The doctor can also answer questions or concerns about chronic illnesses, new problems, and current medications.

Teen Health:
The pediatrician may ask to talk privately to your child if he or she is over 12 to discuss risky behaviors such as drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual activity, and depression. Whether the incidence of teen depression is actually increasing, or we’re just becoming more aware of it, we know that depression strikes teenagers more often than most people think. The doctor will also ask your teen about bullying, which has become a national concern. Bullying can occur anywhere, including school, church, family, home, and neighborhoods.
In addition to giving your adolescent an opportunity to talk about these concerns and find solutions, the discussion will help the pediatrician get a sense of your child’s level of self-esteem and emotional balance. It also gives your child experience in talking about health issues, and helps develop a sense of independence and establish a confidential rapport with the doctor.

Safety Review: One of the most important topics to discuss with your pediatrician is safety. This includes protecting children while in or near the water, use of sunscreen, bicycle and helmet safety, and proper car restraints. (The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that motor vehicle injuries are the most common type of fatal injuries among children and the leading cause of death among children under 18.)
Immunization Update: The doctor will review any vaccines your child may need. Due to the resurgence of whooping cough (pertussis), doctors recommend a Tdap (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis) booster at age 11. By the time a child finishes high school they should have received all their immunizations and should not require anything else unless they are planning to travel or study abroad.

Sports Readiness:
If your child will be participating in any sports, your pediatrician will address sports-related issues such as overuse and overtraining injuries and concussions, as well as proper nutrition, hydration, training and exercise programs. 

Whatever your child’s interest–sports, academics, the arts–it is important that the interest is a healthy one, and that it is balanced with the other aspects of their life. A healthy childhood and adolescence is a mix of home life, schooling, social activities, sports, and extra-curricular pursuits. Having regular well-child visits with your child’s doctor and discussing concerns that are important to you are vital in helping the doctor know you and your child and in forming a reliable and confident relationship.

Dr. Lynn Mann is a pediatrician with Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians and cares for patients at SVMC Pediatrics in Bennington and Northshire Medical Center in Manchester. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mann, call 362-4440. To learn more about how SVMC and Dartmouth-Hitchcock are working together for a healthier community, visit www.svhealthcare.org. “Health Matters” is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public matters and public policy as it affects health care.