Give your child the healthiest start
Why preventive care at every stage of a child’s life makes a big difference
When a child develops worrisome health symptoms, such as a high fever or a cough that won’t quit, you know it’s time to call the pediatrician. But seeing a doctor for regular preventive care is also very important. “There’s so much that goes on in pediatric preventive care that sets kids up for long-term success with their health,” says Katie K. Lockwood, M.D., MEd, an attending physician with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Primary Care. It’s a time when the doctor can help instill good basic health habits, such as eating well, sleeping well, and getting enough physical activity, Dr. Lockwood says.
Preventive checkups for babies, kids, and teens are called “well-child visits.” With infants especially, growth and development happen fast. That’s why at this stage, your child should see a doctor every month or every few months. After your child turns 3, the well-child visit can become a yearly appointment to take care of screenings, physical exams, height and weight checks, blood tests, and scheduled vaccinations.
It’s clear that well-child preventive visits keep your child healthy — but only if you set up these appointments. Bookmark this schedule so you know when your children should have their well-child visits. And read on for some of the most important reasons you don’t want them to miss these important checkups.
You teach your kids their health is important
Just like brushing their teeth and staying active, kids can learn good health care habits that can serve them for a lifetime. Through these routine visits, they learn to trust health care providers and understand the importance of going for checkups even when they feel just fine. “We really emphasize the value of taking good care of your body,” says Dr. Lockwood.
You keep on track with immunizations
Without question, getting vaccinations on schedule is one of the best ways to protect your child from many preventable illnesses. And most vaccines are given during well-child appointments. “The data show that when well visits went down during the pandemic, so did vaccinations,” says Dr. Lockwood. Your pediatrician will make sure your child gets the right vaccines at the right age, in accordance with the CDC’s recommended schedule.
Your child gets important screenings
Well-child visits are when your son or daughter receives many health screenings, including lead screenings. Depending on your child’s age and risk factors, the doctor may check for autism and developmental delay, iron deficiency, sexually transmitted infections, and other conditions, says Dr. Lockwood.
You can ask questions and raise concerns
Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. As your child grows, you’ll have many questions and concerns. Well-child visits give you time with your pediatrician to discuss any health-related questions or worries that are on your mind.
Your child will get their vision and hearing checked
Your child’s eyesight and hearing will be periodically checked so that any issues can be identified and addressed right away. If your child needs eyeglasses or contact lenses, the pediatrician can send you to an optometrist. “A lot of times when kids have mild vision problems, they might not recognize it or have the verbal skills to explain that they can’t see very well at school,” says Dr. Lockwood. Routine vision checks at well visits can catch this before it causes problems in the classroom. The pediatrician may also send your child to an otolaryngologist (often called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT) or an audiologist (for a further hearing evaluation).
You can track your child’s growth
Regular height and weight checks will reveal how your child’s body is growing. This information can be a cue for the whole family to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits to help your child reach or maintain a healthy weight. “We can look at growth charts and use the data as a tool to show a family the kind of trajectory their child is on. It can help the whole family make healthier lifestyle choices,” says Dr. Lockwood.
You can spot behavioral health challenges
Kids and teenagers have complex emotional lives. “We begin regular depression screenings when kids reach adolescence,” says Dr. Lockwood. Regular doctor visits can be a chance to assess other behavioral health challenges, such as anxiety. “We always ask about stressors at home and at school.” Especially as children become teenagers, you should leave the exam room upon request so they can talk freely with the doctor about what’s on their mind.
You can get age-appropriate safety advice
The pediatrician can be an excellent source of safety advice for children of all ages. Topics during well-child visits for younger children may include warnings about interacting with strangers. Middle schoolers might hear about online safety and bullying. For teens, drug use and reproductive health, including STD and pregnancy prevention, might be on the agenda. “One of the best things about having a long-standing relationship with a pediatrician is that you build on topics over time,” says Dr. Lockwood.
There’s help for the whole family
Children are part of a family, and good medical care takes that into context. “We support whole families in pediatric care,” says Dr. Lockwood. Her office routinely connects moms and dads with financial counselors and social workers to help with whole-family issues, such as food insecurity, that can impact a child’s health.
If you’re ever tempted to delay preventive care for your child, consider these reasons why it’s so important to your child’s future. Lifelong good health starts at the very beginning of life. Healthy, happy children have a better chance of growing up to be healthy, happy adults.