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Checkups Should Not Be Just About Height & Weight

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I have been doing annual check ups at the office all summer. This made me think, what should you be learning from your child’s annual checkup?

When your child is a newborn or infant there is much to discuss about growth and developmental milestones. Everything is new and there seems to be so much information to impart to new parents. Once your child reaches elementary school age the check up often becomes “more routine” with the usual height, weight, BMI, and physical exam, and fortunately during this time there are often not a lot of abnormal physical findings that were not previously diagnosed.

But I think there are many more equally important parts of this “routine” well-child exam. This is the perfect opportunity for your child to develop their own rapport with their doctor and to begin discussing their home and family life, school life, friends, teachers, outside interests, and sleeping and eating habits. The list goes on and on. It is only by having these open and ongoing discussions that your pediatrician can truly do a better job of taking care of your child.

These “well child” exams are a great time to re-assess the last year and look at how your child interacted with family and friends (“tell me about your best friend”), their school performance (“did you like your teacher?” “tell me something you learned this year?”), new interests since the last visit (I know you used to take piano, what are you playing?”), and to discuss sleep (“what time do you go to bed?”, “do you share your room?”), nutrition (“do you buy or take your lunch?”, “how about milk, do you love it or hate it?”) and wellness (“what do you do after school?” “do you have a helmet on that rip-stick?”).

It is in this way that early good habits are established and your child also feels involved in the doctor’s visit. Any problem areas can then be reviewed and hopefully addressed earlier than later, with changes planned to be implemented before the next visit. Each year I build on these discussions which keeps me informed of the child’s life outside of the 30 minutes I may see them a year, and also is the foundation for later discussions and autonomy during adolescence.

I think that these early elementary years are such a wonderful time and the children are so full of enthusiasm when discussing all of these topics. As I walk in the door the first question may be, “Dr. Sue, do I have any shots this year?” with the answer frequently being “not this year.” That gets them loosened up and then the talking is often non-stop. It is fun for the parent to hear all of this from their child, but is also quite important information for their doctor to know. Checkups should not just be about height and weight!

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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