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Doctor measuring a kid's height at his annual checkup.

When does your child need a checkup?

Even if your child is usually healthy, they still need an annual checkup from their doctor. These exams build strong habits and are a great opportunity for vaccinations, growth checks and more.

“Having a regular checkup brings familiarity to kids,” explains Piedmont pediatrician Michelle Payne, M.D. “As kids get older, it should help them transition into taking more control of their health.”

Once your child is 3 or older, they probably need just one wellness visit per year. Kids’ checkups are investments in their long-term health, so even if your daughter or son is nervous about doctors, it’s still worth your time to make an appointment.

What happens at a child’s checkup

Checkup routines differ depending on your child’s age, Dr. Payne says. But there are some constants to look for:

  • Growth checks for height, weight and developmental milestones
  • Medical screenings (ex: autism in younger children and anxiety in older children)
  • Vaccinations

Checkups are also a good time to talk to your pediatrician or family medicine physician about your own concerns, Dr. Payne says. Have you noticed new behaviors or symptoms in your child? Bring those up at their checkup.

Doctors are specially trained to recognize potential problems in mental, physical and emotional development. The earlier kids get help for these issues, the better off they’ll be.

“If kids are delayed, we can usually help coordinate services to get them plugged into the resources that they need,” Dr. Payne says.

Some children may need more than one checkup per year, she adds. If your child has asthma, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other chronic conditions, they should probably be seen more frequently.

What to do if your child is scared of the doctor

Dr. Payne sees plenty of kids who are nervous about annual checkups. She recommends parents be honest about what doctor visits are really like.

“I would encourage parents to talk to their child and be open with them about what to expect,” she says. For younger children, videos about checkups and toy doctor tools (like stethoscopes) can go a long way toward alleviating their fears.

Parents can also plan special treats around doctor visits, like taking their child for ice cream after an appointment. That way, the child learns to associate the doctor with positive feelings.

Shots in particular can be intimidating for many children, Dr. Payne says, but she takes the same transparent approach with them.

“I try to be honest about what shots they’ll be getting and how many they’ll be getting,” she says, adding that she also explains that vaccines keep people healthy.

Should you follow the vaccination schedule?

Vaccines are an important part of younger kids’ doctor visits. Every parent should follow the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule, Dr. Payne says.

By getting your kids immunized, you protect children who are more susceptible to certain illnesses at a young age (when the consequences for getting those illnesses can be more dangerous).

Dr. Payne often fields questions about whether it’s safe for kids to be vaccinated if they’re dealing with other mild ailments, like ear infections or colds. She wants parents to know that yes, it’s still perfectly fine.

“You want to have those vaccines in the child as soon as it is safe and effective for them to do that,” she explains.

Need to make an appointment with a Piedmont physician? Save time, book online.

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