Parents, here's how well-child visits can boost your children's long-term health
With busy schedules and kids who only fight mild colds occasionally, it can be easy to let well-child visits drop down the family to-do list. But scheduling an annual exam and discussion with your child's doctor can be incredibly helpful long-term.
Here are major benefits to consider:
Tracks growth and development
According to the journal JAMA Pediatrics, one of the biggest benefits of a well-child visit is the review of your child's growth and development. This goes beyond weight and height, including the discussion of cognitive, emotional, and social development.
These conversations can allow you and your doctor to see any potential areas of developmental concern. For instance, children who feel anxious might not express that as worry or being high strung. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes, it could manifest as new phobias, dizziness, dread about the future, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and headaches. Seeing early signs of this as part of a discussion about emotional and physical changes could spot symptoms that might otherwise have been missed.
Another benefit to well-child visits is establishing a baseline so that you can track changes to growth and development over time. Much like your annual checkup, you can compare what was going on last year to this one. Sometimes, there are subtle changes that might not get picked up, like differences in blood pressure or vision, that are more notable when you can track them over time.
Includes prevention strategies
Although it's impossible to protect a child from every virus or injury, there are strategies that can help reduce risks. This might include tactics that improve:
- Sleep quality
- Physical safety, such as review of car seat use
- Overall activity levels
- Screen time
- Sports/concussion risks
The last one is particularly important since children can be subject to chronic stress, and research has shown that may prompt a range of health outcomes, including lowered immune response, poor metabolic function, and cardiorespiratory health. Being able to team with your doctor on healthy habits and behaviors can help lower stress overall, providing a major wellness boost.
Keeps children current on vaccinations
Making sure children have all their vaccinations on schedule is a top way to protect them against more diseases than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The agency notes that some diseases that once injured or killed thousands of children have been eliminated completely or nearly wiped out thanks to safe and effective vaccines. For instance, smallpox and polio were once major causes for death and disability among children, but they're no longer a threat because of vaccination.
Children in the U.S. still get vaccine-preventable diseases, the agency adds, and there have been resurgences of measles and whooping cough in the past few years. Because some children can't get vaccinated due to conditions like leukemia or being too young to be immunized, it's important for kids who are old enough to get that protection so they can keep others safe as well as themselves.
Models effective behavior for a lifetime
A big part of child development is modeling different behaviors, and often, parents may not even realize what they're reinforcing. For example, a family bike ride every Saturday might feel like a fun way to spend time together, but it's also showing your kids that activity can be enjoyable and sociable, instead of a chore. Taking time regularly for yourself through breaks models to kids that self-care is an essential part of everyday life, not something that happens when you're burned out.
Similarly, well-child visits signal that preventative care is a crucial aspect of healthy living, and they model how to talk to doctors in ways that are effective and meaningful. For instance, when you ask questions, it's a sign to kids that they should feel comfortable bringing up their own concerns. That's the type of lesson that serves them for a lifetime.
Keep in mind that although there are some visits that might seem like they're "good enough" to double as a well-child checkup — such as having a sports physical — those aren't as comprehensive as a true well-child appointment. Make sure everything is on track by keeping well-child visits on your calendar annually.
For a list of all recommended immunizations especially for children under 2 years of age, visit the CDC.
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