Well-care visits, or wellness checks, are your child’s routine health checkups with their pediatrician. These visits help you keep your child up to date on the vaccinations they need for daycare or school and generally serve as a way for you to ensure your child is happy, healthy and thriving. Dan Nicklas, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s primary care-focused Child Health Clinic, says well-care visits are important for children of all ages and their families.
“Regular visits help us get to know you,” he says. “We do a physical check of your child — blood pressure, eyes, ears and all that — to make sure all systems are working, so to speak. But we also check in and touch base on other things like family life, school and behavior. We really serve as a sounding board and an educational resource for both you and your child.”
That kind of relationship can help pediatricians give quality care. In other words, if your pediatrician knows what your child is like when they’re healthy, they can offer better care when something is wrong.
Here, Dr. Nicklas breaks down well visits: what pediatricians focus on by age and why these visits matter.
Age 0 to 4
Babies needs a lot of visits during the first year of their life. After that, trips to the pediatrician will start to slow down but are still just as important.
“A majority of vaccines happen during this time,” Dr. Nicklas says, “and those are essential for your child’s ongoing immunization against preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough. It’s important to follow the recommended vaccine schedule, which is designed to give your child the best protection possible.”
Growth and development
Your child is learning and growing so much during this time, and your pediatrician uses well-care visits to make sure your child’s development stays on track. Height and weight are crucial, and your pediatrician can offer nutrition recommendations when necessary. They’ll also check hearing and vision. Dr. Nicklas says these thorough physical checks are important because it helps them identify any potential problems early on.
Behavior and parenting
This stage of parenting can be tough. “Your child is learning to communicate, so managing behavior and setting expectations is really important,” says Dr. Nicklas. Your pediatrician can answer questions and offer advice on the types of discipline that might work best for your child. They can also provide information on everything from childproofing to potty training to the recommended amount of screen time.
Age 5 to 8
Dr. Nicklas says this age is about identifying challenges and helping kids do well in all aspects of their lives.
Growth and development are still important, but success in school is a top priority. Your pediatrician can provide information on how much sleep your child needs each night and how much exercise they should get — both of which can affect how well they do in school.
Screening for disorders and health issues
Your pediatrician is also on the lookout for any health concerns that might appear around this age that could make school harder for your child. This can include minor conditions like trouble with eyesight or more serious conditions like asthma or heart issues. Pediatricians are also focused on nutrition, and they can provide information on how your family can work balanced meals into your diet.
“Childhood obesity can lead to secondary problems later like high blood pressure and diabetes,” says Dr. Nicklas, “so we pay close attention to that.”
Age 9 to 12
Your child’s body is starting to change, and your pediatrician can play an active role in educating your child and your family about what’s happening and what it means.
All about puberty
“Have open discussions with your child about what’s going on with their body,” says Dr. Nicklas. “Try to help them understand that it’s how bodies typically develop. It’s important to normalize it, and we can help you with that.”
Your child will also need another round of important vaccinations including the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis, or TDAP, shot; the meningococcus vaccine; and the HPV vaccine, which protects against cancer.
Age 13 to 18
Assessing behavior, development and nutrition becomes just as important now as it was when they were toddlers, says Dr. Nicklas.
Evaluating social and emotional needs
Your child is likely starting to want increased independence, but you should keep an eye on and talk to them about the things that may be affecting their mental health. Your pediatrician can be a great resource for you to get a better understanding of what that might be — things like pressure at school and social media. Additionally, your pediatrician can help evaluate whether a mental health screening might be right for your child and offer you a referral.
Education on healthy lifestyle choices
Curiosity or pressure from friends can often lead teens to experiment with things like cigarettes and vaping. Well-care visits with your pediatrician may offer an opportunity to help your child understand the health risks associated with those behaviors. Your pediatrician can also help answer other lifestyle questions you might have — like how to talk about sex and how to increase physical activity and eat properly.
Visiting the pediatrician during the coronavirus pandemic
Life looks a lot different right now, and everyone needs to continue to limit trips out of the house. That means many parents are asking, “How important are well-care visits?” and wondering if they should continue their child’s well-care visits during the pandemic. Pediatric health experts say yes.
Many offices are doing all they can to help parents safely continue well-care visits for their children. As Dr. Nicklas puts it, “We would much rather see you than not see you.” After all, your child’s health and safety are your pediatrician’s top priority.
Steps to keep you safe
Your pediatrician is likely still offering in-person visits for well-care checks, and you can call to ask about the new policies they’ve put in place. Using protective equipment like masks, gowns and gloves, enhanced cleaning practices and staggered times for well- and sick-visits are all ways pediatric practices are working to keep patients safe while preventing the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
They might also offer telehealth visits where you and your child can talk with your doctor from the comfort of your own home. These virtual visits are helpful for things like medication checks, asthma evaluations and other general consults for mental and emotional well-being.
When you go, just remember to follow pandemic safety recommendations, including wearing a cloth face covering and practicing good hand hygiene.
Check out our coronavirus resources for parents and families. Or, learn more about how we're keeping patients safe during the pandemic.