Why Your Child Should Have a Physical Examination

Why Your Child Should Have a Physical Examination

Going to the doctor isn't just for when your child is sick.

With flu season in full swing and the holidays swiftly approaching, parents often forget one important step, their child’s annual physical! We all know that visiting the doctor is critical to instilling healthy habits in your children, whether it's to treat an ongoing issue, or just to figure out if your pediatrician is right for your family. Pediatrician Aimée Kahn MD, MPH, reminds parents why physicals are an important step to take to set your children up for a successful and healthy school year.

Why is it important to get a physical?

There are many reasons that it is important to get a physical exam. The comprehensive physical exam, when a pediatrician has the opportunity to do a full physical overview of your child, is just one portion of the visit. During the visit, your doctor will also inquire about things going on in your child’s life, including their physical, developmental, mental, and social health.

Pediatricians can educate parents on their child’s body, development, and offer age appropriate anticipatory guidance, including information about safety, nutrition, upcoming developmental milestones, and behavior.

What will we discuss at this visit?

A yearly exam is a great opportunity for parents and patients to discuss any concerns or questions they have had over the past year as well as issues that they feel may arise in the year ahead. Recent illnesses, injuries, hospitalizations, emergency room and urgent care visits will be discussed to address how the last year has been regarding your child’s physical health. Standard questions about how your child did in school, who her friends are, her favorite teacher and class, what her aspirations are, activities she enjoys and plans she has for the year ahead also give the doctor an idea of what is going on socially.

Changes in the family’s health is also important to discuss during this visit, including any new diagnoses that may have come up among family members that can potentially play a role in the child’s physical health, but also in their mental health and ability to cope with illness in another family member. At each visit your doctor will also observe and or discuss developmental milestones that your child should be meeting. If there are any concerns regarding your child’s development, this is a great time to bring them up. If your pediatrician finds any developmental concerns during the exam, they may recommend a further evaluation to identify if your child qualifies for a service to help them catch up.

A child’s mental health needs to be addressed at these visits as well. It is incredibly important to discuss any mental health concerns with your pediatrician; this can include but is not limited to sadness, new relationships, anger issues, feelings of depression or anxiety, bullying, changes in behaviors and/or changes in eating habits. If any of these or other concerns arise, your doctor will offer resources, advice and, if necessary, referrals to manage these to the best of their ability.

It may seem as though your pediatrician is asking questions that may or may not pertain to your child, however it’s important to remember that this is a time when subtle illnesses or conditions may be identified. It is also a time when your doctor gets to learn more about your child to create a better rapport with them! We don’t want to be remembered as the place where they have to get their shots, vaccines, or have blood work taken! We also want to be their confidants, their advocates, someone they can trust and talk to.

Who should get a physical?

Everyone should get an annual physical, and in the first 3 years of life the well child visits or physical exam visits are more frequent as there is a lot of growth and development during these early years.

What if my child is sick for their physical exam?

In most cases you can still go to your appointment, and your doctor can address both the illness and the physical exam. This is something you should discuss with your doctor when you arrive.

Will my child have to get shots at their annual physical exam?

Although many visits will coincide with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for vaccine administration, not all visits will. There are times when children will only require their yearly influenza vaccine, and other times when there will be other vaccines they are due for. If your child is due for their flu shot and hasn’t had a physical in the last year, this is a great opportunity to take care of both needs at once and only make one trip to your doctor’s office!

Pediatricians can educate parents on their child’s body, development, and offer age appropriate anticipatory guidance, including information about safety, nutrition, upcoming developmental milestones, and behavior, so it's important to get your child's annual physical.