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Back to School and the Doctor

It seems impossible, but a new school year is quickly approaching. While school supply shopping and new tennis shoes may be on your list before September, consider adding an annual visit to your back-to-school to-do list.

Back-to-school check-ups, as they are commonly called, are often the only visit kids and teenagers have with their providers every year. The annual physical gives the provider a chance to give your child a thorough physical exam that addresses any emotional, developmental, or social concerns. In addition to monitoring heart and blood pressure and testing for diabetes, your child’s doctor will use an annual exam to discuss diet, and exercise options, provide vision screenings, and test for cholesterol and anemia.

What’s the advantage of getting an annual check-up? By visiting with a provider at least once a year, your child is slowly building a baseline for their health. Their provider will be able to establish milestones better and see any potential red flags that may come up because they have a concrete medical history with your child. Your child’s provider will measure height and weight, discuss growth in terms of percentiles and how your child compares to prior visits, and check vital signs, including blood pressure, pulse, and heart rate.

What information should be shared during these appointments? Bring a list of questions that have come up since your child’s last visit, and prioritize them so your most pressing concerns are the things that are discussed first, ensuring they are addressed. Now is the time to discuss family medical history, especially with immediate relatives like siblings, parents, or grandparents.

How to prepare for your child’s first appointment? If it’s your first visit to the office, bring any important past medical documentation: immunization records and growth charts, medication lists and doses, allergies, and records from past hospitalizations or surgeries. These are helpful for the doctor to know when taking care of your child. If you’re overwhelmed for the first appointment, take notes during the visit! This will help you remember everything discussed. You can expect to be given a handout at the end that summarizes the main points of the visit and what to expect in the coming year, especially regarding physical, social, and emotional development. 

How can teenage children prepare for their exams? If your child is entering their teenage years, you may wonder what your role is in their appointments. Your child needs to trust their doctor and be able to ask questions themselves. Have a talk with your child before their appointment and ask if they want to attend on their own. This allows them to ask questions, with parents present if they would like, but definitely with parents absent as you get into those later adolescent years because sometimes there can be questions that kids feel nervous asking about in front of Mom or Dad.

Don’t forget about the eyes! It’s recommended children get their eyes tested before starting school, as an eye exam is the only way to ensure your child sees clearly and can fully participate with their peers. While most children can pass a vision test at school, this doesn’t screen for more severe problems like myopia, lazy eye, cross-eye, or misaligned eyes. Scheduling a yearly eye exam can help give you peace of mind that your child has all the tools they need to succeed, in and out of the classroom.