May 1, 2024

Ask a Doctor: Tips for Caregivers to Navigate Well-Child Checks

Dr. Jessica Reggi shares everything you should know about how to prepare for well-child visits.

Family prepares for health visit with their child's provider.

Well-child appointments can help your child thrive. So, what do they entail? When does your child need them? And how can you help your child prepare? Healthier Generation’s Dr. Jessica Reggi is here to answer these questions and more. 

Q: Why does my child need regular medical checkups?

Dr. Reggi: Regular checkups are opportunities to monitor and discuss possible medical problems or concerns with your child. During these visits, a medical provider (such as a pediatrician or nurse practitioner) will perform a physical exam and ask questions to assess your child’s growth and development, as well as discuss concerns. 

"Any concerns raised by medical providers and caregivers are all valid and appointments should accommodate both perspectives."

Q: How often does my child need a checkup?
Dr. Jessica Reggi

Dr. Reggi: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has developed a recommended schedule for well-child visits, with more frequent visits from birth through age three and yearly visits thereafter. If there are specific concerns or your child has a medical condition, your provider may suggest a different schedule.

Even if there are no concerns and a child is not experiencing any acute illnesses, it’s important to follow this schedule and stay up to date on routine and recommended childhood vaccinations

Q: How should I find a medical provider for my child?

Dr. Reggi: It’s important for children and families to have an accessible and reliable medical home – a consistent provider who offers both direct care and referrals for additional care as needed. 

Caregivers should look for a provider who: 

  • Has an office or clinic that is conveniently located, with hours of operation that complement the caregiver’s schedule
  • Can communicate in the family’s primary language, working with a translator or translation device if necessary
  • Accepts the family’s insurance or payment method

It’s useful to know the provider’s policy around forms and paperwork that may need to be filled out for childcare, school, camps, or sports participation, as well as how they handle same-day appointments, walk-in hours, and after-hours phone calls. 

"Families may want to ask neighbors, colleagues, or relatives for recommendations as they can offer insight into how personalities affect the provider-family relationship."

Q: What happens at a well-child visit?

Dr. Reggi: Here’s what caregivers and children should expect:

  • The provider will conduct a physical exam, measuring height, weight, and any other necessary vital signs, like temperature or blood pressure. Caregivers may be asked to help their child change out of their clothing or put on a paper/fabric gown for the physical exam.  

    Note: While many children and caregivers are hesitant about having their private parts examined (the genitourinary exam), it’s an important part of a comprehensive physical exam that gives the provider information about any differences in anatomy, body changes associated with puberty, and more. 
  • The provider will talk with the caregiver (and the child, if old enough) about age-specific topics relevant to the child’s physical, mental, and social emotional health, such as developmental milestones. They will discuss safety habits and guidelines around things like car seats and seat belt use, screen time, and sleep habits. This is also an opportunity to address any behavioral or mental health concerns as well as discuss school performance and relationships with teachers and classmates.
  • Some visits may include vaccinations (according to the CDC schedule) or bloodwork (typically screening for anemia and elevated lead levels). 
  • For teenage patients, depending on the provider and state, the caregiver may be asked to leave the exam room so the patient can have privacy in discussing sensitive topics such as substance use, sexual activity, and mental health with their provider. 

    Learn more about what to expect at each checkup by age.
Young boy receives vaccination at health visit.
Q: What kinds of questions should I ask my child’s provider?

Dr. Reggi: In the weeks leading up to a checkup, it can be helpful to reflect on your child’s developmental milestones, including social emotional, gross/fine motor, speech, and cognitive. Think about any concerns raised by educators or other caregivers in your child’s life, and consider upcoming travel plans, camps, sports, or seasonal issues (such as sun exposure or common winter illnesses). It can be helpful to keep a running list of questions on your phone or a notepad to stay organized for the upcoming visit.

"Older children and teenagers may have their own questions, concerns, or worries and they may need help articulating them at the visit. It's important to encourage them to use their voice to advocate for their own health and well-being."

Q: How should I prepare my child for the visit?

Dr. Reggi: Children thrive on preparation! Here are some ways you can help them learn what to expect and address any fears:

"It can be helpful to avoid apologizing to children for vaccines or taking them to checkups while still validating any fears and anxieties."

Thank you, Dr. Reggi! 

Learn more about routine and recommended childhood vaccinations at Healthier Generation’s Vaccine Resource Hub.

Check out more from our series: Ask a Doctor: What Caregivers Need to Know About the HPV Vaccine

Nicole Blanton

Manager, Culturally Responsive Communications | Alliance for a Healthier Generation