If you have children, chances are you spend plenty of time sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with your little one who has yet another runny nose, sore ear or bout of gastro. But, do you ever take your child for a regular check-up when they are well? You might recall the first 18 months of your child’s life, having all of those checks that go hand in hand with the immunisation schedule. But what about beyond that? If your child seems happy and healthy, should you still take them to the doctor?
The short answer – YES!
Ideally children should have regular, ideally annual, health checks with their GP just like adults should. There are many reasons for this, so let’s break it down.
Firstly, regular check-ups help a child build an open and trusting relationship with their doctor, which becomes more and more important as they get older. This relationship is much easier to develop if a child sees a doctor when they are feeling well, rather than just when they feel sick and miserable. Illness is often linked to feelings of vulnerability and fear, but if a child starts to see a doctor when they are well, they can establish a relationship built on confidence, comfort and trust.
Annual checks also provide a time to check in on the all important milestones. You might associate milestones with the first years of life - rolling, crawling, walking and talking. But, just like babies tick the milestones, older kids have milestones too, particularly when it comes to social and intellectual development. These are important conversations to have, but often there isn’t time to have them in the appointment that was booked for an ear infection.
Taking your child to the doctor when they are well also provides you as the parent or carer the opportunity to ask all of those questions that you have had in the back of your mind but wouldn’t necessarily make a trip to the doctor specifically for. It is the perfect time to discuss what is “normal”, what are “red flags” to watch out for and also ways to support your child through different developmental stages.
When we talk about an annual check up for a child, there are several areas that should be covered. These will be tailored to the specific child, their age and concerns. In general these areas are:
1. Habits and Behaviours: Overall health, mood, sleep habits, appetite and nutrition as well as toilet habits. It should also include a discussion about socialisation and friendships, school and physical activity.
2. Physical Checks: Height and weight, vision and hearing, oral health, examination of heart, lungs and abdomen as well as a skin check - not just moles, but any rashes, acne, birth marks ect.
3. Other checks depending on age may include blood pressure and pubertal changes.
The aim should be to do this annually - or more frequently is you have any concerns about your child. We also know habits created early tend to stick, so getting your child used to the doctor puts them in a great position to continue this throughout their life.