Your child’s back-to-school physical is the most important task to check off of your list this fall, especially if your child is entering a new school. Here’s a primer so you and your child know exactly what to expect in his back-to-school examination.
A physical normally involves seeing the doctor, who will ask how the child has been doing. If the doctor has not seen the child before, he will require a more extensive history.
“If it is someone they are seeing for the first time, most doctors will do an entire intake history where they find out whether or not this kid has always been healthy, where they received their previous healthcare, if they had any medical problems, what their birth history is, family history, and any sort of medical problems in the family, all of which are baseline areas that the doctor will cover because he wants background information,” says Dr. Leslie Hayes, chief of adolescent medicine in the department of pediatrics at New York Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn.
What the physical entails depends largely on the patient’s age. A younger child will have his height, weight, blood pressure, temperature, and pulse taken, as well as a head-to-toe physical, in which the doctor looks at the child’s general appearance to see if he looks well for his age. It’s like an A through Z health inventory.
“We examine their eyes by looking with our ophthalmoscopes, look in their ears, their mouth, and assess their dentition to see if they have good dentition or a lot of cavities,” says Hayes. “We listen to their heart, lungs, examine their abdomen, and check their extremities to make sure they are neurologically intact and growing properly.”
Doctors will plot the child’s height and weight on a growth chart to make sure the child is “reasonably adequate height and weight for their age and sex,” she says.
“What we are seeing more commonly is overweight kids who are off the growth charts as far as weight is concerned,” says Hayes. If this is the case, the doctor will mention the importance of exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, and choosing water over soda to prevent obesity. “If a child watches a lot of television, we talk to them about decreasing their screen time.”
The pediatrician also touches on school performance, asking the child what classes he is taking and if he is not doing well. The doctor wants to find out if the cause of poor performance could be something medical or psychosocial.
And, much to most kids’ disdain, the pediatrician will give the child scheduled boosters or vaccines to help prevent him from contracting any diseases he may be at risk of getting.
The physical is the perfect time and place for parents to ask pediatricians any questions they may have about their children’s health, such as “my young kids don’t like to eat vegetables or fruits, and won’t drink water.”
“As a child goes through certain developmental stages the parents may be concerned, but that is why it is important to come in for an annual physical exam, just to make sure that the doctor can confirm that everything is OK,” advises Hayes.
It’s also the perfect opportunity for kids to ask doctors any questions they may have. Younger kids do not tend to ask a lot of questions, but as children become teenagers, they tend to be more involved in their healthcare and sometimes come in with questions for their doctor.
As kids get older, their doctors may talk to them about personal safety, such as car safety for a teen who is starting to drive, or safe dating. The point is to tailor the advice to each child.
“The guidance is governed by the age, as well as cognitive developmental level of the patient, but most center around healthy lifestyles, safety prevention, smoking, safe-sex practices, and relationships,” Hayes explains.
A back-to-school physical is without a doubt important for every child, no matter the age or school grade, and should become a yearly practice for parents and children.
“It is a good idea to have your child come on a yearly basis to be seen,” says Hayes. “As they get older, normally the interval of time between visits is larger, but it is helpful to have them come in at least every two years to be reevaluated and to make sure their growth and development is normal and that they are not experiencing any sort of medical issues or problems.”