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Plan a Healthy Year for Your Child

Brought to you by National PTA

Check in for a Checkup
If your child sprains an ankle, complains of a sore throat, or develops a rash, you probably stop by the pediatrician's office. But what about taking your child to the doctor when she isn't sick? Should you schedule preventive checkups, too?

Yes, says Howard L. Taras, M.D., associate clinical professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California San Diego, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Committee on School Health. Checkups give your child's doctor a chance to:

  • Make sure your child is eating well, growing well and is healthy.
  • Track your child's growth and development.
  • Find any physical problems before they become serious.
  • Inform you about how to keep your kids healthy and safe.
  • Answer your or your child's questions.

    Since school performance is affected by health issues, your pediatrician will talk to you about your child's "healthy habits" (sleep, physical activity, TV watching, personal hygiene). With this information, the pediatrician can help you work toward a healthier school year for your child. Your conversation may cover:

  • Injury prevention (seat belts, bike helmets, playground safety, sunscreen, after-school environment)
  • Behavior (discipline, signs of depression or anxiety, nutrition)
  • Oral health (tooth brushing)
  • Sex ed
  • Social competence, family relationships, and community interaction

    An Apple a Day, a Checkup a Year
    Although most schools require physicals for sports-related reasons, K-12 schools do require that students get full physical exams at several points (requirements vary by state). Dr. Wayne Yankas, M.D., a pediatrician in Midland Park, NJ, and a member of the AAP, says that physicals are important in elementary school to check for hearing and vision problems, as well as "handedness" (whether a child is left- or right-handed), which affects kids' reading ability and coordination.

    When your child reaches puberty and beyond (beginning as early as fifth grade) it's important for him to see a pediatrician every year or every other year, according to Taras and Yankas. "Growth is more profound during puberty," Yankas explains. Your child should also be tested for muscle strength and scoliosis. Yankas says that pediatricians will also identify obesity early on. Being overweight will influence a child's ability to participate in gym class and sports, and may also lead to future health problems.

    Advice for Athletes
    From the backyard to the playground, more U.S. kids than ever are playing games and competing in sports. Close to 6 million kids play on high-school teams; another 20 million join in recreational or competitive sports outside of school.

    Your child's pediatrician can make sure that your child's sports program -- in or out of school -- gets the right results. Each young athlete presents a unique picture of health, growth, physical maturity, and knowledge of basic skills. A complete medical exam will highlight your child's physical strengths and weaknesses. This exam may help your child choose the sport that will be most rewarding.

    Your doctor can also offer guidance on proper diet and injury prevention for your young athlete.

    Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

    Reminders for Parents
    Know your health insurance benefits:
    Yankas advises parents to read the fine print on health insurance policies. If you've recently changed jobs, your family's coverage may have changed. Find out whether your managed-care policy honors annual checkups.

    Before your child's appointment:

  • Write down any questions you have beforehand so you won't forget to ask.
  • Keep up-to-date records of your child's growth and information.

    At the pediatrician's office:

  • Bring any pertinent records about your child.
  • Ask if your child needs any booster shots or new vaccinations.
  • Stay in the exam room with your child or adolescent during full checkups.
  • Find out how often your child needs a checkup. If he plays sports or has physical, behavioral, academic, or social problems, or if there are positive findings on the physical examination, frequent (more than once a year) checkups may be recommended.

    Excerpted from "The Importance of Regular Pediatric Checkups," published in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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