With school starting on August 14 in Fort Bragg and August 26 in Mendocino, those with school-aged children should be scheduling their yearly child wellness checks and sports physicals. Connecting your child with medical care each year is an important way to prevent some health problems and to catch others while they’re still relatively easy to manage. Does your daughter need glasses? Can your son hear well (maybe he isn’t just ignoring you)?
PREVENTION IS THE BEST MEDICINE
One of the most important things we can do for our children is to vaccinate them. Decades ago, many families had to experience the tragedy of losing a child to polio, whooping cough, or other infections, but thanks to modern vaccines, this is no longer the case. Today, children can be protected against measles, chickenpox, rubella, HPV, meningitis and more.
When we all vaccinate our children, we help create what’s called “herd immunity,” protecting not only those who receive the vaccines but also the most vulnerable people in our communities—those who cannot be vaccinated such as babies younger than six months old and people with weakened immune systems. We are lucky to live in a time when we don’t see the devastating effects of these diseases very often. Let’s keep it that way!
TRACK GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
Another important reason to check in with a medical provider every year is to measure your child’s growth and development for their age and stage. If your child is not reaching common milestones, it may indicate a problem. Often, the younger the child, the easier it is to help them catch up. If a problem exists, your healthcare provider can take care of it or send your child for the right therapy or specialized care.
Here are five main areas of development providers consider:
- Cognitive skills are those used to think, learn and solve problems. Kids use these skills to explore the world around them with their eyes, ears, and hands.
- Social and emotional skills are those used to relate to other people and include being able to express and control emotions.
- Speech and language skills are essential to use and understand language.
- Fine and gross motor skills include the use of small muscles (fine motor), particularly in the hands, and large muscles (gross motor) in the body.
- Daily living activities are those required to manage everyday tasks. They can include things such as eating, dressing, and bathing themselves.
Children’s bodies change a lot during between the ages of 12 and 18, and an annual checkup is a great time to make sure those changes are going well. During the tween and teen years, sports can be a healthy way for adolescents to release stress; the key is to make sure it’s safe. Intense physical activity like the kind required during competitive school sports can bring to light problems no one knew about. A thorough sports physical can identify symptoms that prevent catastrophic medical problems.
Since sports physicals are often the only time adolescents see a medical provider each year, these appointments can also provide a critical opportunity to provide health education or diagnose problems that might not come up otherwise. Many providers ask parents if the parents would be willing to step outside for a few minutes, so teens can discuss health concerns privately with providers. Providers can provide a safe space for teens to discuss life stressors or behaviors related to social pressures, drug use, alcohol, sex, anxiety, and mental illness. Providers can help keep teens healthy by sharing accurate information. At Mendocino Coast Clinics, we have male and female clinicians, so teens can choose whichever they are more comfortable with.
BRING YOUR QUESTIONS
Sports physicals and annual wellness checks are a good time for parents to ask questions, too. If you have questions about development, behavior, sleep, eating, or social interactions, note your top three to five concerns and ask your child’s clinician about them at the start of the visit.
Just because children don’t exhibit any obvious problems doesn’t mean they shouldn’t see a healthcare provider. When we identify problems early, they’re usually easier to fix.