It’s never too late for a child’s back-to-school checkup

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Whether your child is entering kindergarten or heading off to high school, the beginning of the school year is a good time to schedule your child’s annual physical.

“For a lot of families, the yearly physical is the only time they come into our office because their children are generally healthy otherwise,” said Christianne Strickland, MD, a Stanford Children’s Health pediatrician at South Bascom Pediatrics in Los Gatos. “However, a back-to-school visit is very important. We include a head-to-toe physical exam, review a patient’s health history, and discuss any concerns about diet, exercise, sleep or school performance.”

The exam begins with checking a patient’s vital signs, height and weight, progress on the growth chart, and hearing and vision tests. Pediatricians like Strickland, or South Bascom colleagues Patricia Ferrari, MD, and Mary Beth Hughes, MD, also discuss immunization schedules with parents. If vaccines are warranted, they are administered after the exam.

“Back-to-school appointments allow us to take a complete history of the patient, which down the line helps us when they do come in with an illness,” said Strickland. “We make sure they are growing properly and don’t have physical problems that perhaps weren’t detected by the parents. The physical exam is really about preventative medicine. “

The visits also include discussions about keeping kids safe. “We cover basic safety guidelines including using helmets, sunscreen and seatbelts,” she said. “Kids and parents leave the office with printed safety guidelines for their particular age group.”

Another concern that resonates with many parents is how much time their children spend on electronics.

“It’s definitely becoming more of an issue,” Strickland adds. “Our formal recommendation is to limit screen time to less than two hours a day and that includes TV, computer, video games, cell phones and tablet use. That recommendation goes for all ages, but children under two years old shouldn’t have any screen time.”

Instead of screens, Strickland encourages parents to get their kids to read books and play outside, noting that children should get 30 to 40 minutes of exercise a day at least five times a week.

Exercise can include organized sports or kids can meet their physical needs by going for a walk or riding their bikes. If a kid does choose to play an organized sport, the coach or school may require a physical exam.

“A sports physical can count as the yearly physical,” she said. “We check all the muscle groups and make sure the kids are fit to play sports, and we sign any necessary sports clearance forms.”

Since each patient’s health needs are unique, pediatricians like Strickland tailor appointments to focus on health issues and concerns that are based on a child’s age. For instance, adolescents are dealing with a unique set of issues, and they are growing and developing at a rapid rate. Beyond the physical examination, pediatricians pay attention to teens’ social and emotional wellbeing and speak with them one-on-one about any concerns.

“We see kids through high school and even college,” Strickland said. “During these conversations, we will address smoking, drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, anxiety or depression issues.”

Regardless of the age of the child, preventative care is essential to getting a healthy start to the school year and beyond.

“We encourage all parents to make that yearly well child appointment as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” Strickland said. “Even if your children are currently healthy, it’s important to maintain that health. A regular checkup at the start of the school year is an excellent start.”

Discover more about General Pediatrics or call (408) 356-7770.

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