ONALASKA, Wis. -- Taking your child in for well-child visits is much more important than you might imagine. By having your child's general health, growth and development evaluated, well-child checkups can reveal problems early and reinforce healthy behavior. They can also establish a relationship with your child's provider so that you'll always know whom to call when your child is sick or injured. Finally, your child's trusting relationship with his or her provider may help establish a lifelong pattern of healthy habits and appropriate use of medical care.

"When children are sick, they don't feel like showing their provider how well they walk or talk," says Martha Binn, M.D., family physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Holmen. "They don't relate very well either so their social skills cannot be evaluated. A well-child visit requires a well child. Bringing a 6-month old for an appointment for an ear-infection is not the same as getting a 6 –month well child visit."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you take your child in for a well-child visit at the following times:
• During the first year of life: 2-4 weeks, 2, 4, 6, 9 and 12 months
• During the second year: 15, 18, and 24 months
• In childhood: yearly visits from 2-5 years of age
• During early school years: 6, 8 and 10 years of age
• In adolescence and early adulthood: yearly visits from 11-21 years of age

A well-child checkup includes taking a medical history and a physical exam. During the visit, your provider will ask about your child's history of illness since the last visit, daily routine, relationships with family and friends, developmental milestones, child care arrangements, school and any other concerns.

The physical exam includes checking your child's height, weight, growth, general appearance, blood pressure, reflexes and skeletal system and examining his/her ears, eyes, nose, throat and mouth, neck, chest and lungs, heart, abdomen and skin.

Your provider will also make sure that your child is up-to-date with his/her immunizations. You should also keep a copy of your child's immunization record for school and at home.

"While your provider is following your child's physical growth, he or she is also following their development," explains Dr. Binn. "Children are constantly changing and adding new skills such as social development – how your child interacts with others, language development, gross motor skills – large muscle movements involving the arms and legs like throwing a ball or walking, and fine motor skills – using fingers and hands for drawing."

The well-child visit is the perfect time for you to ask any questions that you may have about your child's health. Dr. Binn recommends that parents prepare a list of questions or topics that they'd like to discuss ahead of time to make the most of their visit. Parents should also bring a copy of the child's immunization card and any previous medical records if switching medical care providers.