Contributed by Laura Walker
Most parents understand the importance of taking their children for their annual wellness checks. This is an opportunity to check their growth and milestone development. The wellness check is a critical time for early detection and intervention for a variety of issues children may face.
The typical wellness visit often includes a routine screening of ears and eyes. The doctor checks a child’s heart and lungs, and may run some tests just to make sure “everything is okay.” However, these wellness screenings often fail to catch “unseen” issues if you don’t know to ask the right questions. They have no swab test or blood screen. These health challenges don’t always come with “traditional signs” like bruising, weight loss, rashes or fever, but have the ability to affect children long-term.
Hart Wylie, psychiatric nurse practitioner with Canopy Children’s Solutions discusses how parents can get the most out of their child’s wellness visit.
“When thinking about your child’s health, think broader spectrum,” said Wylie. “You need to make sure you and your doctor are on the same page. He or she can help you understand what is typical for your child’s age and what isn’t. Discuss in detail what development milestones for your child should look like over the next year and any red flags you should look out for. Even small delays can affect later development, performance in school and social skills, so it is important to catch them early.”
In addition to milestones, there are several others things Wylie recommends discussing with your child’s doctor to make sure you get the most out of your child’s annual wellness visit:
Your child’s sleep—the amount and the overall quality of sleep a child gets can have a huge impact on behavior, cognitive ability and other factors. This may also include a discussion about screen time and its impact on sleep and behavior.
Vitamin deficiencies—a lack of vital nutrients can cause symptoms like a depressed mood, sluggishness and lack of motivation. Talk about your child’s eating habits and if supplements might be necessary.
Mental health screenings—common mental health challenges in kids, such as depression and anxiety, can look very different than symptoms that appear in older teens and adults. Does your child complain about regular headaches or stomachaches? Are they abnormally fearful? Because of mental health stigmas and misinformation, many kids’ conditions are misdiagnosed or go unnoticed or untreated, which can lead to long-term health issues.
Difficult transitions—take time to discuss major changes happening in your child’s life, such as death or divorce. Your doctor can offer signs to watch for that can indicate intervention is needed. He or she may recommend your child visit a mental health therapist specializing in children or adolescents to help with learning valuable coping skills and how to handle complex or intense feelings.
Social play—talk to your doctor about how your child interacts with peers. This can be a strong indicator of issues such as anxiety or depression as well as bullying and emotional or developmental challenges.
Safety recommendation—particularly if your child is younger, there are certain state-mandated regulations parents must follow. Your pediatrician can recommend proper car seat sizes. They can also suggest developmentally appropriate conversations to have like “stranger danger” and “good touch, bad touch.”
You know your child best and if there is something concerning you regarding possible symptoms or behaviors, don’t be afraid to ask questions. If it isn’t time for your child’s wellness visit, go ahead and make the call – don’t wait. Early intervention is the most effective way of addressing physical, emotional and behavioral challenges with children who often are able to recover fully, and go on to lead normal and productive lives. Even if it turns out to be nothing, gathering answers and reassurance is worth your peace of mind.
Laura Walker is the staff writer for Canopy Children’s Solutions.
ABOUT CANOPY CHILDREN’S SOLUTIONS For more than 100 years, Canopy has provided innovative solutions to many of Mississippi’s most vulnerable youth through a comprehensive continuum of behavioral health, educational, and social service solutions. Learn more at mycanopy.org or call 800.388.6247.