This school year, prioritize your child’s whole health — both physical and mental

Published 12:36 pm Friday, July 29, 2022

BY DR. KEVIN U. STEPHENS SR.
Chief Medical Officer
United Healthcare of the South
With back-to-school season upon us, it’s important to ensure your child is ready for the school year both physically and emotionally by scheduling a well-child visit.
Well-child visits are annual doctor appointments for preventive health services and are essential for ensuring a child’s growth and tracking developmental milestones. The well-child visit is also the time for routine immunizations to prevent diseases like measles, polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, whooping cough, and other serious diseases.
Like vaccines, which prevent physical health conditions, speaking with your child’s primary care physician regularly about mental health concerns is also an essential part of overall preventive care and the annual well-child visit is an opportunity to have a conversation with your child’s physician. It’s best to have these conversations when problems or warning signs first appear, so that your physician can take the appropriate steps to best treat them.
If you’re not sure what questions to ask your child’s primary care physician during an annual well-child visit, consider the following:
• Ask what vaccines are appropriate for your child’s age and how to make up any that have been missed. You can refer to this full list of child and adolescent vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In addition to other childhood vaccines, both flu and COVID-19 vaccines are recommended by the CDC for everyone 6 months of age and older. If you are concerned about childhood vaccines, then ask about common side effects, which are typically very mild, such as pain or swelling at the injection site, and can include low-grade fever or rash.
• Bring up any changes in your child’s behavior. Some common warning signs that your child’s mental wellbeing isn’t where it needs to be include persistent sadness, withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions, displaying outbursts of extreme irritability, drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality, changes in eating habits, difficulty sleeping, frequent headaches or stomach aches, difficulty concentrating, displaying changes in academic performance, or avoiding or missing school.
• Also, ask for guidance on how best to support your child. Whether you have concerns about your child’s nutrition, exercise, sleeping patterns, or behavioral changes, your child’s primary care physician is a great place to start. With so many young children experiencing mental and emotional health challenges, it’s important to create opportunities for them to share how they are really doing. Remember that these can be sensitive topics for your child to discuss. Empathy and patience go a long way to help children and adolescents feel listened to and comfortable.
• Don’t forget to bring your sports physical forms. It’s great if your child participates in school sports. And it’s an opportune time to make sure your physician is aware your child is a student-athlete and address any concerns like nutrition, prior injuries and family history.
• Ask for recommendations for other health care professionals, if needed. For example, if your child hasn’t seen the dentist in a while, their vision screening indicated they need to see an eye doctor, or their mental health screening raised concern, ask which health care professionals who are in your plans network that they would recommend.
If you haven’t already, now is the time to schedule your child’s appointment to give your child a healthy start to the school year. Regular well-child visits are essential in making sure your child is up to date on immunizations and their developmental milestones are on track… including their mental wellbeing.
To learn more about recommended preventive care for your child, visit UHC.com.

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