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Make the Most of Your Child's Checkup

Don't go to the pediatrician without these smart strategies -- tactics we got straight from the doctors themselves.
Baby with bandage on leg

If you've ever looked forward to your child's well visit so you can ask the pediatrician a question that's been bugging you—What's behind my 3-year-old's night terrors? Why does my 5-year-old complain so often that her stomach hurts? Is my kid going to eat a vegetable, ever?—you probably also know how easily a visit can fly by and you haven't gotten to what was on your mental list. The average checkup is 18 minutes long; before you know it time's up and your kids are skipping out the door with their SpongeBob stickers.

Talk about a missed opportunity! Pediatric well visits are about so much more than getting shots and plotting your child's climb up the growth chart. "That's just part of it," explains Charles Shubin, M.D., director of pediatrics at Mercy Family Care in Baltimore. "There are also child safety issues to discuss and whether anything out of the ordinary is going on in the home. Plus there's a whole other level to the exam, where we're looking for age-appropriate developmental skills." This means evaluating how your toddler stacks blocks or whether your grade-schooler's attention span is on track. "In addition to detecting delays early, pediatricians need time to give what we call 'anticipatory guidance,' " says Barbara Howard, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore. "That's why your doctor will talk about everything from addressing common household dangers when your baby starts crawling, to switching to lower-fat milk to reduce the risk of obesity, to discussing whether it's time to move up to the next-size car seat."

Pediatricians say that their number-one ally in making the most of any well visit is you. With that in mind, we went straight to pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners to ask them what you can do to help the process along. Consult this checklist before your child's next well exam.