The Importance of Annual Physicals for Children

With the busiest time of year quickly approaching, do you really have to find time to fit in an annual physical for your child? The answer is yes!

Summit Health pediatricians are here with a reminder that if you didn’t get around to scheduling your child’s annual well visit before the school year started, it’s not too late! “Annual visits are an important part of making sure kids stay healthy as they grow and develop through the different stages of childhood,” they say.

In the below Q&A, our pediatricians touch on the wide range of benefits annual check-ups offer, what a typical check-up visit is like, and what parents should pay close attention to.

Why are physicals important for everyone, especially children?

Physicals are important for everyone, especially children, as they give both parents and children an opportunity to assess growth and development. Physicals give the pediatrician insight into family dynamics and the environment in which the child is growing and learning. They also allow parents to ask questions about raising their children in a safe and healthy way.

Does my child need a physical every year, even if they seem healthy?
Yes, children change so much over a year, both physically and psychologically. It’s especially important right now, as we have seen how the pandemic has affected children (and adults) in different ways, and well-child exams give us an opportunity to check on how kids are managing that, even if they seem okay on the outside.

Children grow and develop very rapidly over short periods of time. Thus, we see infants shortly after birth, then at two weeks and again at two months of age. Once a child is two months, we see them every two months until six months of age. After that, we see them every three months until they reach 18 months. Then, every six months until the child is three years old and annually thereafter. What parents do, with guidance from their pediatrician, helps mold the children into strong, healthy, young adults.

Age of Child Physical Time Period
Infant seen shortly after birth, and again at two weeks old
2-6 months old seen every two months
6-18 months old seen every three months
18 months – 3-years-old seen every six months
three years old seen annually


How can I prepare my child for a physical?

Talk to your child about what to expect at the physical. They will be weighed, and their height will be measured. Their vision and hearing may be checked as well. Let them know, you, the parent will be right there with them for the exam, though adolescents will have the option to have parents step out at any point.  Part of the visit for adolescents will also include them meeting with their provider on their own to ask any additional questions. Address any concerns the child may have about the physical. For instance, they may be scared about getting vaccines.

You can contact your pediatrician before the visit to review what the visit entails. This way you will be fully informed and can pass that information along, as you see fit, to your child.

What does a typical child physical consist of?

For infants and toddlers up to 2-1/2 years of age, their length/height, weight, and head circumference will be checked and documented in the Electronic Health Record (EHR).  Starting at three years old, their height, weight, and blood pressure will be documented. We check vision and hearing starting at four years of age and the pediatrician will do a thorough head-to-toe physical exam. I show the parents and my child patients their growth trend and discuss proper growth. I point out any abnormal findings during the exam, as well as reviewing any areas of particular concern to the patient or parents. I also inquire about development (social, gross, and fine motor skills, speech, etc.), nutrition, and sleep habits. For school-aged children, I always check how the child is doing in school. I ask about what is going on socially with their relationships, both within the family (i.e. moving, a new sibling, etc.) and outside of it with friends, including any instances of bullying. I ask about sleep, hygiene, and nutrition as well since those are key factors in a child’s growth and development. I always review expected developmental milestones at the visit, as well as attempting to anticipate concerns that might arise before the child’s next wellness visit. The last step is to review vaccine status in order to make sure their child is fully protected against serious bacterial and viral infections. If the child is due for vaccinations according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) schedule, I discuss this with parents so we can make a joint decision about which vaccines the child will receive that day.

Should I expect any differences during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are essentially back to our normal policies now, other than requiring masks in the office for anyone over the age of 5 years. Kids over the age of 2 are encouraged but not required to wear them too. Our check-in staff will also inquire about whether your child is experiencing any symptoms of a communicable disease, so that we can get you into an exam room as quickly as possible and reduce the risk of exposing anyone in the waiting room.

What numbers are particularly important to pay attention to?

For infants, length, weight and head circumference are important in giving us clues as to how a baby is growing and developing. For children, we check their height, weight, blood pressure, vision, and hearing.

Is there a difference between a regular physical exam and a sports physical?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends both an annual physical exam and a sports physical, or Pre-Participation Exam (PPE). The sports physical concentrates on health conditions that can impact participation in sports, such as any concern for a serious underlying heart problem or asthma. Due to insurance restrictions, this is usually addressed at the annual PE, though sometimes the school may require you to have a separate sports physical if the timing of your annual exam does not fit with their requirement. For health care continuity purposes, the AAP recommends that the sports physicals be done at your pediatrician’s office rather than at a clinic or school.