It’s that time of year where parents begin crossing items off the back-to-school checklist. But making sure your children have everything they need for the first day of school goes beyond what’s on their feet or in their backpack. Scheduling an annual wellness checkup with your pediatrician is perhaps the most important part of back-to-school season.

“The back-to-school checkup is often the only visit many kids and teenagers have with their doctor every year,” explains Dr. Josette Gordon-Simet, medical director at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.

“This visit gives the doctor the opportunity to perform a thorough physical exam, and to screen for emotional, developmental or social concerns.”

A typical back-to-school checkup will include standard growth measurements – such as height, weight and body mass index – along with testing the child’s reflexes and motor skills; heart rate and blood pressure; and an examination of the eyes, ears, nose and throat.

According to Dr. Gordon-Simet, an annual checkup also plays an important role in maintaining up-to-date immunizations – some of which may be required by your child’s school district.

“Having an established relationship with a child or adolescent allows the doctor to ensure immunizations are current and up-to-date,” she says. “If your child misses an immunization, you do not need to start over. Simply make an appointment with your doctor to discuss and plan for catch up immunizations.”

From birth through age 6, it is recommended children receive immunizations for

  • Polio
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps,  Rubella)
  • Rotavirus
  • Tetanus
  • Influenza
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hib to prevent meningitis
  • Chickenpox
  • Diphtheria

For children ages 7 – 18, the recommended immunizations include

  • Influenza
  • Tdap (Tetanus, Diptheria, Pertussis)
  • HPV (Human Papilloma Virus)
  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Hepatitis B and Hepatitis A
  • Inactivated Polio
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps,  Rubella)
  • Chickenpox

Before your child’s back-to-school checkup, prepare a list of questions or topics to discuss. “The benefit of regular visits builds trust and open communication between the doctor, parent and child,” says Dr. Gordon-Simet.

Always make sure to speak to your pediatrician about your child’s development, behavior, dietary habits, activity level and getting along with others. Depending on your child’s age, you may consider asking about issues such as peer pressure, social media use, alcohol and drugs, sexual activity, depression and appropriate training for sports or other physical activities.