The Basics: Overview
Young children need to go to the doctor or nurse for a “well-child visit” 7 times between the ages of 1 and 4.
A well-child visit is when you take your child to the doctor for a full checkup to make sure she is healthy and developing normally. This is different from other visits for sickness or injury.
At a well-child visit, the doctor or nurse can help catch any problems early, when they may be easier to treat. You will also have a chance to ask questions about things like your child’s behavior, eating habits, and sleeping habits.
To make the most of your child’s visit:
- Gather important information
- Make a list of questions for the doctor
- Know what to expect from the visit
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover well-child visits. Depending on your insurance plan, your child may be able to get well-child checkups at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to learn more.
The Basics: Well-Child Visits
How often do I need to take my child for well-child visits?
Young children grow quickly, so they need to visit the doctor or nurse regularly to make sure they are healthy and developing normally.
Children ages 1 to 4 need to see the doctor or nurse when they are:
- 12 months old
- 15 months old (1 year and 3 months)
- 18 months old (1 year and 6 months)
- 24 months old (2 years)
- 30 months old (2 years and 6 months)
- 3 years old
- 4 years old
If you are worried about your child’s health, don’t wait until the next scheduled visit – call the doctor or nurse right away.
The Basics: Child Development
How do I know if my child is growing and developing on schedule?
Your child’s doctor or nurse can help you identify “developmental milestones,” the new skills that children usually develop by a certain age. These include physical, mental, language, and social skills.
Each child grows and develops differently. For example, some children will take longer to start talking than others.
At each visit, the doctor or nurse will look for some basic developmental milestones to see if your child is developing on schedule. This is an important part of the well-child visit.
The Basics: 12 to 18 Months
By age 12 months, most kids:
- Have at least 1 tooth
- Stand up by pulling on a table or chair
- Walk (either with help or on their own)
- Try to copy animal sounds
- Say “mama” and “dada,” plus 1 or 2 other words
- Follow simple directions, like "Pick up the toy"
By age 15 months, most kids:
- Bend to reach the floor without falling
- Put blocks in a cup
- Make scribbles with crayons
- Take toys over to show a parent
- Listen to a story and look at pictures
By age 18 months, most kids:
- Walk up steps
- Try to run
- Climb onto small chairs without help
- Build towers of 2 to 4 blocks
- Use a spoon to eat and a cup to drink (with help)
- Take off simple pieces of clothing (like socks and hats)
- Point to show someone what they want
- Play simple pretend games, like feeding a doll
The Basics: 24 to 30 Months
By age 24 months (2 years), most kids:
- Stand on their tiptoes
- Kick a ball without losing their balance
- Have at least 16 teeth
- Can tell someone when they are hungry, thirsty, or need to use the bathroom
- Understand instructions with 2 steps, like “Put on your shoes and then get your ball”
- Copy others, especially adults and older children
- Can name items in a picture book (like a cat or dog)
By age 30 months, most kids:
- Point to different body parts when asked (“Point to your nose.”)
- Play simple games with other kids, like tag
- Brush their teeth with help
- Jump up and down in one place
- Put on their clothes with help
The Basics: 3 to 4 Years
By age 3 years, most kids:
- Have all 20 “baby” teeth
- Use the toilet during the day (may still need a diaper overnight)
- Copy a circle when drawing
- Put one foot on each step when walking up and down stairs
- Speak in sentences of 3 to 4 words
- Ask questions
- Know their first name, age, and sex
By age 4 years, most kids:
- Hop on one foot and balance on one foot for a short time
- Use child-safe scissors
- Count to at least 4
- Ask lots of questions
- Play with imaginary (pretend) friends
- Can name some colors and numbers
- Play simple board games and card games
Take Action: Get Ready
Take these steps to help you and your child get the most out of well-child visits.
Gather important information.
Take any medical records you have to the appointment, including a record of shots your child has received.
Make a list of any important changes in your child’s life since the last doctor’s visit, like:
- A serious illness or death in the family
- A separation or divorce
- A change in child care
Use this tool to keep track of your child’s family health history.
Ask other caregivers about your child.
Before you visit the doctor, talk with others who care for your child, like a grandparent, daycare provider, or babysitter. They may be able to help you think of questions to ask the doctor or nurse.
Take Action: Ask Questions
Make a list of questions you want to ask the doctor.
Before the well-child visit, write down 3 to 5 questions you have. This visit is a great time to ask the doctor or nurse any questions about:
- A health condition your child has (like asthma or an allergy)
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- How to help kids in the family get along
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Is my child up to date on shots?
- How can I make sure my child is getting enough physical activity?
- Is my child at a healthy weight?
- How can I help my child try different foods?
- What are appropriate ways to discipline my child?
- How much TV time and computer time is okay for young children?
Take a notepad and write down the answers so you remember them later.
Ask what to do if your child gets sick.
Make sure you know how to get in touch with a doctor or nurse when the office is closed. Ask how to get hold of the doctor on call – or if there's a nurse information service you can call at night or during the weekend.
Take Action: What to Expect
Know what to expect.
During each well-child visit, the doctor or nurse will ask you questions about your child, do a physical exam, and update your child's medical history. You'll also be able to ask your questions and discuss any problems you may be having.
The doctor or nurse will ask questions about your child.
The doctor or nurse may ask about:
- Behavior – Does your child have trouble following directions?
- Health – Does your child often complain of stomachaches or other kinds of pain?
- Safety – Does your child always ride in a car seat in the back seat of the car?
- Activities – What types of pretend play does your child like?
- Eating habits – What does your child eat on a normal day?
- Family – Have there been any changes in your family since your last visit?
Your answers to questions like these will help the doctor or nurse make sure your child is healthy and developing normally.
Take Action: Physical Exam
The doctor or nurse will also check your child’s body.
To check your child’s body, the doctor or nurse will:
- Measure your child’s height and weight
- Check your child’s blood pressure
- Check your child’s vision
- Check your child’s body parts (this is called a physical exam)
- Give shots your child needs
See what else the doctor may ask when your child is:
Content last updated October 15, 2020
This information on well-child visits was adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.
Trina Menden Anglin, M.D., Ph.D., FAAP
Chief, Adolescent Health Branch
Maternal and Child Health Bureau
Health Resources and Services Administration