The Basics: Overview
Young children need to go to the doctor or nurse for a “well-child visit” 7 times between ages 1 and 4.
A well-child visit is when you take your child to the doctor to make sure they’re 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’ll also have a chance to ask questions about things like your child’s behavior, eating habits, and sleeping habits.
Learn what to expect so you can make the most of each visit.
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’re healthy and developing normally.
Children ages 1 to 4 need to see the doctor or nurse when they’re:
- 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’re 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 understand how your child is developing and learning to do new things — like walk and talk. These are sometimes called “developmental milestones.”
Every child grows and develops differently. For example, some children will take longer to start talking than others. Learn more about child development.
At each visit, the doctor or nurse will ask you how you’re doing as a parent and what new things your child is learning to do.
The Basics: Ages 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 things 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:
- Say several single words
- Point to 1 body part (like their nose) when asked
- Point to show someone what they want
- Walk on their own
- Use a spoon to eat
The Basics: Ages 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’re 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:
- Play simple games with other kids, like tag
- Brush their teeth with help
- Jump up and down in place
- Put on their clothes with help
The Basics: Ages 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 1 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 1 foot and balance on 1 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.
Bring any medical records you have to the appointment, including a record of vaccines (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:
- New brother or sister
- Serious illness or death in the family
- Separation or divorce
- 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.
What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans must cover well-child visits. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get well-child visits at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out more.
Your child may also qualify for free or low-cost health insurance through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Learn about coverage options for your family.
If you don’t have insurance, you may still be able to get free or low-cost well-child visits. Find a health center near you and ask about well-child visits.
To learn more, check out these resources:
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 vaccines?
- 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 screen time is okay for young children?
Take a notepad, smartphone, or tablet 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?
- 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?
They may also ask questions about safety, like:
- Does your child always ride in a car seat in the back seat of the car?
- Does anyone in your home have a gun? If so, is it unloaded and locked in a place where your child can’t get it?
- Is there a swimming pool or other water around your home?
- What steps have you taken to childproof your home? Do you have gates on stairs and latches on cabinets?
Your answers to questions like these will help the doctor or nurse make sure your child is healthy, safe, 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 your child shots they need
Learn more about your child’s health care:
Content last updated September 2, 2021
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