The Basics: Overview
Kids ages 11 to 14 need to go to the doctor or nurse for a “well-child visit” once a year.
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.
To make the most of the visit:
- Gather important information
- Make a list of questions for the doctor
- Know what to expect from the visit
- Help your child get more involved in 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: 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. This is an important part of the well-child visit.
Some developmental milestones are related to your child’s behavior and learning, and others are about physical changes in your child’s body.
Visit these websites to learn more:
The Basics: Behavior Changes
What are some changes I might see in my child’s feelings, relationships, and behavior?
Developmental milestones for pre-teens and teens ages 11 to 14 include:
- More interest in their looks and clothes
- Mood swings (going quickly from happy to sad or sad to happy)
- More concern about what their friends and classmates think
- Stronger problem-solving skills
- Clearer sense of right and wrong
- Wanting more independence
- Challenging rules and resisting advice from parents
This is also a time when some kids may start showing signs of depression or eating disorders.
The Basics: Physical Changes
What are some physical changes my child will go through?
Many kids ages 11 to 14 are going through puberty. Puberty is when a child’s body develops into an adult’s body.
For girls, puberty usually starts between ages 9 and 13. For boys, it usually starts between ages 10 and 13.
- Get more information about puberty to share with your son.
- Get more information about puberty to share with your daughter.
You can help by giving your child information about what changes to expect during puberty. You can also encourage your child to talk about puberty with the doctor or another trusted adult, like a teacher or school nurse.
To get ideas for answering questions from your child, check out these questions middle schoolers ask about puberty.
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 visit, like a:
- Separation or divorce
- New school or a move to a new neighborhood
- Serious illness or death of a friend or family member
Use this tool to keep track of your child’s family health history.
Help your child get more involved in visits to the doctor.
Once your child starts puberty, the doctor will usually ask you to leave the room during your child’s physical exam. This lets your child develop a relationship with the doctor or nurse and ask questions in private. It's an important step in teaching your child to take control of his health care.
Your child can also:
- Call to schedule appointments
- Help you fill out medical forms
- Write down questions for 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 an allergy, asthma, or acne)
- Changes in behavior or mood
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Problems at school (like learning challenges or not wanting to go to school)
Here are some questions you may want to ask:
- How can I make sure my child is getting enough physical activity?
- How can I help my child eat healthy?
- Is my child at a healthy weight?
- Is my child's body developing normally?
- Is my pre-teen up to date on shots?
- How can I talk with my child about sex?
- How can I talk with my child about tobacco, alcohol, and drugs?
- How can I teach my child to use the Internet safely?
- How can I talk with my child about bullying?
Take a notepad and write down the answers so you can 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 on the weekend.
Take Action: What to Expect
Know what to expect.
During each well-child visit, the doctor or nurse will ask you questions, do a physical exam, and update your child’s medical history. You'll also be able to ask your questions and discuss any problems.
The doctor or nurse will ask you and your child questions.
The doctor or nurse may ask about:
- Behavior – Does your child have trouble following directions at home or at school?
- Health – Does your child often complain of headaches or other pain?
- Safety – 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?
- School and activities – Does your child look forward to going to school? What does your child like to do after school?
- Eating habits – What does your child eat on a normal day?
- Family and friends – Have there been any recent changes in your family? How many close friends does your child have?
- Emotions – Does your child often seem sad or bored? Does your child have someone to talk to about problems?
- Sexuality – Have you talked with your child about puberty? Is your child dating?
The answers to questions like these will help the doctor or nurse make sure your child is healthy and developing normally. See a list of other questions the doctor may ask [PDF - 1.3 MB].
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:
Take Action: Behavior and Emotions
The doctor or nurse will pay special attention to signs of certain issues.
The doctor or nurse will offer additional help if your child may be:
- Struggling with an eating disorder
- Using tobacco, alcohol, or drugs
- Experiencing any kind of violence
And if your child may be having sex, the doctor or nurse will talk to your child about preventing STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy.
The doctor or nurse will make sure you and your child have the resources you need.
This may include telling you and your child about:
- Websites or apps that have helpful health information
- Organizations in your community where you can go for help
If necessary, the doctor or nurse may also refer your child to a specialist.
Content last updated February 4, 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