4 Questions All Pediatricians Should Ask About School

Doctors can unlock a lot of crucial information with just a few key questions.

The relationship between health outcomes and educational success has been well documented. So much so, in fact, that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthcare providers address educational challenges with their patients. Since families tend to trust their pediatricians, doctors can play a crucial role in identifying potential education issues early—if they have the information they need. But many pediatricians may not know where to start or how to cover school-related issues, especially given everything else they have to manage in short visits.

The good news is, it doesn’t take much. A handful of questions can help unlock crucial information about children’s educational well-being, and allow doctors to point families toward resources for support.

Whether these are presented in a pre-visit questionnaire or as part of a standard well-visit conversation, here are the top four questions we think all pediatricians should ask:


Has your child’s teacher expressed any concerns about your child’s progress in school? Or do you have concerns of your own?

If the answer is yes, the practitioner will want to follow up during the visit to get more clarity: Is the child struggling with a specific academic issue, or is there something else going on? With this question, pediatricians can start to assess whether a child needs an evaluation for special education or other in-school supports, and direct families to their school district’s special education office for more information. Practitioners can also recommend strategies for supporting learning at home, like reading together every day, focusing screen time on high-quality programming and educational apps, and accessing the local library.


Has your child missed more than two days of school in the last two months?

Chronic absenteeism is at an all-time high, and it puts students at risk for all kinds of poor outcomes, from not learning to read fluently to dropping out of high school. To follow up with families who answer yes to this question, practitioners should try to determine if the absences are due to one-off illnesses, or if they’re part of a larger pattern. Follow-up questions should also look for a root cause: Is the family dealing with school avoidance (for example, a young child who is reluctant to go to school, or an older child who skips class once they get there)? Or is there a logistical challenge that’s preventing them from getting their child to school? (For example, work starts before the bus leaves and there’s no one to drop the child off.)


If you have a question or concern about your child’s learning, do you know how to get in touch with school?

Sometimes, communication with school can be a barrier for families getting the information they need. This is especially true if the family speaks a primary language other than English. Practitioners can remind families to contact the school’s office or front desk (not the principal), tell the administrative assistant their child’s name and date of birth, and ask for contact information for their child’s teacher. Families can also reach out to their school’s parent liaison, who often speaks the community’s frequently used languages. For families in need of further translation support, TalkingPoints is a great free app that families and schools can use to communicate. (Here’s a sample letter families can use to share TalkingPoints with their school.)


Do you have any other specific school-related concerns you’d like to discuss today?

A catch-all question like this can help identify a family who doesn’t know where or how to enroll their child, a child who is experiencing bullying, one who’s getting in trouble at school but the parents aren’t sure why, or something else. Our Busy Family’s Guide to School is a free online resource, available in English and Spanish, that offers educational guidance to help families address many of these challenges.

“Since families tend to trust their pediatricians, doctors can play a crucial role in identifying potential education issues early—if they have the information they need.”

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