Supporting your child’s unique needs and helping them thrive: Q&A with Pediatrician Dr. Keili Mistovich

It’s no secret every child has different needs, wants and ways of viewing the world. Perhaps your little one marches to the beat of her own drum, or maybe he shys away from conversation but excels independently, and perhaps they work overtime to keep you on your toes… 

No matter the case, Doctor Keili Mistovich, a board-certified pediatrician, co-founder of Thrive Pediatric Network, and mom says there are simple things you can do to help your child thrive, and see them reach their highest potential. 

We sat down for a Q&A with Dr. Mistovich to get you some answers, plus she also dives into the benefits of Montessori playtime, and how you can use your figgy to help your child discover, imagine and grow.  

Take a look: 

FIGGY: As children grow it’s important they hit certain developmental motor skills and milestones. Why does this matter, and is there anything parents can do to help?

DR. KEILI MISTOVICH: As a pediatrician, when it comes to child development, there are many things that we think through. From their health to mental well being, their diet and their sleep. However, one of the most important parts is monitoring, and watching how kids are developing over time. 

The reason this matters is because it is telling us a lot about what is happening inside of their brains, and how their brains are developing. If there are any delays in either their gross motor skills, their fine motor skills, or their speech, it tells us that there's something more happening with them.

And, so as a pediatrician, we think about the whole child, and work to ensure that the whole child is really meeting their potential.

The most important thing a parent can do is to be a parent, your job is to play with your child, your job is to take time with your child…. it is not your job to figure out what is wrong with your child. If you have any concerns, you bring those up to your pediatrician, and it is our job to decide whether or not they are true concerns, or whether or not it’s something that needs to be further addressed. 

FIGGY: What type of activities do you recommend to help children thrive?

DR. KEILI MISTOVICH: In most cases the smallest things make all the difference, for example, talking out loud to your child. We know that the more words that children hear as they are growing, the better their speech will be as they get older. We also know that spending time with your child- sitting and playing with children, all that quality time is teaching them how to interact with the world. 

The other thing that's really important is to read with them. Books are a great source of education for children and adults of all ages… Yes, even before your children really know what a book is, or anything about reading or word identification. Sitting and reading with your child not only allows you to spend quality time with them, but it begins to kind of frame for them what language is, and shows them how we use language to communicate.

FIGGY:  Now when it comes to playtime, often we hear about different types of play like unstructured vs guided play. Can you explain how each works? 

DR. KEILI MISTOVICH: The first type of play that I talk to parents about is unstructured play… And what that looks like is when you allow your child to kind of take the reins, and do whatever it is that they feel like that they want to do- allowing them to explore their world in whatever way that they see fit. 

So you provide them with toys, you provide them with an environment where they're safe, and they're able to explore whether it's in your house or in your backyard, or wherever it is that you may be. This gives them freedom and allows them to explore and develop their creativity, without any sort of influence on what they should or should not be doing in that space. 

The second type of play is called guided or structured play. And what that looks like is when parents are helping their child to learn through play. For example, if we have a play set, you may say things to them, like ‘I see that the dinosaur is crawling up the mountain, what color is our dinosaur? What do you think will happen when he goes down the slide?’

Or if you are painting, you can ask ‘what will happen if we mix two colors together?’ 

We know that when parents and adults are interacting with their children in this type of play, it really helps facilitate the amount that they retain, and they learn during their play. 

It is kind of a school, if you will for small children, that you're teaching them all of these skills, and vocabulary while they're playing- and they don't even realize that they're doing it because it's such a fun way of interacting in the world. 

FIGGY: We are huge on the power of play and its impact. How can the Figgy adventure playkit help kids develop and grow?

DR. KEILI MISTOVICH: Children benefit from play in so many ways, and one of the ways that children play is to really run and jump in order to use all their big motor skills. If they do not have an opportunity to do so, that is one area where we find that children will and can fall behind.

And so particularly for kids, when they're very small, they need to be able to explore their world, and they need to learn how to walk, they need to learn how to crawl, they need to learn how to jump, and do all of the big motor activities. And so specifically, having something like Figgy in their play space allows them to explore and to do all of those things in a safe space. And to practice all of those skills, which are critical to their gross motor development over time, if they don't have these types of items around, then they simply won't play that way. 

Also, it's just a great item that allows for kids to learn how to be creative by moving all the modules around, creating many, many different structures… it really lets their brains become creative and think, how can I move this block here? And how can I move this piece here to turn it into a fort? Or to turn it into a slide, or to turn it into a tumbling mat? 

FIGGY: Many parents are now embracing Montessori playtime and education to help children learn, how does it work and what are some of the benefits? 

DR. KEILI MISTOVICH: Montessori definitely has a lot of benefits for a lot of different children. Children are so different in that every child learns differently, and needs a different environment in order to thrive. Some kids really need structure and need to be in a, you know, in a typical sort of learning and classroom environment in order for them to thrive. 

And other children need to have that freedom that we see in the Montessori setting where it is very self guided, and it really allows kids to spend time doing the things that are interesting to them, and that helps them to learn in the best way. 

I think there is a nice benefit in a Montessori classroom, of children teaching children and kind of taking many adults out of the picture. Their typical structure is that there's multiple ages within one classroom setting, and those older kids are then teaching the younger kids. And, so it's a great way for them to learn some independence, some teaching skills, and how to behave in that setting. You’ll often see a five year old, and they're learning how to teach a three year old….. and the toys that are often used in the Montessori setting are so creative, and yet so simple at the same time. 

It really just allows kids to learn at their own pace, and in a way that is that simple, but exciting for them. As a doctor I certainly have many children that I would refer to a Montessori school very intentionally. And other kids, I'll refer to a more traditional school, so  it's really very, very child dependent as is most things.