Step by step guide to becoming a child life specialist

The profession of child life specialist was created to help children and their families navigate the emotionally and physically demanding process of coping with hospitalization. Child life specialists use their knowledge of child development and developmentally appropriate interventions to educate, prepare and support children through difficult tests, procedures, and the sometimes drastic changes that happen within their families due to chronic or acute illness, treatment, and recovery.

As part of the health care team, child life professionals advocate for the special needs of children and their families. Child life programs provide children with opportunities to engage in normal play and recreational activities that promote growth, development, and feelings of success and fulfillment. Child life professionals promote the role of parents and other family members as full partners on the health care team and promote the philosophy of patient- and family-centered care.

What does a child life specialist do?

The following is a list of responsibilities typical of a child life specialist:

  • Non-medical preparation for tests, surgeries, and other medical procedures
  • Support during medical procedures
  • Therapeutic medical play using special dolls, stuffed animals and medical equipment
  • Activities to continue normal growth and development of infants, children and adolescents in hospital patient rooms and/or activity areas
  • Sibling support
  • Support for grief and bereavement issues
  • Emergency room interventions
  • Hospital pre-admission tours and information
  • Outpatient consultation with families
  • Collaboration with various pediatric therapies
  • Support hospital school programs
  • Supervision and education of students in child life
  • Orientation, training, and supervision of volunteers, including pet therapy programs
  • Coordination of special events, holiday celebrations, entertainment, and donations
  • Education for the community on the needs of children and their families

What kind of skills are required?

It is important to be flexible, patient, and innovative in order to obtain a position in child life. Volunteer opportunities that allow you to work with children with special healthcare needs or with children undergoing stress are experiences that you may use to build your resume and sharpen your skills. Learning a second language is also useful for working in today’s diverse healthcare community. Individuals new to the child life profession may find themselves working off-hour shifts or relocating to another city or state in order to secure an entry-level position.

The steps to becoming a child life specialist

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Complete an internship
  3. Consider a certification
  4. Find a job

Helpful resources