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Health Care Providers: Child Life Specialists

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What Is Child Life?

Child Life refers to care that helps kids and their families overcome challenging events and cope with stress during medical experiences, especially kids who are hospitalized. These health care providers focus on reducing fear, anxiety, and pain. This might involve playing, preparation and education (for example, before a surgery), and self-expression.

What Is a Child Life Specialist?

Certified Child Life specialists study how illness and injury affect kids’ emotional and physical development. They’re clinically trained to help kids, teens, and their families cope with stress from illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss, violence, and grief.

Child Life specialists might use:

  • therapeutic play (this also might include a patient’s siblings)
  • self-expressive activities like role-playing or picking a picture that shows how they feel
  • music therapy
  • art therapy
  • pet therapy
  • techniques like relaxation, deep breathing, and guided imagery to distract kids during medical care
  • coping and pain-management strategies
  • organized group activities and events

Why Would Someone Need One?

Child Life specialists can support kids and teens who are:

  • preparing for a surgical procedure
  • recovering from trauma
  • staying in the hospital for a long time
  • dealing with feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, or guilt
  • trying to manage pain

What Is Their Training?

Child Life specialist training includes:

  • a bachelor’s degree from a college or university
  • graduation from an Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP)-endorsed child life academic program or completion of 10 ACLP-required college courses
  • a minimum of 600 hours of a Child Life clinical internship

Good to Know

Child Life specialists often are part of a care team that might include doctors, nurses, social workers, and teachers. They are an important part of the healing process for kids and teens dealing with tough situations.

Date reviewed: September 2022