What is a Child Life Specialist?

February 4, 2015

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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For some people, being a patient in the hospital can be a bit overwhelming. But for children, it can be especially scary. A hospitalization may mean painful procedures, people in and out of their room and being in unfamiliar surroundings. Children may feel sad, confused, powerless and frightened.

Treating children is not the same thing as caring for adults. Special considerations are needed when you are caring for kids. That is where a child life specialist can help. Child life specialists focus on the emotional needs of children and their family as opposed to the physical needs.

Many people may not be familiar with the child life profession. If you are interested in medicine, but want to work in a unique capacity, working as a child life specialist may turn out to be a great career fit.

In addition, if you plan to become a nurse, doctor or other medical clinician, being familiar with the role of a child life specialist is helpful. A child life specialist may be the person you turn to help make your job easier.

Checking on baby after the long delivery, TanzaniaWhat Does A Child Life Specialist Do?

A child life specialist helps children and their families cope with a hospitalization. Having an illness, whether it is chronic or acute, and being hospitalized can be a demanding process both physically and emotionally. A child’s illness can affect all members of the family. The more serious the condition and longer the treatment, the more of an effect it can have on the whole family. Child life specialists help families navigate the process.

There are several ways a child life specialist can help children during their hospital stay. For example, they may explain diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments to children at an age appropriate level. They may use books, toys or play to help children understand what will happen. This may help kids be less fearful and feel more in control.

They may also use play or art to help a child work through their feelings and express how they feel. With older kids and teens, child life workers may encourage activities, such as writing or music to cope with feelings.  

The child who is hospitalized is not the only one who will benefit from working with a child life specialist. Child life specialists may also help parents deal with the difficult situation of having their child ill and hospitalized. Helping parents understand a diagnosis and address their concerns is also part of the job of a child life worker.

Other children in the family may also need some assistance coping with their sibling’s illness. For example, a child life specialist may help prepare siblings for a visit with their brother or sister who is hospitalized.

Training for Child Life Specialists

Child life specialists are usually required to be certified by the Child Life Council. In order to become certified, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required. Although some schools offer a child life major, other majors are also acceptable, such as child development or social work. Courses in therapeutic recreation, psychology, human development and child life must be completed.

After completing the academic requirements, a clinical internship of 480 hours working under the supervision of a certified child life specialist must be completed. After all requirements are met, applicants are eligible to take the national certifying exam administered by the Child Life Council.Child life specialists primarily work in hospitals,but may also be employed in clinics and outpatient facilities, which treat children.

Student playing with some children in IringaTraits Needed to Be a Child Life Specialist

If working as a child life specialist sounds interesting, there are several traits you need, such as the following:

Compassion: Child life professionals are dealing with the most vulnerable of patients. In addition, they are working with parents who are trying to cope with their child being sick. Having compassion and empathy is an essential trait for a child life specialist.

Creativity: If you are someone who can think outside the box and be creative, child life may be a good fit. Child life specialists need to come up with ways to explain complicated procedures to children of all ages. In addition, they have to distract children during procedures, which takes some creativity.

Team Player: Child life specialists work closely with doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals to care for children. They need to work well with others, which includes good communication and interpersonal skills.

Organizations Skills: The responsibilities of a child life specialist may include organizing activities for patients, taking children on facility tours, educating parents and accompanying children to procedures. There may be a lot to juggle. Child life workers need to be well organized and efficient with their time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Child Life Specialist

All professions have their pros and cons, and child life is no different. For example, it can difficult to deal with some of the situations child life specialists will encounter. Child life specialists may regularly deal with tragic and sad circumstances. For example, in some cases, child life workers will help children and their families deal with end of life issues if a child has a terminal illness

Additionally, not all hospitals hire child life specialists, which can make competition for jobs tough. Medical centers with large pediatric departments usually present the best opportunities for employment.

Gap Medics students in Thailand holding babies in the obstetrics and gynecology departmentOn the other hand, working as a child life specialist can have many advantages. Each day may be different, which keeps the job interesting. As a child life worker, you can use a variety of skills on the job.  Child life workers are part social worker, part counselor, and part teacher, which also makes the job diverse.

It can be very rewarding knowing you made a difference in a child’s life. In some situations, you are helping a family cope during the most challenging time of their life. It is gratifying to have the opportunity to make the situation a little easier for everyone involved.