What is a child life specialist?

Child life specialists are experts in child development who promote effective coping for children in health care settings and other challenging environments. Child life specialists collaborate with families and healthcare providers, focusing on psychosocial and developmental needs of children, including:

  • Preparation: prepare children for medical procedures or treatments using language that they understand
  • Education: developmentally appropriate explanations of diagnosis
  • Distraction: introduce coping strategies to help reduce anxiety and enhance cooperating with medical experiences and the healthcare team
  • Play opportunities: offer opportunities for play and expressive activities, to encourage normal development and a sense of fun in spite of challenging circumstances
  • Information and resources: to families and members of the interdisciplinary team
  • Support: promote family-centered care by providing information, advocacy and support to families confronting difficult situations

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Child life specialists help patients and families understand and manage the stress related to illness, injury and healthcare. They promote family strengths and coping skills, and support your child's healthy growth and development. They help by providing the following:

  • play and activities for self-expression
  • sibling support and education
  • coping support and comfort management
  • education about diagnoses, treatment and healthcare experience
  • playrooms

A child life specialist is a person who helps children cope with having an illness. A child life specialist helps children deal with any stress or anxiety they have, listens to them when they want to talk through how they feel about their illnesses, and may even give the children toys to play with. If children are worried about having a particular test or medicine, the child life specialist can help them prepare for it.

Certified Child Life Specialists® help infants, children, youth and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of acute and chronic illness, injury, trauma, disability, loss and bereavement. They provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures and education to reduce fear, anxiety and pain.

This content originally appeared on the Alliance for Kids website.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.