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Friday, March 16, 2018 8:50 AM

What are Child Life Specialists?

Working at Community

March is Child Life month and Community Medical Centers would like to take a moment to highlight this special team. Our child life specialists explain their role in the medical field and share their stories.

What does a Child Life Specialist do?

Child life specialists are a group of professionals dedicated to supporting children and families in health care settings and other challenging environments.

The simplest explanation of what Child Life Specialists do is this:

We help decrease the fear children and teens have about their medical experiences to reduce the risk of traumatization.

Our interventions, whether preparing a child to cope with an invasive procedure or explaining a new diagnosis in words they can understand, are informed by the fields of child development and psychology. We utilize play to teach children about their medical treatment, assess their understanding, and support their ability to reach and maintain developmental milestones while in the hospital. We work closely with all members of the medical team, including doctors, nurses, occupational and physical therapy, and social work.

The Roles of a Child Life Specialist

Procedure Preparation

Explaining what will happen in words children can understand and take away the fear of the unknown.

Procedure Support

Working with children on distraction and relaxation techniques to ease pain, enhance coping skills, and help a child cooperate during something that might be scary for them.

Medical Play

Using medical equipment into preparation and play opportunities to decrease fear and increase understanding of the medical experience.

Advocating for Family-Centered Care

Representing the child’s voice to the rest of the team, whether it comes to pain management, child-friendly environment, consistent daily routine, or sibling visits.

Developmental and Therapeutic Play

Providing opportunities for play to support continued growth and development and offer outlets for self-expression and creativity.

Sibling and Family Support

Helping siblings and children of adult patients understand their loved one’s medical condition and supporting positive outlets for expression and coping.

Parent Education

Helping parents to understand their child’s developmental needs and develop positive parenting strategies.

What it's like working with a Child Life Specialist

Watch the video below to learn a little more about what child life specialists do through the voices of the medical professionals who work with them.

Why do people become Child Life Specialists?

We are passionate about working with children and helping them overcome the challenges they face while in the hospital. Being in the hospital is stressful for anyone, especially for children who lack the ability to fully understand what is happening to them and why.

Many of us can remember an experience we had at the doctor’s office or in the hospital that had a profound effect on us. We hope to be catalysts for change in the way healthcare teams approach treating children. We strive to create positive medical experiences that will promote healthy healing and coping.

Some of our favorite moments as child life specialists

Although we are here to support children and families through some of their most challenging experiences, we also get to witness many extraordinary moments. Here are just a few examples:
  • Helping a child with special needs remain calm through a bedside PICC line placement, and hearing him say afterwards, “I was really brave”
  • Working with a toddler who was hospitalized for almost six weeks and seeing rapid gains across her developmental domains after significant collaboration between child life, nursing and physical and occupational therapy
  • Helping a patient, who was not able to leave the hospital, celebrate her 13th birthday with family and friends
  • Watching sisters laugh and play together after being reunited after a week of separation. The patient was receiving medical care for her burn injuries and had not been able to see her two sisters, who had been very worried about their sibling

For more information about the child life profession, please visit www.childlife.org. We love to share about our profession so please stop us when you see us!

Click here to find out how you can support our Child Life Specialty program.