5 Things to Know About Child Life Specialists

Toni Crowell-Petrungaro, MS, CCLS

Even the most child-friendly hospital can be scary and overwhelming for children and families who need care. Child life specialists help make these experiences more manageable and less stressful.

Here are five things you should know about these certified professionals who make such a difference when a family is facing a health issue with a child.

1. Training

We are not volunteers, nurses, doctors, or therapists! While we value our colleagues in these roles and work closely with them as part of the multidisciplinary team, child life specialist is a unique profession. The role was developed specifically to support the psychosocial and developmental needs of hospitalized children. The profession has evolved to now include other health care and community-based settings. To attain the certified child life specialist (CCLS) credentials, the requirements include a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in child life, child development, or a related field; an internship that meets the criteria of the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP); and, passing a comprehensive standardized exam.

2. Play is our superpower!

Play is the work of children and it is how they understand their world. Child life specialists utilize play-based interventions to help normalize the hospital environment and alleviate fear and anxiety. When a child can play “doctor” with the medical equipment they are surrounded by, they gain a better understanding of what will happen, along with a sense of control in the situation. We adapt play, preparation, and therapeutic activities to the bedside, playroom, or procedure area settings – wherever a child may need it.

3. Children of all ages

Don’t let the “child” in our title mislead you, we work with all ages from birth through adolescence! We are knowledgeable about the unique developmental needs across the spectrum and how hospitalization, illness, and injury can affect children. We customize our interventions based on these needs. This includes a wide range of interventions, from playing peek-a-boo with an infant by using a medical mask to helping teens cope with separation from and feeling different than their peers. We also work within a family-centered care framework and partner with families while they are going through difficult times.

4. A welcome distraction

We like to cause a distraction, but in a positive, coping way. We specialize in behavioral distraction techniques to help children get through painful procedures or uncomfortable times. For example, if a child is getting blood taken we will help prepare them for what is happening in ways that they can understand. Then we identify and practice ways to cope during the procedure. Some children may choose to take deep breaths, count, and watch the procedure. Others may want to be engaged in playing a game on a tablet or in blowing and popping bubbles while the procedure takes place. These interventions also help support a patient’s compliance and ability to get through a procedure, which is also a help to the medical team who are focused on helping the child get better.

5. An experienced team

At Hasbro Children’s Hospital our team of 11 child life specialists, a manager and a hospital teacher has combined experience of over 240 years of working with hospitalized children and families. Our child life specialists can be found throughout the hospital: on our inpatient units, intensive care unit, outpatient clinics (including The Tomorrow Fund clinic), pre-operative areas, the emergency department, and in our child protection program. We strive to support children and families throughout their health care journey and ensure that the memories of the positive experiences in the hospital stand out more than the negative. We also support the training of future child life specialists through supervising interns from around the country, and our first Child Life Fellowship is planned for fall of 2019.

We invite you to learn more about child life at Hasbro Children’s Hospital here. For more tips and information on keeping kids healthy, visit the Growing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog.