A stay in a hospital is not an experience that anyone really wants, and it can be even more challenging for a child. A child life specialist can help make a child's hospital stay easier and less stressful. But what exactly does a child life specialist do? 

What is a Child Life Specialist?

A Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) is an integral member of a child's healthcare team. They focus on the social emotional health and development of children. They might offer distraction and comfort to a child in the trauma room, teach about a new diagnosis of diabetes or cancer, prepare a child for a visit to the operating room, offer bedside support to a dying child and their family, or provide therapeutic play to an anxious child. 

Child life specialists recognize that play is essential for children and needs to be an integral part of their healthcare experience. Play is the superpower of a child life specialist, but it's how they play with their patients that makes the hospital stay as enjoyable as it can be. 

Child Life Specialist certification

To become a Child Life Specialist, a person typically has at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to child development, and often times they pursue master's level degrees. To become certified by the Association of Child Life Professionals, they complete 600-hour clinical internships and must pass a certification exam. While it may look like they're only playing with children, certified child life specialists are striving to make the healing journey as easy as possible with a wealth of knowledge and clinical skills. 

Therapeutic play

Child life specialists are fluent in the language of therapeutic play--they know that when we meet children where they are, answer their questions truthfully, and respect their temperament we can reduce anxiety, increase autonomy, dispel fears, and empower them. Studies have shown that incorporating child life specialists into a child's treatment plan can make it easier for children to handle IV line insertion, reduce the need for anesthesia in pediatric MRI and cancer treatments, and mitigate anxiety before a surgery, among many other treatments a patient might receive in a hospital setting. 

A child life specialist may use real or pretend medical equipment to help explain a procedure to a child or their family, or encourage a child to express how they're feeling through creative arts. They can coordinate animal visitation or visits from other organizations who help provide enjoyable experiences for patients. 

Child life specialists and the other members of the pediatric patient care team know that when children are calm, feel safe and heard, and understand what is happening to and around them, their health outcomes are so much more positive. 

Learn more about the Child Life Services program at Hasbro Children's Hospital on our website. 

Micaela Materne, MS

Micaela Hall Materne, MS

Micaela Hall Materne, MS, is the manager of Child Life Services at Hasbro Children’s Hospital