What is Child Life?

Child life specialists are trained professionals with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events. They are child development experts who work to ensure that life remains as normal as possible for children in health care settings and other challenging environments.
They promote effective coping through play, self-expression activities, and age-appropriate medical preparation and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain.. As advocates of family-centered care, child life specialists work in partnership with doctors, nurses, social workers and others to meet the unique emotional, developmental and cultural needs of each child and family.

Infants, children and youth confront a wide variety of stressful and potentially traumatic events that can impact their ability to cope. These experiences related to healthcare can lead to feelings of fear, confusion, loss of control and isolation that can inhibit their development and have negative effects on their physical and emotional health and well-being. In both healthcare and community settings, 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.

Child life programs can reduce the stress experienced by children and families and enhance their abilities to cope effectively with and gain from potentially stressful situations. Knowledge and application of foundations in theories of child development, play, stress and coping, and family systems are the basis for child life professional practice.

Child life professionals:

  • Prepare children for medical procedures
    or treatment using language that children
  • Introduce coping strategies to help reduce
    anxiety and enhance cooperation with the
    health care team
  • Provide support and distraction during
    medical procedures
  • Offer opportunities for play and expressive
    activities, to encourage normal development
    and a sense of FUN in spite of challenging
  • Promote family-centered care by providing
    information, advocacy and support to
    families of pediatric patients.

Research has shown that: 

  • Children who are prepared for medical procedures experience less fear and
    anxiety, and will have better long term adjustment to medical challenges.
  • Children in the hospital who engage in therapeutic play with a trained professional exhibit less emotional distress, increased cooperation, and fewer negative physiological responses.
  • Child life interventions can increase cooperation and help to reduce procedural
    and post-procedural pain.
  • Providing support for family members enhances psychosocial outcomes for young patients. A parent or caregiver’s behavior and anxiety levels are strongly correlated with how a child will respond to hospitalization.

Source: Association of Child Life Professionals (www.childlife.org)