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What is a child life specialist?

Children are our future and raising them is the most important job anyone will ever have in their lives. As a parent, you are hyper-aware of this and keen to protect your child from negative things in life. Now more than ever, families are in need of access to support, right when and where they need it. Our team of child life specialists at Hearts Connected are located across the United States and are available 7 days a week to provide resources and individualized virtual sessions to help kids, teens, and parents through life’s challenging moments.

What is a child life specialist?

Child life specialists are certified and trained clinicians who specialize in supporting children and families cope with difficult experiences like illness, trauma, injury, and loss through developmentally appropriate interventions to promote resilience.

A child life specialist completes lengthy training in a healthcare setting and must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the areas of child life, child development, psychology, or related field to human development. Our child life specialists at Hearts Connected are all professionally certified by the Association of Child Life Professionals with at least 3 years of experience specifically in a hospital setting.

What specific things can they help with?

We have noted above some general areas these professionals can help with - but what are some specific examples?

  • help parents talk to children/teens about grief and loss

  • create space for children/teens to participate in memory making activities after a death

  • prepare children to cope effectively for specific medical procedures, doctor visits, or dentist

  • educate children/teens about their new diagnosis based on their cognitive level of understanding

  • help a child understand a parent’s new diagnosis

  • support children dealing with life changes such as parents’ divorce or imprisonment

  • help a student transition back into school after a new diagnosis or lengthy hospitalization

  • draw up individualized coping plans and strategies for various life circumstances

  • develop appropriate incentive plans to promote compliance with medical needs

  • support children and teens throughout a procedure to decrease anxiety, fear, and pain

  • collaborate with health care professionals to advocate for child’s optimal coping needs

  • support siblings of patients who have a new diagnosis or frequent or lengthy hospitalizations

As you can see, a child life specialist can help with a lot of things. While much of this might be direct support to children, it can also involve their families as well.

What techniques do child life specialists use?

Dependent on a child’s age and development level, child life specialists will utilize play,

therapeutic activities, or discussion to assess and support each child. Through these modalities of assessment and support, child life specialists are able to gather valuable information surrounding a child’s specific fears, coping style, emotional and psychosocial needs, and areas of strength.

Child life specialists will also use many other techniques to reduce fear or anxiety. This could

involve therapeutic art or play, supportive resources, socialization and peer support, or

individualized coping plans and tools. Every intervention and technique is developmentally

appropriate, individualized, and safe.

When to contact a child life specialist?

A child life specialist can be extremely helpful after a child or teen experiences a significant life change such as a new diagnosis, divorce, hospitalization for themselves or family member, or death of a family member or pet. Parents also find child life services valuable prior to a doctor’s visit, dental visit, a new procedure, or a medical experience that has caused anxiety or a fear in the past. Children who are experiencing significant stress from various life challenges will also benefit from child life support.

Organizations can also benefit from hiring child life specialists too. Many organizations and

workplaces interact with families and kids who are being impacted by difficult situations.

Veterinary clinics and funeral homes would also benefit from having a child life specialist’s contact information during times of family grieving support after a death. Medical professionals may also seek out the expertise of a child life specialist to better support their patients and families.

Support for children and families from Hearts Connected

At Hearts Connected, our child life specialists are here to support children, teens, and families facing challenging life experiences. If you need help from a trained child life specialist, call us at (404) 516-0906 today.

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