I used to think if I wasn’t a pediatric nurse I would want to be a child life specialist. When I was in nursing school I would watch them as they worked and it looked like so much fun. They were coloring with kids, playing games, and distracting them with electronics. They were building things with legos or blocks, teaching them about medical equipment, etc, etc. What could be better than getting paid to play with kids all day?
Now that I have been a nurse for 24 years and have watched and learned from many child life specialist, I’m not sure I could do their job.
1. What they do:
The Association of Child Life Professionals explain it best, -“In both healthcare and community settings, certified 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. They provide evidence-based, developmentally and psychologically appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation for procedures, and education to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain.”
Yes, they spend part of their day playing with kids, but many of those kids are scared, nervous, and often don’t feel well. Going through medical procedures, having tests done, waking up from sedation, being in a strange environment, can all cause kids to react differently. Child life specialist are trained on how to help patients cope in all types of situations.
2. Specialized training:
Because of their training, they can understand a child’s unique viewpoint. Their skill is helping families and kids overcome some of life’s most challenging and scary events. They use their knowledge to explain and teach things in age appropriate ways. Nurses are trained in taking care of the medical aspect of a child in the hospital. Child life specialist are trained in caring for that same child’s emotional health.
The Child Life Council requires a certified child life specialist to have a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in a related field. This can be in psychology, human growth and development, education or counseling. There are now colleges that offer Child Life as a major of study. They must also complete a minimum number of hours in a clinical internship under a certified child life specialist. They must then pass a national exam.
In many hospitals today, child life specialist play an important role on the health care team. Child life specialist don’t only makes a difference to patient’s and their families but the work they do makes a difference to the other health care professionals they work with. What they do to help the patient’s I care for definitely makes my job easier.
For more information check out the Association of Child Life Professionals website at www.childlife.org.