The Life of a Child Life Specialist

UW Health Services
A Child Life specialist is a health care professional who helps children develop their coping skills in order to reduce anxiety and promote a more positive health care experience.
Child life specialists hold a bachelor's degree or higher in child development, child psychology, therapeutic recreation or a related field. They use play, procedure preparation, education and self expressive activities to improve a child's understanding of their health care experiences.
A child life specialist collaborates with other health care providers (RNs, physicians, therapists) to facilitate the child's growth, development and healing.
Services provided by child life specialists include:
  • Procedure support such as distraction for an IV start 
  • Support for siblings who may also be affected by a patient's illness or trauma
  • Support for grief or bereavement concerns
  • Pre-admission hospital tours
  • Education to parents and the public about the needs of children
  • Special events and play activities

Our child life specialists offer these tips for working with children:

  • Use age-appropriate language and remember that kids are very literal thinkers
  • Explain what you are going to do in a step-by-step format
  • Kneel down to a child's eye level
  • Explain according to their senses, what something is going to feel like, taste like, smell like, sound like or look like
  • Only give a choice when a choice is possible. For example: when assessing lung or heart sounds, avoid asking a child "Can I listen to you?" Instead, say something like "Would you like me to listen to your back or front first?" Or, "which finger can I use to put this sticker on?"
  • Let a parent be in a comfortable position for the child. Example: let a
    parent hold a child for an IV start.