Child life specialists use play therapy, art and music to help infants,
children and teenagers feel less anxious about medical procedures.
"My kids are all medically involved, so I deal primarily with helping the
children through their daily medication regimes and routines," says Samantha
Leon, a certified child life specialist in Florida. "I literally sit with
the kids while they're getting their medication or going through a procedure."
Traumatic hospitalization events can erode self-esteem, discourage normal
childhood development and invite dependency. Child life specialists help children
express their feelings and fears and prepare them for tough health-care experiences.
Therapy can mean anything from sticking fake needles into dolls (simulating
shots) to drawing pictures. Techniques depend on the client's developmental
age: playing with dolls may work great for a four-year-old child, but it could
be a disaster with an older teenager.
Most child life specialists work in a hospital setting. To ensure the young
client gets the best possible care, they interact with many medical professionals,
including social workers, nurses and doctors.
"We're facilitators of communication," says Tom Collins, a child life specialist
in Oakland, California.
"I work with nurses, social workers, physicians, respiratory therapists,
dietitians and physical, occupational and speech therapists," says Alison
Page, a child life specialist at a Florida hospital.
Marsha Herman is the executive director of the Child Life Council. She
says the child-care industry is stabilizing. The health-care system in the
United States depends on funding sources and medical practices. Savvy child
life specialists are branching off into related fields such as dentistry and
Child life specialists usually work an eight-hour weekday shift. Depending
on where you work and staffing situations, you may be required to work some
evenings and weekends. Also, if a child is in crisis at the end of the shift,
child life specialists typically stay with the child until they are stabilized.
"No overtime is expected, but much is put in. I usually work until 7 p.m.
or later and I do a lot of work-related things on weekends," says Leone.
Prepare to lift kids! Child life specialists frequently interact with small
children -- which means frequent lifting and bending. To prevent injury, you
should learn proper lifting and bending techniques. Specialists deal every
day with suffering, disease and death, so there can be a large amount of psychological
"The rewards are immediate. To see a child who is crying enter a playroom
where music is playing, game cupboards are open, crafts are on the table and
a volunteer is blowing bubbles, and then stop crying and smile is a great
feeling," says Deidre Tamlin, a child life specialist.
"The days that kids die are always the worst, especially when it is a kid
that you have worked with for a long time. You still have to make it a fun
day for the rest of the kids that are there, so you have to be funny and creative
on the outside while you cry on the inside."