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Child Life Specialists – Playing to Heal

In the design of our pediatric unit we used patient feedback to create a comfortable and functional environment for children to receive care and to heal. Children’s artwork lines the halls; there are comfortable nooks for reading, areas to play outside, a playroom and even a huge indoor tree to gather underneath. The area is beautiful, but there is at least one other crucial component to making a child’s hospital experience the best it can be, the staff. Child life specialists are a critical part of that team effort to serve children’s specific needs in a developmentally appropriate manner. During the month of March we celebrate child life specialists.

What is a Child Life Specialist?

A child life specialist is a highly trained professional who works with children, families, physicians, nurses, social workers and other therapists. Their goal is to make the hospital experience the best it can be for children and families. That means creating an environment that respects and incorporates the emotional well being of children and recognizes the family as part of the recovery process.

Child Life Specialists in Action

A child life specialist plays with a young preschooler, enticing her to the playroom down the hallway. After three weeks of just receiving nutrition intravenously and having to lie in bed, the little girl’s muscles are weak; time out of bed is exhausting, but absolutely necessary to her recovery. The child life specialist has enough of a connection with the little girl to ease the patient’s fear and anxiety about taking these steps along the hallway, and enough distance to encourage her and her family to push past some emotional barriers. Often, the family members are frightened and nervous too.
In the playroom the little girl plays with toys that are similar to ones she knows from home, but also checks out the medical play toys that allow children to familiarize themselves with the equipment that is used on them. A little while later we’re in the NICU delicately encouraging a baby to turn his head toward the toys, using toys and play to support development.

Play is Powerful

There is a subtle and complex role that child life specialists play- they are educators, playmates, counselors, and advocates. It is a highly nuanced role and one that the child life specialists have gone through extensive training to achieve.
A child life specialist’s formal education always includes a bachelors degree in a related field and then specific training including a 480-hour internship. Our child life specialists can be found throughout TMC for Children, in the emergency department, the pediatric intensive care unit, pediatrics, surgery, the neonatal intensive care unit and consulting with TMC’s pediatric hospice. They are wherever children and families need them.
The Child Life program at TMC is supported in part by monies raised through Children’s Miracle Network.