What is a child life specialist?

A child life specialist is a healthcare provider who helps your child cope with their medical experience. They support your child and help them understand their illness or injury. They ease your child's discomfort during treatments and hospital visits. Child life specialists often work in hospitals. They have training in:

  • Child development.
  • Education.
  • Psychology.

A child life specialist can teach your child about health issues that affect them. This includes explaining procedures in a way your child can understand. It may also mean distracting your child during a procedure.

Child life specialists work with babies, toddlers, children and teenagers. But they also work with families. They provide support and information for you and your family. Child life specialists also teach effective coping skills. They teach through:

  • Play.
  • Preparation.
  • Education.
  • Self-expression activities.

They also encourage your child’s development while they're facing challenging experiences.

What education does a child life specialist need?

To become a child life specialist, a candidate needs extensive education and training.

First, they must get a four-year undergraduate degree. Some candidates graduate with a bachelor’s degree in child life. Others graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology or human development. They usually have a minor or concentration in child life. During these programs, they learn about:

  • Child development.
  • Communication skills.
  • Coping techniques.
  • Basic medical jargon.

Some child life specialists decide to further their education and get a master’s degree. A child life master’s degree program provides more hands-on training. These two-year programs provide specialized, in-depth education. These programs may help in a competitive job market.

The Association of Child Life Professionals certifies professionals in the industry. Most employers want certification within one year of starting a job. To become certified, a person must have a bachelor's degree. Other requirements include either:

  • Graduating from an Association of Child Life Professionals-endorsed child life academic program or
  • 10 college-level courses in child life or a related field with one course being taught by a Certified Child Life Specialist.

In addition:

  • An internship or fellowship of 600 hours. This must be under the direct supervision of a Certified Child Life Specialist.
  • Passage of the Association of Child Life Professionals exam.

What is the average salary of a child life specialist?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of average annual salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of a child life specialist was $60,470 in 2020.

What does a child life specialist do in a children’s hospital setting?

Child life specialists provide patient- and family-centered care in a children’s hospital. They focus on easing any discomfort your child has before, during and after medical care. They work with you and your family to prepare and educate you for your time at the hospital.

Child life specialists provide useful coping strategies to lessen the stress of being in the hospital. These strategies may include play and self-expression activities. They provide emotional support for your family. They also encourage your child's development while they’re dealing with health issues.

Child life specialists seek to help your child understand their medical experience. They do this by providing developmentally appropriate preparation and education. When your child understands what’s happening to them, they can cope more effectively. They may also experience less psychological trauma.

You may seek out a child life specialist for guidance for your family. They can help you manage your medical experiences.

Some programs and services a child life specialist may provide include:

Behavioral modification plans

A behavioral modification plan will help encourage success with a new medical routine.


Educational programs will provide information about a new medical diagnosis. The programs are tailored to your child’s developmental age. Child life specialists will use tools to meet the individual needs of your child. These tools include play, books and technology.

Pediatric medical preparation and pre-surgery teaching

Child life specialists provide age-appropriate information to help reduce your child’s fears. This information can also help with anxiety or misconceptions.

Support during procedures

Child life specialists help reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures. They use techniques such as distraction, guided imagery and relaxation exercises.

Therapeutic play activities

Child life specialists provide therapeutic play activities to help normalize the medical environment. These activities may occur at your child’s bedside, in playrooms or in waiting areas.

Medical play

Child life specialists provide medical play activities. These activities help your child become more comfortable with the medical environment. They may ease your child’s discomfort with any medical equipment they may see.

Support for brothers and sisters

Child life specialists can help your child’s siblings understand what’s happening. They can help them work through their feelings. This includes any concerns they have about their brother’s or sister’s treatment.

What does a child life specialist do in an adult hospital setting?

Child life specialists seek to help the children of adult patients too. They want to help children understand what’s going on with the adults in their life.

Child life specialists work with any child who has an adult family member in the hospital. They provide developmentally appropriate preparation and education. Preparation is beneficial to your child's long-term ability to cope and manage stress.

Child life specialists focus on the specific needs of children. They provide services that include:

  • Education: They can teach your child about a new medical diagnosis. They provide age-appropriate information about an adult’s illness and treatment.
  • Adjustment: They can help your child cope with changes they may see. This might be changes with an adult's physical appearance or their abilities.
  • Preparation: They can help prepare your child for visiting an adult in the hospital.
  • Navigation: They can help with challenging conversations. These conversations may relate to an adult’s hospitalization, illness or medical outlook.
  • Therapy: They can use therapeutic activities and interventions. These activities help your child cope with their feelings. They can help them cope with any questions they have as a result of an adult’s medical condition.
  • Support: They can provide support with end-of-life and grief issues. They use supportive services and bereavement care.

How can I find a child life specialist?

To make an appointment with a child life specialist, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. They can set you up with the resources you need. They want to help you and your child cope with their illness and/or hospitalization.

A Note from Cleveland Clinic

A child life specialist is a healthcare provider who works with your child during illness, injury or hospitalization. They want to ensure your child’s life remains as normal as possible. They can help ease your child's discomfort during hospital stays. They can teach your child about health issues. Child life specialists provide effective coping skills. They can provide emotional support for you and your family too. They’re there to support you and give you and your child the best care possible.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/05/2022.


  • Association of Child Life Professionals. The Child Life Profession. (https://www.childlife.org/the-child-life-profession) Accessed 4/4/2022.
  • Romito B, Jewell J, Jackson M, American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Hospital Care. Child Life Services. (https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/147/1/e2020040261/33412/Child-Life-Services) Pediatrics January 2021; 147 (1): e2020040261. Accessed 4/4/2022.
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Child life specialist. (https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/youre-a-what/child-life-specialist.htm?view_full) Accessed 4/4/2022.

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