Stony Brook Medicine Health News
Child life specialist

What is a Child Life Specialist? 

Child Life Specialists are invaluable allies for children and families facing medical challenges. They provide compassionate care and guidance to help them navigate healthcare more comfortably and confidently.  

Understanding Child Life Services

Child Life Services encompass a range of specialized programs and support designed to help children and their families cope with the challenges of hospitalization.

The American Academy of Pediatrics calls Child Life Services “an essential component of quality pediatric healthcare.” Hospitals can be frightening for children and challenging for families. 

Through play, education, and emotional support, Child Life Services aim to minimize the stress and trauma associated with hospital visits and make them more comfortable, anxiety-free, child-friendly, and even fun. 

What is a Child Life Specialist?

Child Life Specialists are certified healthcare professionals with a strong background in child development and family systems. Specialists typically hold a Master’s degree with an emphasis on human growth and development, education, psychology, or creative arts therapies. They possess a unique skill set that blends child development knowledge with expertise in healthcare settings.

In a healthcare setting, Child Life Specialists:

  • Collaborate with medical teams to provide emotional support, education, and guidance tailored to each child and family’s needs.
  • Use medical play to help children understand procedures, using age-appropriate language, play-based interventions, and the use of real or toy medical equipment to alleviate fear and anxiety.
  • Offer therapeutic play and coping strategies to promote resilience and empower children to navigate their healthcare journey confidently.
  • Advocate for the psychosocial needs of pediatric patients within the healthcare system.
  • Ensure that children receive comprehensive care that addresses their physical, emotional, and psychosocial well-being.

Where Will You See Child Life Specialists?

Children may encounter Child Life Specialists in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, emergency departments, pre-operative and radiology settings, specialized pediatric care facilities, and other areas where children receive medical care. 

In a hospital setting, Child Life Specialists may also organize special events in collaboration with community organizations and businesses, including special birthday parties and holiday events. They coordinate special visits from educational groups, sports figures, costumed characters, entertainers, horticulture therapists, and pet therapy dogs.

The Child Life Program at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital allows children to engage in everyday childhood activities to help minimize anxiety and promote mastery. Certified Child Life Specialists are trained in child development and are equipped to deal with the effects of hospitalization on children. They work closely with the healthcare team to assess and address the individual needs of young patients and their families wherever children are served in the hospital. For more information about Stony Brook Children’s, call (631) 444-KIDS (5437).

  • Joan Alpers

    Joan Alpers specializes in child life and art therapy. She has more than 30 years of experience in making children’s hospital visits more comfortable, anxiety-free and, in many cases, fun. By incorporating medical play, which lets children use real or toy medical equipment, Joan helps prepare children for their medical treatment. She is a former president of Child Life of Greater NY.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.