How to Become a <br>Child Life Specialist

How to Become a
Child Life Specialist

Dasha Castillo
By Dasha Castillo - Content Writer
Last Updated: April 20, 2023
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If you want to learn what it takes to become a child life specialist, this article is a great place to start. From the skills and education required for this field to the average pay rates you can expect, read on to learn more about this career. You will also find the best online tools to write your resume and professional resume templates to get you started.

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What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?

Child life specialists provide psychological support to children facing an acute illness or undergoing medical procedures, such as tests and surgeries. They work with the parents and other family members to provide them with education and information about upcoming procedures and coping strategies for stress, grief or bereavement. Most commonly, these professionals work in hospitals but they can also work in outpatient clinics.

A child life specialist needs to understand medical conditions and the policies of hospitals and outpatient centers. Furthermore, this career choice requires psychological skills to be able to provide age-appropriate coping strategies to children and their families.

Typical duties and responsibilities of a child life specialist include:

  • Preparing children for health visits and medical procedures, such as providing hospital tours and explaining upcoming procedure details.

  • Teaching children pain management skills, such as non-pharmaceutical ways to minimize pain.

  • Providing therapeutic play to help children express their emotions, such as art and music.

  • Helping parents understand medical diagnoses, such as providing typical symptoms of an acute illness.

  • Helping families cope with uncertainty, stress, grief and bereavement.

How Do You Become a Child Life Specialist

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is increasing demand for this profession, which anticipates a 7% growth for all childcare workers, including child life specialists, through 2031. A growing population and new births fuel this growth every year. There will likely be many job openings in hospitals, pediatric outpatient centers, pediatric burn centers and other pediatric medical facilities. Here are the steps to becoming a child life specialist.


Get your bachelor’s degree:

To become a child life specialist, a candidate must obtain a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Some employers will also accept candidates with a degree in a related field, such as psychology, early childhood education, child development or child and family studies. You can choose between a bachelor’s degree, which takes four years, or a dual degree in Child Life, social work or child and human development, which takes five years to complete.


Gain experience:

Job applicants must intern or complete a fellowship for 480 unpaid hours while attending college or after graduation. Internships are offered at many hospitals, pediatric hospices, clinics, pediatric burn centers and pediatric rehabilitation centers. Internships and fellowships may have requirements for acceptance based on enrollment, coursework and GPA. Check out these internship opportunities:


Get certified:

Most employers will require a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential, an exclusive certification from the Association of Child Life Professionals. This certification is based on the completion of a rigorous Child Life Professional Certification examination of 150 multiple choice questions, as well as academic and clinical requirements, such as a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, 10 college courses in Child Life or a related field and 480 hours working in a clinical field.


Create a job-winning resume:

Child life specialists must clearly outline their qualifications to potential employers to land the job. Demonstrate that you are the best candidate with a well-written resume. Here, we feature interactive tools such as our easy-to-use Resume Builder, with pre-written, job-specific content to add to your resume. Check out our latest child life specialist resume sample to help you create an impressive industry-specific resume.

Child Life Specialist Skills

Child life specialists work with children who may be sick or dealing with trauma, which can take a high emotional toll. This career choice requires individuals to be empathic, helpful and patient.

They need to be able to communicate with children of all ages who are frightened and in pain. Child life specialists must remain calm under pressure, professional in all types of situations and supportive of parents and family members. Entry-level positions often require Child life specialists to work nights or weekends or to relocate to a new city or state.

Other key child life specialist skills include:

  • Knowledge about children’s development and behavior

  • Good communication skills

  • Excellent writing skills

  • Ability to initiate play

  • Leadership skills


Soft skills:

1Coordination skills integrate all functions to achieve age-appropriate individualized and group activities.
2Communication skills are needed to facilitate shared communication between patients and families.
3Critical thinking is necessary to identify strengths and weaknesses and create solutions.
4Active listening is a critical skill to understand the child’s perspective.

Hard skills:

1Coping skills are needed to manage stress and anxiety during the child’s treatment or hospitalization.
2Patient education skills and knowledge are critical to creating awareness of new treatments so they can provide accurate information to patients.
3Interdisciplinary communication is the skills needed to communicate and network for a successful collaboration with other professionals that can work together.
4Therapeutic play is a technique that uses toys and games in a way that helps children overcome their challenges and build confidence.

Insights from a Child Life Specialist

Find out what a group of professionals told us when we asked them about their experience as Child Life Specialists. Get more insights on this challenging career.

What is the common career path for a Child Life Specialist?

A bachelor's degree in Child Studies or any related field like Child and Family Studies or Child Development is required. Experience working with children is a must as well as an internship of 480 hours. Even though it's not mandatory, a certification provided by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACPL) is highly recommended.

What should someone consider before becoming a Child Life Specialist?

Some of the treatments and procedures these children must endure are quite traumatic. As a Child Life Specialist, you have to be able to give a child emotional support and try to explain to them as clearly as possible their circumstances. This requires a high level of emotional strength, patience, and excellent communication skills. For those willing to upgrade their education, a Master's degree in Child Life is available. This will give you more hands-on training and make you a more competitive candidate.

What type of person excels in this job?

People who love kids and have a passion for helping them, as well as excellent communication skills are likely to succeed in this industry. Also, the ability to handle emotional stress caused by working with children who suffer from life-threatening diseases is a vital characteristic of a great Child Life Specialist.

What are some of the most important skills for Child Life Specialists to have?

Empathy and sensibility to deal with children and their families and be their emotional support. Excellent communications skills to explain medical concepts to kids and prepare them for difficult procedures. Psychological expertise to develop coping strategies for the children and their families.

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Child Life Specialist?

The opportunity to help children and being their support during a difficult moment in their life is quite rewarding. Giving families the tools to cope with stressful situations, is truly life-changing and makes you grow professionally and personally.

How Much Do Child Life Specialists Get Paid?

Child Life Specialists are usually paid a salary, with the median salary in the United States being $48,918. The lowest-paid Child Life Specialists make around $38,898, and the highest-paid Child Life Specialists are paid approximately $60,234 per year.

Top 10 States for Child Life Specialists Salary

    District of Columbia






    North Dakota














    Child Life Specialist Resources

    To find more information about a career as a Child Life Specialist, check these additional resources.

    On the Web

    Child Life Council
    This site provides resources on certification and education necessary to become a Child Life Specialist.

    Hand to Hold
    A Child Life Specialist describes what this job entails.

    On Twitter

    Resources for Child Life Specialists.

    Membership association for Child Life Specialists.

    Child Life Specialist Books

    Child Life Exam Study Guide
    Includes Child Life Professional Certification Examination Test Questions.

    Handbook of Child Life: A Guide for Pediatric Psychosocial Care
    Provides advice and case studies for the most important aspects of the practice of child life.

    Information sources for this article include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.