How to Become a
Child Life Specialist

Tutor woman helping a young girl with her homework

If you are looking 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 find out more about this career choice.

What Does a Child Life Specialist Do?

Child Life Specialists provide support and psychological preparation to children that are undergoing medical procedures, such as tests and surgeries or facing an acute illness. They work with parents and other family members of these children to provide them with education and information about upcoming procedures, as well as support and coping strategies for stress, grief or bereavement. Most commonly, these professionals work in hospitals, but 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 as well as 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 diagnosis, such as providing typical symptoms of an acute illness.

  • Helping families cope with uncertainty, stress, grief and bereavement, such as helping siblings deal with a loss of a family member.

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 need to be able to remain calm under pressure, professional in all types of situations and supportive to both 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 skills include:

  • Knowledge about children’s development and behavior

  • Good communication skills

  • Excellent writing skills

  • Ability to initiate play

  • Leadership skills

How Do You Become a Child Life Specialist

Education and Training

To become a Child Life Specialist, a candidate must obtain a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in this area. Some employers will also accept candidates who possess 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 to complete, or a dual degree in Child Life, social work or child and human development, which takes five years to complete.

While attending college or after graduation, job applicants must intern or complete a fellowship for 480 unpaid hours under a Certified Child Life Specialist. 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 grade point average (GPA).

Most employers will require a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) credential, an exclusive certification given by The Child Life Council (CLC). This certification is based on 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.

Finding a job

There is more demand for this profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which anticipates a 6 percent growth for all child care workers, which includes Child Life Specialists, through 2024, with 44,130 new job openings during that time period. A growing population and new births fuel this growth every year. Due to this projected growth, there are likely to be many job openings for Child Life Specialists in hospitals, pediatric outpatient centers, pediatric burn centers, and other pediatric medical facilities.

A well-written resume is required to secure a job as a Child Life Specialist. This resume needs to include your educational and clinical experiences, as well as skills that would help you excel in this position. JobHero can help in creating a resume; take a look at our library of Child Life Specialist resume samples.

Once you have composed a professional resume, you can start searching for Child Life Specialist job opportunities. Contact professionals you have met during your internship or fellowship to inquire about additional job openings

To apply for Child Life Specialist jobs, create a cover letter that will outline your interest in the position as well as what qualifies you for the position and what you can offer. We have a variety of cover letter examples to help you.

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

    $148,148

    Alaska

    $130,435

    Oregon

    $127,660

    North Dakota

    $121,212

    Nevada

    $121,212

    Texas

    $121,212

    Minnesota

    $120,000

    Pennsylvania

    $116,505

    Vermont

    $116,505

    Idaho

    $115,385

    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

    @ChildLifeInfo
    Resources for Child Life Specialists.

    @ChildLifeCouncil
    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.