How to Become a Child Life Specialist

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If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a child life specialist:


• You have knowledge of child play behaviour, as well as grief and loss behaviour

• You are able to teach coping strategies that are age and procedure appropriate

• You are able to easily adapt and be flexible in a hectic work environment

• You have a keen interest in helping children and families

• You are very kind, patient and empathic

• You have a strong desire to work in a hospital or other health care facility


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a child life specialist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Educational Requirements

To qualify for writing the exam become a certified child life specialist (CCLS), you need a Bachelor's degree* from an accredited school, 10 courses in child life or related subjects (such as child and youth care, child development, child and family studies or child psychology), and 480 hours of a child life internship under a practicing CCLS.


*This requirement will soon be changing; steps are being taken to change the requirement of a bachelor’s degree to an advanced degree by 2025. 





General Job Description

Child life specialists are responsible for educating, preparing and supporting children through difficult tests and procedures related to chronic or acute illness.


Child life specialists also advocate for the special needs of children and their families, and administer programs that provide children with opportunities to engage in normal play and recreational activities that promote growth, development and feelings of success and fulfillment.



Typical Job Duties and Functions

• Promote the inclusion of parents in the pediatric ward of a hospital

• Provide an environment and programs that facilitate the primary role of family

• Provide support that encourages adjustment to the hospital and to health care through the childhood years

• Assist families and children with adjusting to the hospital environment

• Facilitate adjustment and coping through play, education and other activities

• Acknowledge the special emotional and educational needs of children



Who Creates Jobs for Child Life Specialists?

Certified child life specialists (CCLS) are typically only employed in children's hospitals or medical centers with large amounts of beds in their pediatric unit, although some child life specialist are employed in outpatient settings such as clinics, dental offices, hospice, camps or community intervention programs for children with special health care needs.


Because jobs are typically limited to large regional healthcare facilities, they are usually located in large urban centres. Job openings for certified child life specialists are also relatively rare, so those that are available are very competitive.






Skills Needed to Be Successful

In order to become effective in a career as a child life specialist, and perform your job duties with competence, you need to posses a certain set of skills, including:


• Knowledge of medical terminology, as well as anatomy/physiology

• Knowledge of child play behaviour, as well as grief and loss behaviour

• Able to teach coping strategies that are age and procedure appropriate

• Able to easily adapt and be flexible in a hectic work environment

• Able to prioritize caseloads

• Able to work well both independently and within a multidisciplinary team

• Excellent communication, conflict resolution, team building and interpersonal skills



Important Personal Characteristics to Have

In order to enjoy performing the duties of a child life specialist, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties as a child life specialist is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can lead to having a long and successful career.


• A keen interest in helping children and families

• Must be very kind, patient and empathic

• A strong desire to work in a hospital or other health care facility

• Willing to serve as a child’s advocate in the hospital

• Enjoy working with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers and other health care professionals



Average Salary Figures for This Occupation

The salary level of child life specialists can vary, based on the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience and aptitude

• The size and type of their employer

• The region in which they work


Child Life Specialist Salary Alberta: According to the 2015 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Psychiatric Nurses occupational group earn a mean annual wage of $63,922.


Child Life Specialist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of American workers in the Healthcare Social Workers occupational group is $52,520 per year.



Child Life Specialist Jobs

Our job board below has "Child Life Specialist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Similar Careers in Our Database 

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Child Life Specialist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Genetic Counselor

Pediatric Nurse

Psychiatric Nurse

Recreation Therapist

Social Worker




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a child life specialist.


Alberta Learning and Information Service website:

Child Life Council website:

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website:



Scholarships for Relevant Fields of Study

The 'Applicable Majors' section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a Child Life Specialist. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Every year, literally millions of dollars in scholarship money goes unused due to a lack of applicants. Apply for as many as you can



Becoming a Child Life Specialist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a child life specialist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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