How to Become a Child Life Specialist


The first step for becoming a child life specialist, is to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. Does the following describe you?


• 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 how to get started in this profession. We've also included helpful supplementary information, such as a job description, an overview of the job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Child Life Specialist

To qualify for writing the Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) exam, you'll 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. 





More About This Career - 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.


They 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.



Job Duties Typical to This Profession

• 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 Employs These CLSs?

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 

To be 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



Characteristics and Traits You Should Have

To enjoy performing the duties of a child life specialist, you'll 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



Salary Level Typical to This Field

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


CLS Salary - Canada (Alberta figures only): According to the 2014 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (the latest figures available at the time of writing - July 5, 2019), Albertans working in the Psychiatric Nurses occupational group (which is the closest occupational for which we could find reliable salary numbers) earn a mean annual salary of $80,129. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available for the rest of Canada.


CLS 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.



Current Job Opportunities

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



Similar Occupational Profiles in Our Database

Listed below are careers similar to 'child life specialist' in our database. We've chosen these because they require many of the same skills, interests and competencies, and involve many of the same 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.


Occupations in Alberta: “Registered Nurse.” (April 11, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Occupational Employment and Wages: “Healthcare Social Workers.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.

Food Preparation & Service: “Becoming a Child Life Specialist.” (n.d.). Canadian Association of Child Life Leaders website. Retrieved November 6, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Child Life Specialist

The 'Relevant Fields of Study' section below lists areas of academic focus that pertain to this career. Scholarships matched to those fields of study can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

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


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