Child Life Specialist: Education Requirements and Career Information

Sep 27, 2019

A child life specialist works to alleviate stress in children facing illnesses or other traumas. Read on for details on how to become a child life specialist, including degree options and information on the child life specialist certification process.

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Essential Information

A child life specialist works with children and families during stressful events like hospitalizations and medical treatments. With the aim of reducing anxiety and helping pediatric patients cope with illnesses and medical procedures, child life specialists are healthcare professionals who often work in hospitals or doctor's offices. Child life specialists usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree. In addition, they can be certified by the Child Life Council.

Education Requirements Bachelor's degree
Degree Components Coursework, internship, practicum
Licensure Certification from the Child Life Council recommended
Average Salary (2019) $52,908*

Source: *

How to Become A Child Life Specialist

A career as a child life specialist begins with an undergraduate degree in a relevant field. Some universities do offer programs leading specifically to a child life specialist degrees, but other schools have child life concentrations in majors like early childhood studies, human ecology, and family studies. These programs often include components like internships and clinical practice experiences to give students hands-on opportunities. Curricula usually include classes in:

  • Family Dynamics
  • Play Therapy
  • Child Life Theory
  • Psychology
  • Grief and Loss
  • Anatomy and Physiology

Relevant graduate programs for child life specialists are also available. Similar to undergraduate offerings, master's programs in fields like developmental disabilities and health and human physiology may offer concentrations in child life, and some universities offer graduate programs specifically in child life.


Along with an appropriate educational background, child life specialists can be certified by the Child Life Certification Committee. This committee is part of the Association of Child Life Professionals. To achieve child life specialist certification, candidates must complete an appropriate education program and gain clinical experience. Then, they must pass a 150-question examination to demonstrate their understanding of key concepts in the field.

Career Information

After fulfilling the child life specialist requirements, these professionals are ready to begin their careers in the field. Child life specialists work directly with children who are facing a stressful event; typically, an illness or hospitalization. As part of a healthcare team, child life specialists seek to reduce pediatric patients' anxiety and help ensure healthy development as the children progress through their treatments. To accomplish these objectives, child life specialists use a variety of techniques including:

  • therapeutic play
  • preparation for medical procedures
  • medical play
  • educating patients and families on what to expect

Through these approaches, child life specialists try to minimize any negative developmental impact that may result from a child's illness or other traumatic event. Individuals interested in working with children might also want to consider a career as a child social worker.

Work Environment

Child life specialists typically work in medical facilities, particularly in-patient hospitals and doctor's offices. They may be employed in a community setting like a court system, a dental practice, an adoption agency, or an organization focused on grief and loss.

Salary Information

In August 2019, reported the average income for child life specialists was $52,908. Salaries were impacted by practitioners' level of education and number of years in the field, and most ranged between $47,000 and $59,000.

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