Child life specialists overview

Medical settings can be a new, unfamiliar or uncomfortable world for children and teens. As a result, caring for a child’s emotional health is crucial during their time at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

That’s where Child Life specialists come in. Trained in child development, education and child psychology, we strive to make every child’s healthcare experience a positive one. We work with children and adolescents to minimize the stress children can feel during hospital stays or visits to the clinics, emergency rooms, radiology or surgery areas.

Call our staff if you have questions about your child’s behavior or adjustment before, during or after a hospital or medical experience.

  • Children’s – Minneapolis: 612-813-6259
  • Children’s – St. Paul: 651-220-6465
  • Children’s – Minnetonka 952-930-8600

Child life services

We build on children’s strengths, using many techniques to help them learn about and adjust to their healthcare experiences. This may include things like:

  • Preparation for surgery and procedures
  • Promoting growth and development
  • Learning coping strategies and relaxation techniques
  • Providing opportunities for self-expression
  • Offering psychosocial and emotional support
  • Creating opportunities for developmentally appropriate education
  • Music therapy 
  • Pet therapy

Play: An important part every child’s healthcare experience

Play is the cornerstone of expression in childhood and a normal part of everyday life. The Child Life department provides opportunities, appropriate toys and activities to encourage children to play. Child life staff members maintain specially equipped playrooms that are safe, stress-free places for patients to play. Playrooms are the center of activities, including visits from zoo animals, bingo and other special events.

Often through play, a child can relax enough to express feelings or fears about medical experiences. Additionally, playing with medical materials helps a child gain a sense of control. Child life specialists supervise medical play and help children become familiar with hospital equipment. As the child’s creative imagination unfolds, the medical equipment and experiences become less frightening.

Additional Child Life services

Child life staff members:

  • Conduct pre-surgery tours and preparation for children scheduled for surgery
  • Teach relaxation and mental imagery techniques to help children control pain, handle anxiety or cope with medical procedures
  • Facilitate support groups for children facing a chronic or life-threatening illness or experiencing a family loss
  • Conduct classroom visits to help students understand a classmate’s illness and health care
  • Offer expressive and healing arts modalities
  • Collaborate on a closed-circuit television system with live programming
  • Coordinate pet therapy visits
  • Facilitate joint programming with community organizations

Family involvement

To get the best possible outcome from Child Life, it’s important for the entire family to get involved. Our staff works closely with parents and guardians to provide support and understanding of what the child is going through. We also provide information and support to siblings to help them cope with the situation.

Special places for children

In addition to the playrooms, Child Life staff members maintain other special rooms to help hospitalized children feel at home. Children’s – Minneapolis and Children – St. Paul have libraries with books and audiotapes. Special facilities in the clinics, emergency rooms, short stay units and day surgery centers give children a place to play. Teenagers’ recreational needs are met with movies, video games, computers and a teen lounge on each of the two main hospital campuses.

About our child life professionals

Children’s has two kinds of Child Life professionals on our team:

  • Our certified child life specialists have a bachelor’s or master’s degrees in fields such as child development, education and child psychology. They specialize in working with children in healthcare settings and address the child’s need to understand and cope emotionally with the medical experience.
  • Our child life associates have associate or bachelor’s degrees in development. They focus on a child’s needs for play to support normal growth and development.

All Child Life staff members see patients in playrooms, waiting areas and patient rooms.

For physicians

Physicians admitting a child may call the Child Life department in advance for information on preparing the child for hospitalization. For information call:

  • 651-220-6465 for Children’s – St. Paul
  • 612-813-6259 for Children’s – Minneapolis
  • 952-930-8600 for Children’s – Minnetonka

Child life internships

We offer student internships and supervised exposure experiences for students to learn more about the Child Life department and hospitalized children. If you have questions about future internship opportunities, please call the Child Life department at 612-813-7378.

Expectations of the student

The student will need to:

  • Commit to one full semester (14 – 16 weeks), 40 hours/week
  • Have a flexible schedule, including some weekends and evenings
  • Provide the clinical internship coordinator with a list of expectations and requirements from the university
  • Maintain contact with university supervisor
  • Complete required readings, weekly journal, final case study or project, and other assignments

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