How Do You Become a Child Life Specialist?

portrait of Staff Writers
by Staff Writers

Published on October 29, 2014 · Updated on July 25, 2022

Share this Article
Have you received the calling to become a child life specialist to work daily with children who are suffering from a wide variety of serious medical conditions and illnesses? In one of the healthcare industry’s most rewarding professions, child life specialists are responsible for providing much needed emotional support to children, their siblings, and their parents during a time of great stress. The role of child life specialist also includes designing fun activities to help children cope with hospitalization, reduce anxiety about treatment, and foster academic development, according to the Child Life Council. Since working in the child life profession requires a mastery of child development theories and a unique set of interpersonal skills, below is a step-by-step guide that should be followed to find success in becoming a child life specialist.

Earn At Least a Bachelor’s Degree Related to Child Life

The first step towards being a child life specialist is to earn a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited post-secondary institution. While there are some universities in the United States that offer baccalaureate-level degrees specifically in child life, there are a number of acceptable majors, including child and family studies, psychology, early childhood education, child development, family psychology, social work, and recreational therapy. Regardless of your chosen major, it will be beneficial to fill up your course schedule with classes offered in child life, human development, family dynamics, counseling, sociology, therapeutic recreation, expressive therapies, cultural diversity, biomedical ethics, and even pediatric nursing. All aspiring child life specialists must complete at least 10 college-level courses related to child life.

Online Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Obtain Work Experience with Children in Pediatric Care

During the course of your bachelor’s degree or immediately following graduation, it is highly recommended that you complete a child life internship or fellowship under the direct supervision of a Certified Child Life Specialist to obtain hands-on work experience. Before moving on to the next step, you will need to successfully complete at least 480 clock hours of unpaid clinical work as a child life intern. Therefore, you will want to use your professional contacts to pursue internship opportunities available in a wide range of healthcare settings, including children’s hospitals, pediatric rehabilitation facilities, pediatric burn centers, pediatric hospices, community clinics, and specialized camp programs for children with cancer, diabetes, or other conditions.

Apply to Receive Certification as a Child Life Specialist

In order to demonstrate to prospective employers that you have exceeded a mandatory level of education, experience, and professional competency in the field, it is highly recommended that you apply to become a Certified Child Life Specialist (CCLS) through the Child Life Council. As the only credential in the field, nearly all positions will require you to become a CCLS by receiving a passing grade on the Child Life Professional Certification Exam, which includes a total of 150 multiple-choice questions over four hours. Since the examination is designed to evaluate your understanding of the practical applications of professional child life theories, you should study for the test by taking online practice tests and following the CLC’s study guides. Related Resource: Healthcare Lobbyist Overall, child life specialists are specially trained pediatric healthcare professionals who devote their career to working with children in various clinical settings to help them cope with life’s most challenging events. When you follow these steps to become a child life specialist, you will be armed with a strong background in child development to help promote effective coping with play, education, and self-expression activities for children throughout their medical treatment.

{{ ad_disclosure }}

Ready to start your journey? is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.