The Anxiety category compiles any blog related to anxiety on the North Shore Pediatric Therapy website into one place. The blogs in this category are meant to help educate, inform and encourage parents of children with anxiety. Readers will learn about separation anxiety, other forms of anxiety, school, red flags, what parents can do to help, what teachers can do to help and more! If you are looking for any information related to anxiety, this category will help you get started. IF you need additional assistance, please give us a call at (877) 486-4140.

Books To Help Kids With Anxiety

Books To Help Your Child With Anxiety

There are so many books available today that talk about anxiety and children that it can be difficult to decipher which book will best meet your child’s needs as well as your needs as a parent. I often recommend the following books for children and their parents when I am treating child with severe anxiety.

Books About Anxiety For Parents:

Books About Anxiety For Children:

If your child continues to exhibit severe anxiety that is affecting his/her daily functioning at home and/or school I would recommend that you seek a consultation from a mental health therapist to further assess the severity of your child’s anxiety and to gain support for your family.

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

yoga and anxiety

Soothing Anxiety with Mindfulness and Yoga

Today’s guest blog by Erin Haddock, owner of Five Keys Yoga, explains how to help your child with anxiety using mindfulness tools.

Everyone knows the feeling – your heart pounds, your stomach flips, and you start getting sweaty.  No one enjoys the feelings of anxiety and it’s even harder to watch your child struggle with them.  But with the right perspective, experiencing anxiety can be an opportunity to meet and rise above a challenge.  Yoga and mindfulness are powerful stress relievers.  Here is a process I enjoy using during anxious moments.

Honor the Anxiety

Like all feelings, anxiety serves an important purpose.  It can alert us to when things are dangerous,Soothing Anxiety With Mindfulness And Yoga when we are pushing past our limits, or if something just doesn’t “feel right”.  Therefore, it’s important to honor your child’s feelings of anxiety as useful information and only then assist her in soothing its unpleasant effects.  Ask your child what she is anxious about and why she is anxious about it.  Get down to the root fear that your child is experiencing.  For example, if your child is nervous to go to school, perhaps she is worried about sitting alone at lunchtime.  She is anxious about sitting alone because she is afraid she won’t have friends. She is worried about not having friends because she is afraid she is unlikable.

Address the “unlikable” part.  Ask her if she really feels that is a true, intrinsic quality she possesses.  Then bolster her self-esteem with some examples of how she is likable: she had lots of friends last year or get along great with her cousins or the neighbor next door is always asking her to play.  Give her as many reasons to feel confident as possible.  Encourage her to think of her own examples.  Then, bring it all home.  What friend-making strategies have worked for her before?  How can she implement those strategies in this situation?

Finally, have your child either draw a picture or write (or both) about her root fear.  Ask her how she feels about her artwork.  Does it represent who she really is?  Next, have her draw or write about the opposite, positive quality and then reflect on it with her.  What would it look like to embody this quality?  How would it feel?  It is very powerful for parents to do this exercise thinking of their own fears, with their child.  This will help the child to realize that anxiety is a normal feeling that we all have to work through.  Post your child’s positive quality artwork where she will see it everyday, such as the bathroom mirror or next to her bed.  Teaching your child to be mindful through difficult emotions is one of the most empowering gifts you can give her.

Deep Breathing Techniques

Now that you have confronted and questioned the anxiety and its root fear, work on releasing the tension that has built up in the body.  Start with five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.  Now shift so that you are breathing in and out through only the nose.  See if you can lengthen the exhalation by a few seconds, without strain.  Continue for five to ten breaths.  Have your child imagine negative thoughts and the anxiety leaving her body as she exhales and calm feelings and positive thoughts filling her body as she inhales.

With older children, you can also introduce a technique called alternate nostril breathing.  Alternate nostril breathing may balance the “fight or flight” part of the brain with the “rest and digest” part.  It is also a very soothing practice.  To practice alternate nostril breathing, inhale and then gently plug the right nostril and breathe out the left.  Inhale through the left nostril.  Switch, so that the left nostril is plugged and the right is unplugged.  Exhale through the right nostril and then inhale.  Switch nostrils, exhaling through the left, and so on.  The pattern is exhale, inhale, switch.  This can be practiced for upwards of ten minutes, though just a minute or two of alternate nostril breathing can relax the body.  Make sure that throughout the practice, the breath is smooth and slow and your child is not straining.  If this is too difficult, return to the simple deep breathing, as above.

Click here to learn more about Five Keys Yoga.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Maternal Mental Health after the Loss of a Child

Today’s guest blog by Stacey Porter, founder of the Tangerine Owl Project, discusses maternal mental health after the loss of a child.

I have found these last three years to be particularly trying in terms of rebalancing my life.  Three yearsmaternal mental health ago I lost an infant daughter who was born at 25 weeks gestation due to preeclampsia. That was a profoundly impactful life altering experience, and it’s made me a different person. I learned to cope, gave myself permission to grieve, and began to shape that experience into a way that I can help others in my community who are suffering through the trauma of the NICU and/or child loss.  Since then, I have started to become very in tune with the amount of pain, devastation, confliction, perseverance and hope out there for these parents. I have witnessed and talked through the anxiety and depression that looms over these mothers like dark ash and exhaust from a fire that doesn’t allow one to take a breath.  I have seen how these losses can both defeat them and strengthen them all at the same time.  I can’t explain how that’s possible, but it happens. The thing is anxiety and depression aren’t just happening for those mothers who have experienced a trauma or loss, or even post-partum depression. Maternal mental health issues effect 1 in 8 mothers out there. That is a shockingly high number, yet these issues seem to fly under the radar so well. How is that possible? I can count right now, out of the number of women I know simply through my social network and family which would mean that at least a handful of them may be experiencing this (or have at some point) that I was/am completely unaware of.  How are we supposed to support the mothers who are struggling if we don’t even know they are struggling?

I have dealt with acute depression just out of college with all the transitions happening in my life, it was too much, too fast, and I was struggling to adapt to them all. This was situational for me and I was able to find my way out of if with the help of counseling and some short term meds, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering if It’ll come back again later. In fact, I’m actually pretty surprised that the loss of my daughter didn’t throw me into a well of despair. Don’t get me wrong, I grieved….hard….. but there is a difference between grief and depression.  I have long advocated for mothers to share their stories and their grief when they suffer loss, because knowing they aren’t alone in their feelings and that how they feel is absolutely OK, no matter what those feelings are. They are theirs and they are justified. It’s not surprising that this simple act works wonders in their processing of their emotions and figuring out how to work through them in rebuilding their lives. That holds true for mothers as well.  Much like trauma and loss, anxiety, depression and other disorders that effect mental health are not picky on whose life they descend and wreak havoc.

So why the stigma?  When can someone share that they are struggling more than normal and not get chastised or written off for it? Why is it not ok for a mother who seemingly has everything to struggle with getting out of bed in the morning?  Why does it take an extreme of a mother on the news who drowned her children to call attention to mental health?

Mothers struggle with these disorders. Every. Single. Day. So, why can she not open up to her friend and say, you know, this is a really terrible day and I am not quite sure if/how I will make it through..Maybe she can, and maybe she did. But are we listening?

Parenthood is hard. Motherhood is hard. It’s not because she doesn’t want to open up, but because she is afraid. She’s afraid of what other people will think, she’s afraid at how others will react, she’s afraid of who she is being compared to, she’s afraid that if she admits it then it will be real, and maybe she’s terrified that no one will be able to help her. It takes a lot of someone to admit they are dealing with these mental health issues, and there are too many things that play into the reasons behind these disorders, (social-emotional hard wiring, upbringing, life situation, etc.) but one thing seems clear:

When they exist, perhaps the most harmful thing for them is when their feelings aren’t acknowledged (by others or by their own logic). They may already be fighting with themselves thinking:

  • “I’m just overreacting or being dramatic”
  • “Others are much worse off than me, what do I have to be depressed/anxious/upset about?”
  • “Everything’s fine, I’ll be over in a day or two”, or “I just had a hard week”
  • “I’m just tired”
  • “I’m just feeling sorry for myself”

When others say these types things to them, it further invalidates their feelings so they are less likely to either realize that there truly is a problem or feel like their feelings are not appropriate. There is a fine line in determining what is actually going on in someone’s head and how to respond to any of these statements, that’s what the professionals are trained in and there for.  What WE can do, is be a human being.

In general, it seems that people have such low tolerance and patience they don’t see all the work that is needed to combat these feelings and move through life. Some do a very good job of hiding it and the smile masks all the chaos going on in their minds. For many it is a daily battle, and we need to be wiser, we need to be more patient, and we need to be open.  Many of us are not in the business to offer professional mental health counseling to the women in our lives that struggle, but all of us are certainly able to have a conversation with our friend, our sister, our co-worker, the mom to one of our kid’s friends, etc. Much like helping a bereaved parent, you don’t have to understand what they’re going through to be able to help them.

You don’t have to fix someone’s problem for them, you just have to be there to listen should she decide today is the day she opens up to someone the real answer to that question “how are you doing?”.  Sit with her on the floor as she cries. Let her talk about her fears, celebrate the small winnings of the day if you recognize it took a tremendous amount of effort to accomplish for her.  It may take more than a friend to help her through, but being there to listen will certainly go a long way.

For far too long, there has been an undeserved stigma associated with mental health, so if you are dealing with it please don’t keep it to yourself. 1 in 8 there is likely someone right alongside of you that is sharing a similar struggle. For those of us who are lucky enough not to be struggling with this, don’t halt the conversation if it starts, and pay a little extra attention.  Depression and anxiety are called “invisible” illnesses.  Are they invisible because they are hidden so well or are they invisible because we refuse to see them?

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

The Facts About Panic Disorder

Earlier this month we posted a blog about anxiety disorders in childhood.  Today’s blog is about one particular anxiety disorder, panic disorder.  While panic attacks can occur in children, they are rare.  The prevalence of panic attacks increases significantly at the age of puberty.  Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder where individuals experience unexpected recurrent panic attacks.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders- Fifth Edition, a panic attack is an abrupt surge of intense fear or intense discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes, and during which time four (or more) of the following symptoms occur:panic disorder

  1. Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  2. Sweating
  3. Trembling or shaking
  4. Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering
  5. Feelings of choking
  6. Chest pain or discomfort
  7. Nausea or abdominal distress
  8. Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint
  9. Chills or heat sensations
  10. Paresthesias (numbness or tingling sensations)
  11. Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from one-self)
  12. Fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  13. Fear of dying

As you will notice with the list above, many of these symptoms are physical (chills or heat sensations, sweating, pain or discomfort) while others are cognitive (fear of losing control, depersonalization, fear of dying).  In addition to the experience of having a panic attack, panic disorder affects individuals in ways that can impact daily life and functioning.  To illustrate, individuals with panic disorder experience “consistent concern or worry about additional panic attacks or their consequences” (DSM-V, p208).  In addition, people with panic disorder will often avoid certain places or activities that they fear might lead to another panic attack.

Dr. David Carbonell, in his Panic Attacks Workbook (2004) identifies four situations in with recurrent panic attacks are likely to occur.  These include:

  1. In situations that remind the individual of their first panic attack
  2. In situations in which the individual might feel trapped or like they won’t be able to escape
  3. During less structured, leisure time activities where one’s mind is less occupied/focused
  4. In the absence of real emergency

Dr. Carbonell goes on to highlight the importance of understanding panic attacks.  Individuals experiencing panic attacks can be flooded with irrational thoughts.  For this reason, it is helpful to remember that having a panic attack does not mean any real risk exists.  In addition, as stated above, panic attacks peak within just minutes.

Although panic attacks are rare in children, young ones can still struggle with feelings of fear and other symptoms of anxiety.  If you suspect your child may be struggling with panic disorder or another anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to contact a mental health professional.  He or she can help discern if an anxiety disorder exists and help you plan the best course of treatment.

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


childhood anxiety

Anxiety in Children: What You Need To Know

In the world of mental health, anxiety is recognized as the most common disorder affecting individuals of all ages.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (, about eight percent of children and teens in the United States experience the negative impact of anxiety.

“A large, national survey of adolescent mental health reported that about 8 percent of teens ages 13–18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. However, of these teens, only 18 percent received mental health care(1).”

These numbers are startling.  For me, most troublesome is the fact that less than twenty percent of the surveyed teens with an anxiety disorder received mental health care.  As adults who are responsible for the care and well-being of children it’s important to be informed about anxiety in children so we are equipped to appropriately respond.

What is anxiety in children and what does it look like?

Feeling anxious in certain situations is natural.  In fact, feeling anxious helps us stay alive.  When dangerchildhood anxiety presents itself, our senses are heightened, we’re extra alert, and we’re ready to mobilize.  Consider an individual riding a motorcycle, driving through heavy traffic, or performing on stage.  Anxiety helps these individuals pay attention, stay safe (and avoid other cars on the road), and devote energy to nailing the task at hand.  However, some individuals experience anxiety when no real danger exists.  The recurrent experience of anxiety to the point that it negatively impacts one’s everyday life may mean the person is suffering from an anxiety disorder.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition, explains that for someone to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety must be “excessive” and “(persist) beyond developmentally appropriate periods” (p. 189).  For example, one anxiety disorder described in the DSM-5 is Separation Anxiety Disorder, where the key feature is “excessive fear or anxiety concerning separation from home or attachment figures” (191).  Consider that while this can be classified as a disorder, periods of heightened anxiety in relation to separation from primary caregivers is a natural and expected part of healthy attachment development.

NAMI categorizes symptoms of anxiety into two types of experiences: emotional and physical.

Physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • pounding/racing heart and shortness of breath
  • sweating and tremors/twitches
  • headaches, fatigue, insomnia
  • upset stomach, frequent urination or diarrhea

Emotional symptoms of anxiety:

  • Feelings of apprehension or dread
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Anticipating the worst and being watchful for signs of danger

What to do about anxiety in children:

If you know someone who appears to be suffering from excessive anxiety, don’t sit back quietly.  Anxiety is treatable and the earlier that intervention begins, the better.  Speak to your child’s teacher, school psychologist, social worker, or pediatrician if you suspect that your young one is in need of help.

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!


Separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety: Why It Happens and How it Can Be Resolved

Separation Anxiety in early childhood is a normal developmental stage. During infancy, children are becoming familiar with their parents and their home environment. They become comfortable with their caregivers and learn what to expect from them. Around 8-14 months children start becoming uncomfortable and fearful around situations and people that are unfamiliar. Separation from their parents during this stage of development can make children feel threatened and unsafe. During times ofseparation-anxiety separation children may express distress. They may cling to you, cry, and refuse to separate from you. These feelings typically subside around 2 years of age. At this time children have learned that their parents will return later. To help children to move through this stage successfully, children need to learn to feel safe in their environment, trust people other than their caregivers and trust that their caregivers will return. Separation anxiety can return during periods of stress, including the loss of a loved one or a loved pet, changing classrooms or changing schools, or moving to a new home.

Despite the trust gained and maintained in first stages of development, entering into the preschool setting may be the first time trust is being tested outside the safe and secure home environment. The child may feel uncertain if and how their needs will be met as they explore this uncharted territory.

Ways to deal with separation anxiety:

  • Establish consistent routines
  • Practice separation
  • Develop a goodbye ritual
  • Work with the school and the teacher to make transitions successful
  • Use transitional objects (pictures of you, something special that reminds your child of you, a favorite blanket or a favorite toy)
  • Do not prolong the time you spend leaving your child
  • Do not sneak away from your child
  • Check in with how you are feeling. Your child will pick up on your ambivalence and anxiety.

When to be concerned about and seek mental health support for separation anxiety:

  • When the fear/anxiety does not go away or your child is over 6 years old
  • Your child exhibits extreme distress when separated from you
  • Your children exhibits reluctance to go to school or other places due to fear of being separated from you
  • Reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without you or another primary caregiver close by

Click here to watch a Pediatric TV Episode on Separation Anxiety in children.

Anxiety Disorders

NSPT offers occupational therapy services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

eating disorders

Does My Child Have An Eating Disorder?

Are you concerned that your child is demonstrating symptoms of an eating disorder? There are many common misconceptions when one evaluates for the presence of an eating disorder such as the person needs to “be skinny,” “be female,” and “be obsessed with food and calorie counting.” Although these can be factors, eating disorders are an equal opportunity affliction and can affect individuals across size, shape, gender, race, and age. Eating disorders are indicative of a person’s unhealthy relationship with food and his or her unrealistic expectations for weight that negatively impacts the individual’s overall quality of life. Although food is a primary component in the diagnosis of eating disorders, the food itself is a maladaptive tool to cope with a range of emotions and can serve as a false method for power and control.

What are some symptoms of eating disorders?eating disorders

The restriction of calories, skipped meals, consumption of large amounts of food, purging, or loss of control when eating can all be manifestations of other underlying socio-emotional concerns. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, “almost 50% of people with an eating disorder meet the criteria for Depression.”  Psychological factors to be aware of when determining the presence of an eating disorder include:

  • Difficulty with mood regulation
  • Reduced impulse control
  • The need for control
  • Perfectionism
  • Parental dieting
  • Need for attention
  • High family expectations
  • Preoccupation with food, weight, body
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Consumes tiny portions of food
  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Depression
  • Distorted body image (i.e. thinking they are fat or overweight when it is not the case)

Eating disorder treatment includes individual and group psychotherapy to gain strategies to become aware of and avoid maladaptive behaviors, challenge negative core beliefs about weight, and enhance self-esteem. Additionally, nutritional counseling and medication management for the treatment of the underlying depression or anxiety can be added as needed.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

Winter Blues

4 Tips for Dealing with the Winter Blues

When you think of the winter holiday season, what comes to mind?  Time with friends and family, shopping the sales, family vacations, breaks from school?  While all of these can bring smiles to people’s faces, the holiday season can also be a time of great stress and worry.  What are your stressors during the holidays?  Perhaps it’s looking after your little ones while they’re off school for a few weeks.  Or maybe you have an overwhelming number of gifts to buy friends and family; a commitment of both time and money.  Maybe you’re just one that doesn’t care for the snow, cold weather, and cloudy days.  Whatever the stressors are that you find difficult to deal with year after year, the first step that can be helpful in dealing with these stressors is identifying them.  While some may begin to feel down because of the additional responsibilities and busy go-go-go related to the holidays, others find that winter comes with less to do and often find themselves cooped up in their home.

4 Tips for Dealing with the Winter Blues

Communicate expectations- With your kids, your spouse, nanny, other family members, etc.  Routines can change with the seasons, especially when dealing with breaks from school.  Let your kids know what to expect during winter break.  If you’ll be at work, who will be looking after them?  Can they have friends over?  How about later bedtimes?  When we know what others expect from us, it’s much easier to give them what they want.Winter Blues

Share responsibilities- Whether it’s purchasing gifts for the family, preparing for (or cleaning up from) a big dinner, or additional child care needs, enlist friends and family to share holiday responsibilities.  People often report feeling guilty asking their loved ones for help of this sort.  The fact is, they’re typically happy to help, just as you would be happy to help any of them.

Utilize your support systems- Similar to the previous tip, however this is in regards to your emotional health.  Often when feeling down, we isolate ourselves.  This, in fact, can serve to prolong and exacerbate our blues.  Some find it helpful to join a support group, speak to a therapist and spend time on self-care.

Recognize if it’s something more- A hallmark of seasonal blues is that…well… they’re seasonal!  A true case of the winter blues is absent during the remainder of the year.  If you find that you often feel down and/or have experienced changes in mood, sleep, and behavior that are getting in the way of daily life and have lasted for two weeks or more, it’s highly recommended to consult a mental health professional.  Taking this step is important to do for not only for yourself, but also for your loved ones.  While this does involve a commitment of your time and money, the benefits of tending to one’s mental health far outweigh the costs.

Click here to watch our webinar on sensory strategies for success over the holidays.

Cyber Bully

Teenage Sexting: How does a parent handle?

How does a parent handle teenage sexting and appropriate content online? It is clear when your child doesn’t clean his room or complete homework on a nightly basis and therefore, the communication and discipline that ensues is obvious and direct. How does a parent know what their child’s behavior looks like on the internet when there is no way to observe or screen the content that transpires? Of course there are technologically savvy ways to block certain websites and scroll through previous online history, but how do you prevent him from engaging in damaging activity?

It may be awkward to have open and candid conversations with your child about their online affairs, but it is necessary to teach effective boundaries regarding what is and is not appropriate. You may assume that your child could never be capable of sexting or disseminating graphic information, but calling attention to these issues is paramount for prevention.

3 tips on how to approach your child on teenage
sexting and appropriate content online:Cyber Bully

  1. If he has a social media account, be his “friend.” This way, you can keep tabs on any online activity that gets posted and he might think twice about posting incriminating dialogue or images. If he does not accept your “friendship” request the login information to their account to casually peruse the content of their online engagements. This privilege should not be abused but rather as a tool to get a feel for what goes on behind the scenes. If he refuses, explain to him the value of this function and that this does not compromise trust but is an opportunity to maintain consistency with parental expectations and child actions. To have online accounts is a privilege and if open communication and awareness cannot be agreed upon, deactivating these accounts can be an option to ensure adequate guidelines are followed.
  2. Communicate the do’s and don’ts of online media engagement including what is allowed to be posted, what is not allowed, and why. Let him know the boundaries up front so that he has a clear idea of what will be tolerated behavior. Convey to him that he can reach out to you if he ever feels uncomfortable by kids sharing graphic content and that this sharing of information is not punishable but rather is effective in problem-solving real life scenarios as they arise.
  3. To prevent, handle, and manage “sexting,” a calm, inviting atmosphere needs to exist. You can set this boundary upon your child first getting a phone or instant messenger that there needs to be a level of open communication for children to share situations of peer pressure and demonstrate responsibility. Having a phone or internet privileges, like any other skill, requires education and practical experiences. Without the opportunity to dialogue about what is going well and not so well, the child cannot cultivate the independent skills to navigate challenging situations effectively.


Click here to learn more about cyber bullying and how to make sure it doesn’t happen to your child.

who is a child life specialist

Who is a Child Life Specialist?

Once referred to as “the play lady” in the hospital setting, the Child Life Specialist role has since grown into one that addresses the psychosocial concerns of children and their families. They take the approach of family-centered care and help to make a hospitalization experience positive and growth-promoting.

I was fortunate enough to be a certified Child Life Specialist for almost 6 years at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. When Iwho is a child life specialist first heard of the profession, it almost seemed too good to be true…I would be able to “play” with children and work in a hospital setting—2 things I was looking for in a job. During my first 6 months, I was shocked and surprised to find out that my role was way more than just playing!

The Mission of a Child Life Specialist:

To start, let me tell you what the mission of the Child Life Specialist is, straight from the Child Life Council: “We, as child life professionals, strive to reduce the negative impact of stressful or traumatic life events and situations that affect the development, health and well-being of infants, children, youth and families. We embrace the value of play as a healing modality as we work to enhance the optimal growth and development of infants, children and youth through assessment, intervention, prevention, advocacy, and education.”

What this mission means is that Child Life Specialists will work with children and their families by doing the following (and more!) to minimize the stress and anxiety of the healthcare experience:

  • Age-appropriate play (both bedside and in a playroom area; individually and in a group setting)
  • Preparation and explanation of what is happening in a developmentally-appropriate manner
  • Coping and distraction during procedures
  • Sibling support
  • Bereavement
  • Education
  • Support ties to home, school, and the community
  • Work alongside a multidisciplinary team

What Does it Take to Become a Child Life Specialist?

While some may think anyone can play with a child, Child Life Specialists must take an exam and become certified to become employed. In order to be eligible for the exam, an applicant must have a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree (in 2025 it will change to an advanced degree); must complete a total of 10 college-level courses in child life or a related department/subject; must complete an internship with a minimum of 480 hours (this will change to 600 hours in 2019). Once certified, the Child Life Specialist must maintain the certification by receiving 50 Professional Development Hours within a 5 year time period.

Fortunately, this profession has been growing since its start in the 1920s and most major cities have children’s hospitals with Child Life Specialists on staff. Some areas in which they work are emergency room, outpatient clinics, surgery center/same day surgery, in-patient units, and specialty clinics.
Working as a Child Life Specialist was very rewarding as I was able to see how my work, with mostly a hands-on approach, affected not only the child receiving the medical care but also the family in such a positive way. I was the “safe” person that was trusted by the child to not hurt them but to help them. I was the person who advocated for the child: take the child to the treatment room for a procedure vs. having it done in their bed which is their safe space; have the resident get down on the child’s level when introducing themselves and talking, giving the child a choice in a situation vs. telling them what to do. I was the person who allowed the child to be a child!

The Child Life Council has a wonderful website that is easy to navigate for more information. Should your child or a family/child you know be hospitalized, have an upcoming procedure or surgery, or have a sibling going through one of these situations, ask the hospital if they have a Child Life Specialist on staff to help ease the stress of the situation…it will make a world of difference!

Click here for more information on how to help when a child you love suffers trauma.