700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Certified Child Life Specialists: Providing Emotionally Safe Care

Mar 09, 2023
child life specialist

Certified Child Life Specialists (CCLS) help children and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of a variety of situations including medical encounters, illnesses, injury, trauma, loss, and bereavement. As developmental experts and “emotional first responders,” a Child Life Specialist’s main goal is to minimize potential trauma and stress experienced during a medical encounter.

How do Child Life Specialists provide emotionally safe care?

Child Life Specialists are specifically trained to use developmentally appropriate language and to provide developmentally appropriate techniques to children in order to help them cope, reduce anxiety, and increase cooperation. Child Life Specialists incorporate the whole family using cultural competence in order to assess their response to a medical encounter. Then they work with families to help develop a plan that will give them the tools and resources needed to cope appropriately.

Child Life Specialists advocate and use interventions to reduce the negative effects of medical encounters to reduce emotional harm. They gain and use knowledge of past experiences, because previous traumatic experiences can impact the child’s ability to cope with future stressful situations.

What can caregivers do to ensure their child has emotionally safe care during medical encounters?

Caregivers can start by asking if child life services are available. If child life services are not available, caregivers should feel empowered to advocate for their child’s needs as they know their child best.

In order to create an emotionally safe medical encounter for your child:

  • Share information about how your child reacts to stressful situations and what helps them cope so healthcare providers can incorporate that information into their plan of care.
  • Have medical information shared outside of the child’s presence in order to have time to create a plan to share information that is developmentally, emotionally, and culturally supportive.
  • Ask about environmental modifications. For example, if your child has difficulty with crowded spaces, loud noises, textures/sensations, lighting/brightness, or other elements, the Child Life Specialist would want to be made aware.
  • Ask about pain management techniques if a child is having a medical procedure. This includes explanations of steps, validation of fears and emotions, numbing agents for poke procedures, comfort holds, and distraction.

Healthcare professionals and families can work together in creating future positive healthcare experiences for pediatric patients. Learn more about how every child deserves emotionally safe care at the Emotional Safety Initiative.

Child Life Specialists at Nationwide Children's Hospital
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Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Brittany Mikuluk, M.Ed., CCLS
Child Life Educator

Brittany Mikuluk, M.Ed., CCLS completed her Bachelor of Sciences in Human and Consumer Sciences with a specialization of Child Life at Ohio University and completed her Master in Education with a graduate certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders at Bowling Green State University. Brittany’s passion working with students lead her to become an Adjunct Instructor at Bowling Green State University on top of her fulltime career at Nationwide Children’s Hospital as Child Life Educator.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.