Child Life specialists help hospitalized kids handle stress and have fun


When children who’ve been ill or injured go home from the hospital, they often carry fond memories of their child life specialists, the folks who brought toys and games to their bedsides, explained medical procedures in a non-scary way, and helped their families worry less.

Today, in honor of the start of Child Life Month, we’re highlighting a recent feature story about the work of Susan Kinnebrew, director of Child and Family Life Services at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, and her team. Their role is to make sure that hospital care leaves room for kids to be kids.

Research has shown that child life services reduce children’s postoperative pain, lower parents’ anxiety about their kids’ hospital stays and decrease the emotional distress children feel about being at the hospital. Reading about how Kinnebrew’s team does their jobs, it’s not hard to see why:

“Play is a crucial part of how children develop,” Kinnebrew said. “You can’t lose that aspect when kids are in the hospital.” The opportunity to visit with a therapy dog, play video games with friends or express themselves creatively through art projects isn’t a luxury for sick kids, she adds; it’s a significant part of how the hospital helps them get well.

Kinnebrew and her colleagues [also] help kids handle medical experiences in ways that are tailored to the child’s developmental stage. To help a preschooler prepare for an MRI scan, a child life specialist uses dolls and toy versions of medical equipment to demonstrate, through play, everything that will happen during the scan. The explanation uses simple, non-threatening terms that focus on what the patient will see, smell and hear. For a teenager getting ready for the same scan, the specialist gives a more detailed explanation of the procedure, encourages the patient to ask questions and may take the patient to visit an MRI machine in advance.

The entire story gives great perspective on how our dedicated team of child life specialists assist children and families in every part of the hospital.

Photo of child life specialist Jake Lore talking with patient Lucia Ruiz by Norbert von der Groeben.


2 Responses to “Child Life specialists help hospitalized kids handle stress and have fun”

  1. Emily Andrassy

    I am a senior in high school in the Bay Area and immediately fell in love with this career as soon as I learned what is was. I am interested in possibly contacting some Child Life Specialists to ask some questions regarding their education background to give me some reference as I begin college apps.
    Thank you!

    • JulJenkins

      Dear Emily. We’re so pleased to hear of your interest in pursuing a career as a child life specialist. We have reached out to our child life department with your contact info, and one of our specialists will be in touch shortly. We wish you all the best in your academic pursuits, and hope to see you in healthcare in the future.


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