A child life therapist or specialist is an expert in helping children and their families deal with personal, social, emotional and behavioral challenges. They often work in schools, nonprofits and health organizations. If you have a passion for helping kids and families and don't want to go to school for more than a decade to become a pediatrician, the child life therapist role is a good fit.
Child Play Therapy
A central assessment process for child life specialists is known as play therapy. This process simply involves the therapist observing a small group of children interacting. She watches the children to see whether they exhibit age-appropriate behaviors and effective social, emotional and behavioral attitudes. By taking notes and talking with parents and teachers, the specialist gets a better sense of what behavior modifications kids need. She typically discusses these needs with parents and teachers so they can help implement strategies at home and in class.
Coping Mechanisms and Child Training
Child life therapists provide support for both kids and caregivers. With children, they offer coping mechanisms and strategies to aid in resolve anger problems or other difficulties. Some of this training occurs during play therapy. The therapist might see a kid hitting a peer to get a toy he wants. Instead, the therapist recommends an appropriate way to ask for the toy. In some cases, specialists pull kids aside and coach them one-on-one after observations.
Parent and Caregiver Advising
Because children leave a therapist and spend much of their time with parents, caregivers and teachers, those adults need to get involved in the support team. The child life therapist discusses observations, strategies and coping mechanisms with the adults. She explains why a child acts out or exhibits certain qualities or behaviors. She may also provide parents with techniques for their own stress management in handling a challenging kid.
Education and Training
A child life professional needs at least a bachelor's degree in a field such as psychology, early childhood education, education, human development or a similar field. A master's degree in one of these fields qualifies you for higher-level positions, more important roles and typically better pay. The Child Life Council also administers a certification program for specialists that includes completion of a strenuous internship experience, a national exam and ethical standards.
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