Child life specialists help children cope

Sarah Sims, MS, CCLS
Child Life Specialist, Emergency Department 
The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio

“Play is the work of the child.” –Maria Montessori

Hospitalization experiences can be scary and overwhelming for children and families. At The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, our goal is to provide excellent, quality care and an overall positive experience. That is why child life specialists are an important and integral part of our health care team. Child life specialists are professionals trained in child development and family theory. The child life team contributes to the patient and families’ plan of care to improve the hospital experience and promote positive coping.

Background Child life specialists have Bachelor’s and/or Master’s level training; this educational background prepares the child life specialist to assess psychosocial coping and provide meaningful and developmentally appropriate support. For example, a child life specialist can prepare you and your child for an MRI and offer coaching to help your child cope with the procedure. A child life specialist can provide developmentally appropriate diagnosis education for child and the whole family when the child has received a new diagnosis. A child life specialist can establish therapeutic relationships with patients and caregivers to support family participation in their child’s care during a prolonged stay for rehabilitation. These are just a few examples of the ways child life specialists work to help children cope with their health care experience.

Communicating through play  Play is the foundation of children’s development and their need for play is just as important during hospital visits. Child life specialists utilize play as a therapeutic modality to reduce children’s stress and anxiety, provide educational experiences, and promote normal development. Children use play to communicate, learn, express, process, and relate to the world around them; and child life specialists have the training and experience to see through a special lens and provide opportunities for children and families to understand, process, and overcome the stressors of their hospital experiences.

American Academy of Pediatrics endorses child life programs  The importance and efficacy of child life services are evident in data that shows how child life services help hospitals reduce costs by decreasing the need for sedation and analgesics.1 The American Academy of Pediatrics2 issued a policy statement on child life services, stating that “child life services improve quality and outcomes in pediatric care, as well as the patient and family experience.”

Child life’s presence at our Hospital In our efforts to transform our facility into a nationally recognized children’s hospital, we have utilized our resources and partnered with generous donors to create the wonderful Child Life Center, located on the first floor by the Café. In the new Najim Family Foundation Child Life Center, or CLC, the child life department hosts a variety of events with special guests, fun weekly games and activities, and therapeutic experiences for the whole family. Within the CLC, Ava’s Book Nook funded by the Goldsbury Foundation is a special space dedicated to providing families with free access to books for all ages and computer stations. Families have access to stay connected with friends and family, research health care information, get information about local services (restaurants, hotels, bus routes, etc.) or print important documents or boarding passes for travel plans. The CLC is open to hospital families and Associates from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The Child Life Specialists at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio are grateful to be a part of the health care team and have the opportunity to partner with patients, families, nurses, doctors, and staff to provide Everything for Our Children. To learn more about child life, please visit

1Baines, C., Guilfoyle, K., Myers, E., Rice., Santos, D., Sharbaugh, T., Stanford, E., & Sze, R. W. (2014). The economic value of a child life program for non-sedated MR imaging. Technical Report, May 2014.
2Committee on Hospital Care and Child Life Council. (2014). Policy statement child life services. Pediatrics, 133 (5), e1471-e1478.

Sarah Sims is a certified child life specialist in the Emergency Department at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. Sarah first learned about child life while working at Camp For All during her undergraduate studies at Texas A&M University and went on to complete her Master’s degree at Texas State University-San Marcos. She enjoys camping, reading, and spending time with her husband.

Author: The Children's Hospital of San Antonio

The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is the first freestanding hospital in San Antonio solely dedicated to the care of children. Located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is owned by CHRISTUS Health System. Baylor College of Medicine, one of the top medical schools in the nation, is the academic partner of The Children’s Hospital with 170 pediatric subspecialists affiliated with Baylor. In addition, community physicians in private practice remain a valuable partner in the care of children in our community. We are a health care ministry that works to continually meet the needs of the community to extend the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, following the values and mission of our sponsoring congregations; Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of Houston and San Antonio, as well as our newest sponsoring congregation, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth.

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