What I Wish I Knew: Skills Needed Edition


Please note that some of these situations or experiences may be things you’ve never considered could be a part of a child life specialist’s job duties.
That’s okay. While every day may not be sunshine, rainbows and butterflies – not every day is like this either. Any job is going to have good/bad parts to it. This is just my way of sharing these parts of the job in a transparent way so that you are aware that we do so much more than play.
The child life specialists that I asked these questions to are still active and working in the field. So while it may be the not-so-good parts of child life, they are able to process these things and continue to do the good work that child life provides to patients and families every day.

Skills Needed

There are so many skills that can serve a child life specialist well when working in the field. The ability to be flexible and quickly change from one patient interaction to another, manage your time well in the midst of administrative duties, donations, referrals and patient care, and creatively respond to a variety of situations are all important.

I’m looking to highlight just the few that I think slipped under my radar when I was pursuing the field. So while these are not ALL the skills necessary, they are ones that I believe need to be talked about in order to make sure you’re successful and prepared in your work as a Certified Child Life Specialist.

One flexible skill that often isn’t talked about is the ability to bounce from play to bereavement and back to play. I’ve personally been in this situation a number of times where I’m preparing a patient for a procedure or engaging in developmentally appropriate play and get called to provide memory making for a sudden bereavement. The bereavement could happen right smack in the middle of my day. That means that I must go back to my unit and provide continued play and support to other patients who need child life services.

The ability to compartmentalize your emotions is another skill necessary to become a child life specialist. The website lifehack.org says it beautifully –

“When you compartmentalize emotions, it helps you keep distinct cognitive functions separate. Your feelings and emotions are connected, but feelings and emotions should be placed in separate places depending on the situation and function of the emotion.

Basically, you won’t be deprived of feeling your emotions. You’ll learn to control your emotions instead of being vulnerable to them. Since your emotions will not be a mess, you will act more rationally. Long story short, if you compartmentalize emotions, you minimize the risk of mental illnesses and overreactions.”

Read more about compartmentalizing your emotions from lifehack.org, here.

I think another skill necessary in the field is self-awareness. Your feelings will need to be set aside, especially at work when all of your energy is going towards patients and families. Prioritize mental check-ins with yourself to see what you need. It may be as simple as “I haven’t drank all day – let me get a water”, or “I could use 5 minutes outside to decompress”. Do those simple things so that the big things can take up the space they need.

Only YOU truly know what YOU need.

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