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Child Life Specialists

The Unicorns of Healthcare Workers

We were not familiar with the role of a child life specialist until Kaydee was diagnosed with cancer at age seventeen. Since then, we’ve learned a lot, mostly how critical a child life specialist is to the mental and emotional well-being of not only your child, but also the entire family, when tragedy strikes.

In a nutshell, a child life specialist is a pediatric health care professional who helps your child cope with their medical experience. They help children, adolescents and young adults (AYA) understand their diagnosis and deal with the challenges of hospitalization and illness.

Child life specialists are developmentalists so they understand how to connect with your child in an age-appropriate way to help them navigate the challenges of a serious illness and hospitalization. They hold a bachelor's or master's degree in child development, education, psychology, child life or a related field. Child life specialists work alongside physicians, nurses and the rest of the clinical team as a trusted resource and safe space for patients throughout their medical journey.

March is Child Life awareness month so we thought it was a great opportunity to shine a bright spotlight on the services these angels provide for pediatric patients and their families. In our estimation, child life specialists are the unicorns of healthcare professionals and Christy Grosboll, co-founder of Project Sol Flower, is no exception, spreading joy and hope to everyone she meets. In fact, Kaydee had an entire team of amazing child life specialists (Christy, Kara, Coree and Kristan) throughout her cancer journey and we are so grateful to them all.

We met Christy almost 5 years ago when Kaydee was first diagnosed with cancer. Christy was assigned to Kaydee and helped her normalize and understand everything that was happening to her: from her initial diagnosis, chemotherapy and surgery to losing her hair, missing school and key teenage milestones and eventually end of life wishes. Kaydee leaned heavily on Christy so we were able to see the full scope of what child life specialists do, the value they add and the comfort they bring to patients and their families.

Child life specialists perform a huge range of services, including:

  • Helping children and AYA cope with anxiety and fear

  • Helping your child prepare for scans and medical procedures

  • Minimizing the trauma and fear of hospitalization

  • Facilitating art, music and pet therapy

  • Providing other distraction techniques

Most importantly, child life specialists advocate for your child, adolescent or young adult, helping them prepare for each step of their medical journey with the least amount of trauma.

For younger patients, child life specialists use “medical play” as a way to help kids feel less scared. Allowing children to give stuffed animals shots and take their blood pressure is a great example of how they use play to reduce fear around needles and other procedures. This gives children a sense of power and control over what is happening to them which can be crucial for compliance. Child life specialists are wizards with distraction techniques, creating “poke plans” and helping kids strategize each phase of their treatment plan.

Most children's hospitals employ child life specialists and the majority of their work takes place in a hospital setting, with a small percentage of work involving hospice, palliative care and end of life wishes. It’s critical to provide kids both a choice and a voice in their end of life wishes and child life specialists are equipped to have the hard conversations and gently, lovingly help adolescents and young adults navigate those decisions.

Child life specialists also play a key role in connecting your child with wish-granting services to help keep them future-focused by having a trip or experience to look forward to after treatment. Christy and Kaydee connected deeply over Kaydee’s love of creating bucket lists for exactly that purpose. From there, the initial ideas for Project Sol Flower started to take root. When it became clear that most wish-granting organizations only serve children and adolescents under age 18, Kaydee and Christy knew they needed a foundation that supported young adults.

If you want to know more about the role of a child life specialist, or have a question, you can email Christy directly. She’s always happy to chat about all things child life, dream granting and Project Sol Flower!


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