Auburn Family

Child Life: A Major That Makes a Difference

“I knew I wanted to be a child life specialist when I was a freshman at Auburn, I was in a public speaking class. A student stood up and gave a speech about child life and what it meant to her. I remember feeling like I was the only person in the room. My heart started beating really fast and I remember thinking, 'this is what I've been called to do!' I was so thrilled. I called everyone I knew and told them about it,” said Amanda Butler, a certified child life specialist and professor at Auburn University.

Many people have never heard of child life specialists and, therefore, have no idea that Auburn has a program dedicated to the profession. The child life concentration of the human development and family studies major is designed to prepare students for a career as a child life specialist. By definition, a child life specialist is a medical professional that helps children cope with hospitalization, but the job involves a wide range of responsibilities.

“Child life is often hard to define because child life specialists are multi-faceted and diverse individuals, and our job requirements are so wide-ranging. For example, in one room, I may be building rapport with a child who has sickle cell anemia by playing a board game with him. Five minutes later, I may be next door describing a procedure to a child using medical tools, developmentally appropriate language, and a doll or bear. Later in the day, I may be doing bereavement work with a family who has lost their child,” said Butler. “Child life is hard to define because we rarely play the same role twice!”

In order to become a child life specialist, you must have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, complete a clinical internship under a certified child life specialist and pass a national examination. Many colleges and universities do not have specific child life programs, so students at Auburn have the advantage that many others do not have of learning about the profession from certified individuals with personal experience in the field.

“The child life class at Auburn is the cornerstone of future child life specialists' educational journey. We cover topics like how to prepare children for medical encounters, how to support patients, siblings, and parents in the hospital, how play supports healthy development and coping for children in the hospital, how to identify developmental regression or coping concerns in children and what interventions can support children. We also get more comfortable with the hospital environment by learning about common procedures, diagnoses, and medical tools as well as the other medical professionals in the hospital,” said Butler.

The child life profession can be challenging for many reasons. It is a competitive career because hospital funding is often limited, meaning that hospitals can be limited in hiring child life staff. It is also a misunderstood career, as many people do not know what exactly child life specialists do and feel it is unnecessary. Child life specialists are relied upon to support families during their most difficult times. This can be emotionally draining and many people find that they cannot handle it after a few years. 

“I would encourage aspiring child life students to be proactive and self-motivated on their journey. Child life is very competitive. Therefore, seeking out guidance from the child life advisor, Dr. Roberson; the internship coordinator, Dr. Sailors; and the child life instructor, myself, puts child life students ahead of the game. Finding time to complete practicums and internships is the number one issue that students run into, so scheduling and time management are valuable skills,” said Butler.

Cara Floum, a senior HDFS major with a concentration in Child Life, became interested in the major after a sorority trip to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“The trip to St. Jude kind of opened my eyes to the profession as a whole, I had never even heard of it before. I researched and saw that Auburn had a program and I was so excited,” said Floum.

Floum is currently completing her practicum at Columbus Regional Health.

“The child life staff at Auburn is extremely helpful, especially to students looking for internships because it is required that we complete one before we can get certified,” said Floum. 

Although the child life concentration is difficult, students will find a wealth of knowledge and support among the staff at Auburn.

“Students are my passion, and when students seek me out to ask questions, I cheer them on as they succeed in this field,” said Butler.

For more information about the major visit the College of Human Sciences website. For more information about the child life profession visit the Child Life Council Website. (Photos and image from the College of Human Sciences website.)

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