8 Things Child Life Specialists Want You to Know for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Every year, more than 15,000 kids and young adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer, the leading killer of children by disease. This means every day, more than 40 families receive the devastating news.

These patients and their families are desperately in need of reassurance, information and guidance to offer support and navigate them through this frightening time; certified child life specialists are trained to do just that.

Certified child life specialists are child development experts who offer techniques to help reduce fear and anxiety for children — and their families — in hospital and outpatient settings. Their work with patients and families spans a wide variety of diseases, illnesses and injuries.

We wanted to take a look at their important role in helping children and families cope with a cancer diagnosis, as September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. So we asked members of the Association of Child Life Professionals via Facebook to share why their role as a certified child life specialist is important for childhood cancer patients.

Here’s what they said:

1. “Child life specialists teach, support and motivate children during an extraordinary time. We remove fear and promote coping during very unfortunate circumstances.” — Ann

2. “Childhood cancer led me to child life. I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2001, and earned my Child Life certification in 2016. I am forever thankful to my child life specialists for providing me with the tools needed to cope during and after my diagnosis and treatment. I hope to provide the same joy and healing to families facing similar struggles.” — Alexandra

3. “I meet patients with tears in their eyes, sitting in the lap of a mother who looks like she is about to crumble. I smile, squat down and offer ‘help’ in whatever manner that might be. Being a child life specialist for kids with cancer means wishing aloud, celebrating loudly and sometimes crying in the quiet of my office. I am honored to hold their stories, and I can’t wait for the day when cancer is no more.” — Katie

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4. “Child life specialists help navigate the medical journey for the patient, their caregivers and the medical team. We inspire smiles and hope for positive outcomes and we instill joy.” — Ann

5. “By providing educational resources, support during procedures or stressful treatments, or simply providing normalization through developmentally appropriate and fun play, child life specialists are one of a kind. We are advocates and voices for our families and their littlest warriors, and we take pride in providing a little shimmer of light in some of these families’ darkest times.” — Taylor

6. “Kids get robbed of so much when they have cancer, and child life specialists have the power to provide them with distractions from the pain. We keep them playing, laughing, singing and dancing, and most importantly, we help them be what they are: kids.” — Aileen

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7. Being a child life specialist helps encourage children to be children despite these unimaginable trials they are enduring. I help them be in control of certain situations and allow for opportunities to do what they do best — play! We teach them about their bodies and how they are changing, using words they can understand, and we work hard to provide the best, most positive coping experiences we can for our patients and their families, who are equally important in their care.” — Michelle

8. “I help kids be kids in a very scary and unknown environment. Play is the best medicine.” — Erika

To learn more about the work of certified child life specialists, check out the Association for Child Life Professional’s website or Facebook page.

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Thinkstock photo by ThitareeSarmkasat

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