Adults are always asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because they’re looking for ideas. ~Paula Poundstone

What did you want to be when you were a kid? Changed much between then and now? There are few of us who end up in the career of our childhood dreams. I, for example, wanted to be a chef. If you ask my parents about my early culinary talent, they would regale you with stories of early morning breakfasts peppered with, well, a lot of pepper, egg shells, and coffee grounds. They always pretended to love it, and I still love food, but mostly when someone else is cooking.

What mattered when you were a kid (i.e. the sandbox and a Capri Sun) likely remains only as happy memories today. Most of us were lucky. Protecting our toys from the mean kid down the street (or an older sibling-I’m talking to you, Ben!) was the worst of our worries. But a lot of kids go through some pretty tough stuff, like chronic and terminal illness, the untimely death of a parent, or other traumatic experiences. There are plenty of career opportunities that reward you with the chance to study child development and to help kids through tough times. Look through Career and Employment Services’ Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network on Cascade and you will find plenty of teachers, social workers, and even Child Life Specialists.

In the ASK Network, I found Jessica, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2000 and is now working as a child life specialist.  “A Child Life Specialist is a professional who is specially trained to help children and their families understand and manage challenging life events and stressful healthcare experiences,” she writes. “Child Life Specialists are skilled in providing developmental, educational, and therapeutic interventions for children and their families under stress.”

Where Do Child Life Specialists Work?

  • Inpatient pediatric units, emergency rooms, intensive care and surgical units
  • Outpatient healthcare facilities
  • Specialized camps, schools, doctors’ offices, funeral homes and other areas where children experience stress and trauma.

Child Life Specialists have a passion for working with kids and a strong ability to communicate effectively with broad audiences. Here are some of the common skills and qualities required to be a great Child Life Specialist:

  • Enjoys working with children and parents
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Can adjust language and demeanor to the developmental and emotional state of the child
  • Works well with a variety of health care professionals and other support people
  • Can manage the emotional stress inherent in working with children who have life-threatening diseases
  • Able to explain complex medical procedures and information to all ages

So, if you love working with kids and their families, have a gentle way with people, can manage emotional situations, communicate well, and understand complex information, this might be a great choice for you. You can start exploring today by checking out these resources (also the source of most information in this post!):

CES Resources on Cascade:

Career Cruising provides profiles for many careers in social work and psychology and the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network lists alumni who you could contact for more information.

Books Available for Checkout in the CES Career Resource Library (Howarth 101):

Opportunities in Social Work Careers

Majoring in Psych? Career Options for Psychology Undergraduates

On the Web:

The Child Life Council: A nonprofit professional organization providing resources to child life professionals. They provide information about professional development and best practices. There are also great opportunities for professional networking and conferences.

Mayo Clinic: Child Life Specialist Career Overview

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology

© 2010 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound