Child Life- Tips and Tricks for Visiting the Doc

Hi all! I am a certified child life specialist, formerly hospital-based, now working in private practice. Child Life is a lesser known field so I thought I would just do a quick introduction on the types of services that I offer!

Child Life Specialists empower kids and families to cope with challenging healthcare experiences. Whether it be a trip to the dentist, a new diagnosis, a surgical procedure, or an ill parent, these moments can be scary and overwhelming. Through interventions such as therapeutic play, age appropriate preparation, expressive activities and psychosocial education, Child Life Specialists aim to decrease the anxiety, fear, and stress often associated with the unfamiliar medial environment and process.

Below are some tips for talking with and preparing children for upcoming appointments (even shots!) Below are 10 tips and tricks that may help make a medical encounter more successful!

Talk with the Team
Learn from the medical team about what the visit will be like so you can accurately prepare your child! Ask about steps, your role etc. You know your child best, so if you think they may need an accommodation, ask and advocate for one!

Explore, touch, and pretend! Play is how kids make sense of the world around them. It gives them a sense of control and the time and space to process. Play also tells us a lot about how your child is feeling about an upcoming appointment or encounter. While play allows kids to work through their feelings about an upcoming appointment or encounter, it also provides us with the opportunity to learn about what worries or fears they may have.

Show and Tell
What will it feel like? What will it smell like? What will they see? Give the whole sensory experience and describe what to expect step by step. Use materials, such as a doctors kit and a doll or stuffed animal, to show your child what they may see and feel. This can give them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with medical supplies. It may help to bring that stuffed animal or doll to the appointment and ask the doctor to show your child what they’re doing on the doll first!

Use Age Appropriate Language
Simple, concrete and honest is best. When kids hear words that are unfamiliar to them, they can get confused and scared. Using words that they know can help ease those worries and help kids understand what is happening. Being honest about something that may hurt or be uncomfortable is also important. If kids are shocked or surprised, they can often lose trust, have a bigger reaction in the moment, and it can also lead to more difficult future healthcare experiences.

Give Your Child A Job
Participation is key is making an upcoming appointment a success! Giving your child a job in the process gives them structure and control at the same time. It also offers an opportunity for praise and a sense of accomplishment. Maybe their job is to stay very still like a statue or keep their mouth open wide.

Make a Coping Plan
Coping plans help give realistic choices, safety and control. Talk about what may make your child feel most comfortable during hard moments. Maybe they want to blow bubbles or listen to music. You can also talk about a special item they may want to bring from home such as a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket. Something as simple as this can bring comfort and normalize the environment.

Position for Comfort
Advocate for comfort positions! Did you know that laying down for medical procedures, such as shots or blood work, actually can cause kids more stress and fear than sitting up? You are your child’s safe person, so being close to you can make all the difference. One of my favorites is the tummy to tummy sit. In this position, your child sits on your lap facing you with their legs around your waist. You can then give them a big hug while also keeping their arms safety contained. If your child is looking away from the shot, they can watch an Ipad, read a book, or engage in another diversion activity.

Use books and videos
Developmentally, kids often learn and respond best to “watching” a story or character. Use books and videos to normalize the experience. Books and videos also give age appropriate explanations and can help explain why these appointments are important to their health!

For more child life tips and resources, follow @readysetcope or visit me at


Great post! Thank you for sharing!

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This is such a great resource! Thank you for sharing!

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This is so helpful, thank you! When I worked at NYU hospital, we had a fabulous child life specialist that was a huge part of our pediatric team. This specialty is so important, especially in hospital-based care, but can also be a big part of outpatient care as well. Out of curiosity, how do you support families as a private practice? Thank you for posting! :slight_smile:


Yes, NYU has a great child life program, and when I was hospital-based I loved working with PT and OT! In private practice, I am actually partnered with a dental practice in the area that gives referrals for kids that have significant fears or anxieties related to dental appointments. I also try to reduce the need for sedation for their dental procedures. With private clients, a lot of my work is supporting and preparing kids and families for upcoming outpatient appointments/ procedures. I also see kids with chronic illnesses and support children who have a sibling or parent that is ill or injured. What you do on this community is so important and I appreciate your collaboration!