Child Life Services

People in strange clothes, words you don’t understand, and medical equipment you’ve never seen. Hospitalization can be frightening for adults; imagine how scary it can be for children.  Mercy Children’s Hospital employs child life specialists who focus on the psychosocial needs of pediatric patients and their families. They help reduce the stress and anxiety of a hospitalization by teaching your child about various hospital experiences they may encounter through various means such as medical and therapeutic play and by distraction during medical procedures. Child life specialists work with all pediatric patients from infancy to adolescent on the inpatient Pediatric floor, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), Emergency Department, the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic, as well as other areas of the hospital upon referral.

Play is an important part of a child’s hospitalization. Child life specialists not only utilize play to bring joy and comfort to a child throughout a hospitalization, but they also use play to normalize the hospital environment, meet a child’s developmental needs, prepare children for invasive procedures, distract during procedures, and reduce the fears and anxieties associated with their child’s hospitalization.

Here are tips for supporting your child and siblings at the hospital.


Pre-Op Tours

Explaining what will happen before, during, and after surgery often helps relieve some of your child’s anxieties and fears. Our child life specialists offer pre-op tours once a week by appointment only to help prepare children for upcoming surgeries. Please call the Child Life Office at 417-820-3427 for available tour times.

Procedural and Pre-operational Teaching

A child life specialist can give your hospitalized child developmentally-appropriate explanations prior to medical procedures and surgeries.  Children have the chance to explore medical equipment and look at pictures as a learning tool to better understand what will happen.  This approach often helps reduce fears, anxieties, and misconceptions that pediatric patients may have about upcoming procedures and surgeries.

Distraction during Medical Procedures

Child life specialists often accompany a pediatric patient while having a medical procedure performed.  A child life specialist may assist the patient with deep breathing and other relaxation techniques while utilizing guided imagery and toys for distraction.

Medical and Therapeutic Play

Medical and therapeutic play is another tool child life specialists use to assess a child’s understanding of medical procedures and the hospital environment.  Children are given the chance to “practice” procedures on dolls and stuffed animals with adult supervision.  This not only helps patients better understand their medical situation, but it also helps kids feel a sense of control at a time when they have limited choices.

Bereavement Support

Many children have to deal with grief and bereavement issues while in the hospital, such as death of a parent or sibling, loss of hair due to chemotherapy, or limited mobility because of an accident.  Child life specialists provide therapeutic activities that allow children to express their feelings. They also provide parents with resources and information about children’s reactions to experiencing grief or bereavement.

Education and Emotional Support for Patients and their Families

Child Life Services provide emotional support for pediatric patients and their families and make referrals to other departments or agencies when needed.  Child life specialists also help families understand how hospitalization may affect the family’s dynamics.

Sibling Classes

Welcoming a new baby into the family can have a significant impact on his/her older sibling’s life. Child life specialists partner with registered nurses to provide a fun and educational experience for children and their parents to learn about and prepare for the new baby. Children will learn about safety with toys, holding the new baby, and even take a brief tour of the maternity floor. Register here for the Super Siblings Class or contact the Family Resource Center 417-820–2327 for more information about the class.

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Find important information about donating to Mercy Kids on our Wish List and Donation Guidelines and call Child Life Services at (417) 820-3457 for questions.


Volunteers play a crucial role in supporting the Child Life Department within the hospital’s inpatient units. Child Life volunteer responsibilities include engaging patients and families in developmentally-appropriate play at the bedside or in the playroom, cleaning toys to help with infection control, and assisting child life specialists with special projects for patient care. Child Life volunteers must be at least 18 years of age and be permanently out of high school (i.e. graduate). To apply for a volunteer position within the Child Life Department, please fill out an Online Application or contact Auxiliary Services at 417-820-2041.  

Special Visitors

Activities or guest appearances provided by special visitors or groups can be a much needed distraction for a child throughout his/her stay at the hospital and give them something to look forward to throughout their hospitalization. There are many opportunities for special visitors or groups to volunteer with the Child Life Department throughout the year. For more information regarding Special Visitor policies or to schedule a visit, please call the Child Life Office 417-820-3457.

Child Life Internships

Child Life Internships are a prerequisite to applying to take the Child Life certification examination.  Mercy Children’s Hospital offers a 600-hour internship for students who are in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree program or those that have completed a bachelor’s degree in Child Life or related field.  This program is supervised by Certified Child Life Specialists and offers hands-on learning opportunities, in addition to providing a theoretical framework of the psychosocial needs of hospitalized children.  The internship adequately prepares students to function independently and effectively as a Child Life Specialist.  Child Life internships are currently being offered in the spring and fall semesters.

Child Life Practicums

Practicums are designed to give persons that are pursuing a degree in Child Life or related field experience in a hospital setting. The curriculum of a practicum involves a variety of learning opportunities, including spending time with pediatric patients, shadowing a Certified Child Life Specialist, reading articles related to the Child Life profession, and completing projects to reinforce clinical teachings. Mercy Children’s Hospital offers a 150-hour practicum for students currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program as well as graduates and is preparing to attain Child Life certification. Child Life practicums are currently being offered during the summer.