Child Life Specialists

Help your child feel relaxed and comfortable during medical situations with the support of the knowledgeable, compassionate child life specialists at Essentia Health. You can count on our child life specialists to provide guidance and help your family build coping skills during doctor visits, treatments, and procedures.

This service is available in Duluth, Minnesota and Fargo, North Dakota.

What is a Child Life Specialist?

Child life specialists are professionals trained in child development and psychology. They're certified by the Association of Child Life Professionals to provide support to infants, children, youth and families in a medical setting. By using age appropriate strategies, they work to reduce a child's fear, anxiety, and pain. They help families cope with illness, injury, or bereavement.

They help ease stress and anxiety for young patients and their families by providing:

  • Emotional support
  • Education about diagnoses
  • Preparation and distraction during procedures
  • Medical play to help children understand their medical experience
  • Celebration of special events in the hospital
  • Sibling support
  • End-of-life support for patients and families
  • Memory making to honor a child’s medical journey
  • Alternative pain management during procedures
  • Play that helps build coping skills and supports child development
  • Pre-op tours to familiarize a child with the medical environment
  • Ways to reduce sedation, so patients can complete scans without anesthesia
  • Education on comfort positioning during IV placement, immunizations, stitches, etc.
  • Help for children, youth, and families to understand and cope with the medical environment

Medical Insight: Child Life Specialist – Essentia Health Video Transcript


The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insight. A girl sits on a hospital bed. A woman and a young boy stand beside the bed. They all hold syringes which are being used to paint pictures.

MICHELLE FINNEMAN: The more messy the more fun, right? SPEAKER 1: Yeah.

The woman uses a gloved hand to swirl the paint on the paper.

TRACY BRIGGS: It might look like Michelle Finneman is making a mess on the job, painting with her young friends. But Finneman has a purpose behind the paint, as one of Essentia Health's certified Child Life specialists.

Text, Jessica Hotchkiss, Certified Child Life Specialist.

JESSICA HOTCHKISS: So Child Life is really like the best-kept secret in health care.

A doll lies on a hospital bed. Bandages and other items are situated on the bed. A woman shows a young girl a replica of an IV. A young boy looks on.

So we work with anywhere from infants up to young adults in the health care setting with the goal to reduce trauma. TRACY BRIGGS: Jessica Hotchkiss, who is also a certified Child Life specialist at Essentia Health, says she and Finneman help educate and reassure children about medical procedures in ways they understand. Sometimes, it's through medical play, like painting with syringes or putting an anesthesia mask on a doll to make it less scary.

The young girl flicks the end of the IV and inserts the IV into the doll's arm.

JESSICA HOTCHKISS: And then we teach them about the IV and allow them to put the IV into the doll because it creates that sense of empowerment, so they know what's going on. And they have a sense of mastery over it.

Jessica speaks to a teenage girl sitting in a hospital bed. She demonstrates how the catheter will be place in the girl's arm.

TRACY BRIGGS: But it isn't just young children who receive help from Child Life specialists. JESSICA HOTCHKISS: Then we slide the catheter into the vein, OK?TRACY BRIGGS: Today, Hotchkiss worked with 14-year-old Sam, who has a fear of needles. They played cards and just talked.

Sam and Jessica play Uno.

JESSICA HOTCHKISS: It's a lot of just emotional support and providing that ear for them to talk to someone. To say, this is what's stressing me out about the hospital system. You know, even just talking about school and letting them be a kid while they're in the hospital. And feeling like they have that connection with someone.

Text, Tracy Briggs, Essentia Medical Insight Host

TRACY BRIGGS: Hotchkiss says children don't need to be patients to work with a Child Life specialist. They can be a sibling, a child, or grandchild of a patient. She says it's all about supporting the entire family before, during, and after their time at Essentia. JESSICA HOTCHKISS: I love my job because we consider it such a privilege to be able to work with these families in that journey. So it's just so rewarding. SAM: Green. TRACY BRIGGS: With this Essentia Health Medical Insight, I'm Tracy Briggs.

The Essentia Health logo appears, consisting of three leaves in a circle. Text, Essentia Health. Medical Insight.

Comfort Positions

Ask a child life specialist to teach you comfort positions—specific ways to hold your child so they feel secure while they receive medical care, such as a shot, lab draw, or stitches. Comfort positions:

  • Allow you to take an active role in your child’s health care
  • Help your child feel empowered to make choices in a situation they may find stressful
  • Can prevent the need for your child to be restrained

Donate Toys to Children in the Hospital

Help provide fun and stress relief to children in the hospital at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota, and at Essentia Health-Fargo, in North Dakota.

Your donations of new toys, books, stuffed animals, art supplies, and more bring joy to our youngest patients.

Wish Lists 

Learn More

For more information about Certified Child Life Specialists visit

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