Big Kid Small City Feature

I had a fun boost recently when a popular local blog did a feature on me and my private practice! Jill writes the Big Kid Small City blog and highlights family friendly people, places and events in Houston.  You can find the piece about me by following the link:

Big Kid Small City, Powerful Play

Any Houstonians (or visitors to the area) should browse around the blog as there are reviews of local parks, kid-friendly restaurants, and a guide to events in the area for every weekend.


Five Things I Love About Private Practice

From our mini staycation a year ago when we visited the Rice Gallery. Saw the amazing installation piece "Unwoven Light" by Soo Sunny Park.

From our mini staycation a year ago: saw the amazing installation piece “Unwoven Light” by Soo Sunny Park at the Rice Gallery.

A year ago today was my last day in the hospital. I was packing up the last of my things, trying to make sure my colleagues knew where to find things, and saying goodbyes. We provided transitional care for kids, so many of our patients stayed with us for several weeks. Whenever a patient was discharged, an announcement was made over the paging system and staff and patients would line the hallway to the exit to sing the “goodbye” song. When it was time for me to leave, they sang the goodbye song for me, and I couldn’t help but cry. It was such a nice way to end my time there. It felt special to end the day with a ritual more personal than just walking out the door with boxes.

I’ve reached a new milestone in this journey. It makes me grateful for the time and opportunity I’ve had and the people who have supported me in this endeavor. I’m looking forward to the year ahead. I think that sometimes in my desire to present an honest portrait of child life private practice that I emphasize the challenges. There has been a lot to learn, and I don’t want someone to step into this choice with unrealistic expectations. But, today I want to highlight a few of the things I really enjoy about working in private practice:

1. A flexible schedule: I get to schedule my own time and I can make appointments (both personal and professional) at times that are convenient for me. I can spend time with family during the week.

2. Depth of engagement: If I’m putting together materials for a parent talk or working with a client, I can spend as much time as I want to research and prepare. I recently researched resources for preparing children for a new baby. I was able to go to the central library and spend several hours reading children’s books and creating an annotated bibliography.

3. Continuing education: This goes hand-in-hand with depth of engagement. I can attend local talks, workshops, and other activities that happen in my area as my schedule (and budget!) allows.

4. Diversity of projects: I can work on this blog, meet with individual clients, teach classes, talk to parent groups and lots of different things in between. Child life is diverse in any setting, but it is fun to explore new territory. I enjoy the challenge of adapting my child life skills/training to the home and community setting.

5. Self-care– I’m able to pursue interests and engage in activities that I enjoy and that make me feel centered and connected. I’m still working to develop more “rhythm” to my weeks and my self-care practices. But, I love that I have the choice to read/exercise, take a walk, visit a museum, or work on craft projects when I need to take time for myself.


Webinar on Private Practice

Spring is here and the sun is shining in Houston!  I can’t believe it’s April.  My husband and I went to Charleston, SC for a week of vacation in March and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.  The week away was the first “true” vacation we’ve had in a long time, as most of the time one of us is attending a conference or has some other reason for traveling.  We wanted a relaxing vacation and spring weather and Charleston didn’t disappoint.  We ate great food, walked through the streets of the Old City, had a picnic on the beach at Sullivan’s Island, toured a new distillery, and enjoyed the charm of a quiet bed and breakfast. It was blissful and hard to come back…

But, some fun and wonderful opportunities are coming up at the end of April.  The most exciting of which is my first CLC webinar!  Genevieve Lowry of Practical Parenting Solutions and I are collaborating to offer “Playing to Your Strengths in Private Practice”.  We will be sharing a bit of information about the fun and challenge of self-employment in child life.  So, if you are interested in learning more about how we approach private practice and working in the community, please join us!  I’m listing the learning outcomes from the CLC below, and you can find more information on the webinar page.

Playing to Your Strengths in Private Practice
April 23, 2014
2:30-4:00pm Eastern time
Learning Outcomes:
  • Participants will be able to describe two different approaches to working as a child life private practitioner
  • Participants will be able to identify areas of interest based on professional strengths
  • Participants will be able to assess community needs
  • Participants will understand the differences and challenges of hospital versus community environments
  • Participants will be able to consider some of the practical elements of self-employment: reimbursement, marketing, and legal business structures.

Hope you can add your voice to the digital conversation, and share how child life might grow beyond the hospital in your community!


Everything is awesome…










Photo Credit: thom via Flickr

Child Life Private Practice: Part 2

child life private practice, child life blog, child life specialist

Putting together this practice took (and continues to take) a lot of work. But some parts were easier than others. The financial aspects were the scariest for me because they were the most foreign part of this experience.  Visiting families at home? Did that as an early intervention specialist and I loved the rapport I could develop. Website and marketing materials? I write this blog and love to design documents (plus I have a husband with some web experience). Taxes? Um, anything beyond basic TurboTax is uncharted and scary territory…

So, I am going to put a disclaimer right here: I am not an expert. So, take all of this information I’m about to give you with a big grain of salt and be sure to do your own homework in setting yourself up financially.  But, I’m sharing information that I found helpful getting started.

1. How do I keep track of expenses and tax information?

Since you will be operating a small business, you will need to know about the rules for taxes and record keeping. I found the books and resources from NOLO to be very helpful. I recommend reviewing information geared toward “self-employment” and “working for yourself” as much of the small business literature is geared toward businesses with several employees, retail and food service.  As a sole proprietor, I don’t have to have a separate business account.  However, I wanted to open a business account as a way to more easily track expenditures and payments.  This will also be helpful come tax time and if I ever decide to create an LLC, which requires separate record keeping.  I don’t want to have to “disentangle” my personal and professional finances if I move to a different business structure. I use a spreadsheet to track money I’ve spent from the business account and payment from clients. Each time I purchase something for the practice (business cards, marketing materials, etc.) I save the receipt.  If it is a paper receipt I write a brief note of what it was for (ex: cards for marketing) and then scan the receipt.  I save these scans with a naming convention of date, name of company I purchased from, and receipt (ex: 2013_11_12 target receipt.pdf), so I can easily locate them in my computer files.

Many banks will require you to have a tax EIN number from the IRS in order to open a business account.  As a sole proprietor, the IRS does not require you to have one, but you can obtain one. So, I applied and listed my reason for applying for an EIN as “primarily for banking or financial purposes”.  Applying is relatively simple and can be done online at the IRS website. I reviewed information on business accounts at local banks, met with a banker, and set up an account.

You will need to research rules for when and how to make the appropriate tax payments for your area (county, state, federal).

2. Do I need liability insurance?

I do recommend having professional liability insurance as this protects you from legal action that might result from professional activities. While our liability as child life specialists is relatively low, it never hurts to be prepared, and not having coverage could be financially disastrous if you ever needed it. I purchased mine through HPSO, as I had a policy from them for my child life internship, but there are other options available.  The cost is dependent on your activities, hours you work, and where you conduct business. Check the Child Life Council forums for groups that offer insurance for child life interns.  If you are a member of a professional group like NAEYC, they might also offer liability coverage.

5.  How do you decide what to charge?

Deciding what to charge can be tricky.  You can choose to set an hourly rate, offer sliding scale payments, or price services differently based on how “intensive” you feel the preparation or work is. Honestly, I’m still trying to determine if I’ve chosen the right structure and priced services appropriately for my area.  What did I consider?  First, I researched local services and classes marketed for infants and children.  I also researched what student mental health professionals were charging for sessions.  I looked at infant massage providers, infant/toddler classes, tutors/organization coaches, social workers, and talked with a few child life specialists in private practice.  I decided to set an hourly rate for all one-on-one services with a bit of flexibility for family finances and number of sessions (lowering price for sessions requiring multiple visits). For any group classes and services, I set a minimum # of participants and then have a flat charge per participant. I came up with my rates by investigating what people were charging/paying for similar services and classes in my area (baby yoga, play sessions, infant care classes, counseling sessions).

5.  How do you get paid?

So, you’ve thought through your business services, structure, taxes, rates, and other technical information.  Now, how will you get paid? You will need to be able to accept, record, and track expenses and payments. I wanted to avoid a delay between the time of service and when I got paid.  Sending invoices/bills can be time consuming, requires tracking, and leaves the possibility of a client not paying for your time. So, I require payment at the time of service.

I decided from talking with other professionals that I wanted to be able to accept credit card payments, cash and personal checks.  The large credit card readers that you see in stores often require you to buy the equipment and pay monthly operational fees. This might make sense for a large practice or retail situation where you are processing multiple cards daily.  But for me, it meant a large monthly expense without knowing how much I would be making. Luckily, there are now many simple mobile devices that work with your phone or tablet that let you swipe a credit card.  I reviewed several options and got a Square Reader (free!) so that I can accept credit card payments. They charge a small percentage fee that is deducted from each transaction.  I have linked my business account to my Square account, and payments from Square are deposited directly. This means that I don’t have to pay anything to Square unless I use the reader, and I don’t have to worry about transferring money from a different service or account. There are several different platforms similar to Square including Intuit’s Go Payment and Paypal Here reader.

That about wraps it up for today.  Since it’s the day before Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude.  I’m grateful to be where I am on this journey and to have the opportunity to figure out the next steps in my professional life. I’m also really grateful to get to share my experiences with you.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a bright Hanukkah dear readers!


A Heartfelt Thanks

you are so sweet!

you are so sweet!

Wow.  I’m truly amazed by the interest in yesterday’s post.  I normally have a small (but loyal!) blog following.  Yesterday, I had more visitors than ever before, by a big margin.  Part of the reason I write this blog is to widen my circle, to be part of a larger community of people that love child life. So, I want to say thank you to everyone that has stopped by to read a bit. Whether you’ve been following for a long time, or are a first-time visitor, I’m glad you are here.  I’ll be continuing the discussion of starting a private practice in a series of posts, probably 4-5 over the next few weeks.  If you want to make sure you see them all, you can “Follow” the blog by clicking the button on the sidebar. You’ll receive an email letting you know there’s a new post.  I’d also really love to hear your questions and ideas.  For me, blogging is about sharing and I’d love to hear from you!  Feel free to join the conversation, and thanks again for stepping into my circle. I’m truly grateful.

Child Life Private Practice: Part 1

starting a private practice

I’ve had a lot of interest from other child lifers in the logistics of starting a child life private practice.  Some people are looking to add community services as a side job or supplement to part-time work and others are looking to make it a full-time occupation.  I had a lot of people graciously share their expertise and experience with me as I was researching self-employment.  So, I want to share some of what I have learned and things that you might want to consider in starting a private practice in a series of posts.  I had very little knowledge of the process of setting up a business in the beginning, and figuring out what I needed to do (and the order that I needed to do it in) was a little daunting.  The first step of the process is brainstorming the type of work you want and researching the structure of your business.

1. What services do you want to provide? 
Do you have a particular population that you want to serve? Do you see a need in your community that you can help fill? Some possibilities: offering traditional child life services in homes or community settings, providing services from a special certification you have like infant massage (or child safety, or Reiki, or guided imagery, etc), consulting with pediatric practices or hospitals in child/family friendly policies or design.  Seasoned professionals might offer supervision or mentoring to other child life specialists, tutoring child life students, or creating professional development opportunities.  I think it is important to mention that I think having a couple of years experience working with children and families is really a pre-requisite to this process. Learning the ropes of child life in the hospital setting will help you move more comfortably in alternative settings.

2. How much time and financial commitment?
How much time do you want to put toward your new venture?  Do you see this as an on-the-side job or something that you are committing to full time?  Building a new business takes time, especially when you are having to educate your target audience about your profession or service.  I’m almost five months into the process and I’m just now starting to see growth in the practice. I’ve been teaching a college course and substitute teaching to supplement my income throughout this time.  My husband is the primary bread-winner right now, and probably will be for quite a while.  The financial cost for starting a service-oriented business like this can be very reasonable compared to other businesses (primarily website, marketing tools like business cards, and supplies to use with clients like craft materials and medical play equipment).  However, you have to consider that time is money.  The biggest “cost” of my business for our family is the lack of income I could be making if I were employed by someone else.  I looked at the money I had in savings and developed a monthly budget/goal for spending to help me see the bigger financial picture.  It also serves as a guidepost for when I might need to consider adding a more regular part-time job to replace my occasional substitute teaching, if the practice isn’t growing the way I hope it will.   If you choose to start your practice as a part-time or side job there is less financial burden and risk, but the hours that you can offer services are reduced.  This might not be a problem at all, depending on what you’d like to do, where/how you offer services, and your regular work hours.

2. What type of business structure?
There are several different ways to organize a small business. So, one of the first steps in private practice development is choosing the type of business structure that meets your needs. The simplest type is called a “sole proprietorship” and generally just requires you to register the name of your business with your county or local government with a “doing business as” document.  While sole-proprietorship is the simplest business form, you also carry more financial liability with this structure. Professionals can also set up a limited liability corporation (LLC), professional limited liability corporation (PLLC), or traditional corporation.  I live and work in Houston, Texas and the local government makes starting a small home-based business pretty easy.  I am currently working as a “sole proprietor”.  This was the easiest way for me to begin, as I just had to register my DBA (doing business as) with my county office.  In the future, I might actually form an LLC, depending on the success and complexity of my practice. Laws vary a bit state-to-state in terms of the rules for which business types are allowed in your area. Your state and local government might also have requirements including permits or fees. Here is a link to the Small Business Association website where you can find your local chapter. They will have resources and the “rules” for your state and county:

I think that’s a lot of information for one post, so I’ll stop there for today.  In the next post I’ll talk a little about business finances, taxes, and accepting payments.

October is flying…


Breathe, blow, and watch it spin…

Whew…  An entire month almost flew by.  I’d swear it had only been a week since I posted, but the calendar says differently :).

So, what have I been up to? October has been filled with some great child life connection and new opportunities for my private practice.  October 4, I participated in the Child Life Think Tank- a group of child life specialists from around Texas that share ideas and resources for student programming.  I always learn so much from the specialists that attend and I’m amazed at the time, energy, and talent that programs put into crafting child life student experiences.  It was a shift in perspective for me to sit at the table as a child life instructor rather than a practicum student supervisor– a reminder of all of the change I’ve experienced in the past year.

I attended a networking dinner for as part of the Texas Children’s Child Life Conference. It was an all-around fun evening- a pre-dinner drink with a new child life friend, a great presentation on therapeutic humor, and meeting and connecting with child life specialists in all stages of the journey.  Working on my own has its perks, but it can also feel isolated and constantly-new. This networking session and conference helped me feel grounded and connected to other child life professionals.  The theme was “Be Inspired”- and it definitely helped me with a booster shot of child life creativity.

I made a goal for this conference of expanding my child life circle and meeting new CCLS.  While I LOVE working with people, I can be a bit of an introvert.  I prefer small social situations to big ones, and seek out the comfort of 1:1 or small group communication, preferably with people I already know. I’ve definitely had to step outside my comfort zone lately in learning to market myself.   I created little favor bags with a pinwheel craft and information about my practice that I gave out to people I met at the conference.  They were well-received and it was a fun way to start up a conversation.  While I am still learning and building my confidence, I felt like I met my goal and made some new professional connections.

On the practice front, things are slowly starting to come to fruition.  I’m going to have a table at a local health fair, I’m partnering with another professional to offer a new sibling preparation class, and I’m teaching a series of group infant massage classes in the spring.  I still have a ways to go in growing and developing this work, but I’m feeling hopeful.

If you are interested in the simple pinwheel craft I created for the conference bags, there is a full tutorial on the practice website:  Paper Pinwheels