Child life specialists focus on each child's psychological and developmental needs to help him or her feel more comfortable in the hospital. We use a wide range of medical dolls, teaching tools and resources to prepare each child for procedures, surgeries and treatments.

Since children grow and learn through play, we offer many opportunities for kids to do just that, as well socialize with other young people in the hospital. Our child life staff provides a wide range of supportive services for babies, children and adolescents.

We offer children the opportunity to express themselves, as well as their fears and concerns, in a safe and supportive environment. Since children's needs vary, we have a variety of special therapeutic programs to allow for self-expression.

Art Therapy

Art therapy helps young patients cope with their hospital stay while maintaining their regular routines. Our licensed art therapist runs creative expression groups in the playroom — a central play space for young children. Individual art sessions also are available for patients at their bedsides.

Closed-Circuit Television

To enhance opportunities for all hospitalized children, we broadcast playroom activities to patient rooms so everyone is able to get involved.


Cooking provides children a way to express themselves and interact with peers while doing something familiar and fun. Mixing batter, pounding dough and doing other cooking activities can be therapeutic. Cooking projects are provided weekly in the playroom. 

Medical Bingo

Patients can participate in a weekly bingo game in our playroom. Patients who are unable to go to the playroom are still able to participate in this activity from their bedsides through a "live broadcast" on our closed-circuit television channel. Medical bingo lets children explore medical terminology in a safe and fun way.

Music Therapy

Music has a positive effect on the physical and emotional well-being of many patients. Visiting musicians and music therapists lead interactive music sessions with patients.

Pet Therapy

This unique therapy involves specially trained and veterinarian-approved adult dogs provided by the nonprofit Rainbow Animal Assisted Therapy, Inc. With proper permission, these dogs visit and interact with children in the playroom. The program is designed to enhance the emotional, psychological, social and physical well-being of patients.

Surgery and other hospital experiences can be scary, even for older children. Knowing what to expect gives you and your child the opportunity to ask questions and prepare for what's ahead.

Preparation for Surgeries, Procedures & Hospital Stays

Our team of specialists provides individual teaching sessions to prepare children, teens and their families for surgeries, procedures and hospital stays. Teaching is provided at a level appropriate for the development of each patient and may include the use of medical play, teaching dolls, educational books and real medical equipment to help familiarize patients with what they will see, hear and feel. Specialists work closely with each patient to answer questions, clarify misconceptions and enhance the patient's coping skills.

We teach children various relaxation and distraction techniques to use during their procedures. Deep breathing, counting, blowing bubbles or focusing their attention on an object or thought can give children and teens a greater sense of control during anxiety-provoking or painful experiences.

 Many teaching sessions also include the use of special dolls called Shadow Buddies to help children better understand their illness and treatment. Shadow Buddies were created with the idea that children undergoing serious surgery or treatment need a "friend" just like them. These dolls give children a way to identify and relate to their situation.

Medical Play

Child life specialists recognize the value of medical play to help children cope before and after a hospital stay, surgery and illness. These play opportunities help children work through their anxieties, gain a sense of control and become better prepared for various procedures.

As a parent, you can encourage medical play so your child can work through their medical experiences at home. You may:

  • Buy a toy doctor kit and let your child use a doll or stuffed animal as a pretend patient.
  • Let your child use common household medical supplies, such as Band-Aids and cotton balls, as play materials.
  • Talk with your child and help him or her play out some of the things he or she may have experienced or will experience in the hospital.
  • Involve siblings in medical play and discussions about your child's medical care.
  • Give your child books or activities about going to the doctor or hospital. Read them together and encourage your child to draw pictures about the hospital.

Emergency Department Support

An emergency room (ER) visit often causes sudden anxiety and fear of the unknown in patients and families. Our ER-based child life specialist is available to provide support, education and distraction during ER visits. We support patients and families during wait times, while in triage and during exam room experiences.

If a young patient is admitted, our ER child life specialist is available to provide support and ease the transition to the child's inpatient room.

Hospitalization is a stressful time for the whole family — including brothers and sisters. Before a child visits a hospitalized sibling, it is helpful to prepare him or her ahead of time. Child life specialists provide individualized support and unique teaching sessions for siblings. We have books and resources to help brothers and sisters become more familiar with the hospital setting and better understand what he or she will see when visiting.

Child life specialists also help caregivers understand the many ways siblings may be affected by hospitalization.

As a parent, you may support siblings in many ways:

  • Reassure siblings you love them.
  • Try to plan some special time together, just for them.
  • Tell them that they did not cause the illness and it is not their fault.
  • Reassure them that they will not catch the illness.
  • Encourage the siblings to express their feelings.
  • Have brothers and sisters draw pictures, write letters and call their sibling on the phone.

Returning to school after a long hospitalization can be difficult for your child. To help with the transition, we offer a school re-entry program.

This program educates teachers and classmates about your child's diagnosis and treatment, and clarifies any misconceptions or fears. Child life specialists can visit your child's school and give age-appropriate presentations to answer questions about your child's illness. These presentations address several aspects of your child's experience, including physical changes, such as hair loss, and other concerns you or your child might have.

Our school re-entry program is adapted for your child's grade level. All presentations include an explanation of diseases like cancer and allow time for discussion and questions. The program is designed to be interactive and children are encouraged to participate. Presentations also are available for siblings and school faculty.

The child life program hosts a variety of special events throughout the year to entertain and help distract young patients from the daily hospital routine. These special programs are often held in the playroom and include holiday celebrations and performances by magicians and storytellers.

Special Event Guidelines and Application