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Child life

Supporting children and families

Child high-fiving doctor

The experience in a hospital can be scary for kids, their siblings and families. Our child life team helps patients and families adjust to and cope with the hospital or clinical setting, illness or injury and the treatments involved. We provide developmental, educational, social and emotional support to children of all ages. 

Our team:

  • Bridges the gap between home and hospital
  • Develops supportive relationships with children and families
  • Helps children and families cope with health care experiences
  • Increases familiarity with health care surroundings
  • Prepares children and families for medical experiences (surgery, blood draws, imaging, etc.)
  • Provides age-appropriate activities
  • Works closely with families and the health care team to minimize stress
  • Advocates for non-medical pain management strategies when appropriate 

Our team of 12 certified child life specialists provide coverage throughout the hospital, including: 

  • Pediatric intensive care unit
  • Acute care pediatrics unit
  • Evans Haynes Burn Unit
  • Emergency room
  • Children’s Pavilion (radiology, ASK Hematology and Oncology Clinic, allergy testing and other areas)
  • Virginia Treatment Center for Children

Medical preparation and pre-surgical teaching

We help prepare kids of all ages for medical tests, procedures, surgeries and imaging studies. By giving the right amount of information that is based on the child’s developmental level and situation, a child’s fears of their upcoming experience can be decreased. These services also can help parents become more familiar with hospital procedures.

Support during procedures

Child life specialists can help reduce pain and anxiety during medical procedures by using techniques such as alternative focus and relaxation exercises. We also provide guidance to parents on how they can support their child during procedures. 

Therapeutic play activities 

Therapeutic play activities help with decreasing pain, meeting treatment goals, learning new skills and shortening recovery time. They can occur at your child’s bedside, in the playroom or children’s garden. 

Support for siblings

We understand that brothers and sisters are affected by illness, injury and hospitalization too. They may need help understanding what is happening and how to work through their feelings and concerns about their sibling. We help siblings by answering questions, providing appropriate explanations of what is happening with the ill/injured sibling and clarifying misconceptions. Siblings are welcome in our playrooms and the children’s garden. 

Parent education and support 

We will provide you with emotional support and information to help your child cope with what is happening. Understanding how children at different developmental levels may see their experiences can help parents choose how to best support their child. 

Grief support

We’re here for families at all stages of the health care journey. We can help with grief support and tailor our guidance based on a sibling’s age and your needs. 

Holiday and birthday celebrations

Being in the hospital during a birthday or holiday can be extra challenging. We’ll be sure to help recognize and celebrate these special moments. 

Special events and visitors 

We are lucky to have generous community support through special events and visitors (Rodney the Ram, sports teams, musicians, etc.). Child life specialists escort these special visitors and make sure your child is up for a visit before entering your room. 

Play with a purpose

Child life manages multiple play areas, including two age-specific playrooms and an outdoor children’s garden. 

Support child life

Child life accepts in-kind and monetary donations. To learn more about how you can help, visit the Children's Hospital Foundation website