Promoting positive experiences for kids and families

We know it can be scary when your child needs to go to the hospital. UW Health Kids child life specialists help your child and family cope with any fears and anxieties.

Our team includes specialists trained in child and teen development. We explain medical procedures and diagnoses in an appropriate way for each child to understand for their age and development. We use play and other distractions to make your child’s time in the hospital as positive as possible.

When we work with teens, we empower them with tools and resources to create a coping plan for return to home and school. We also help teens as they transition to adult care.

Our services and tools

Where we work, what we provide

At American Family Children’s Hospital, UW Health Kids child life specialists work in most care settings. You’ll also find UW Health Kids child life specialists at East Madison Hospital.

Some places you’ll find us:

  • Burn unit

  • Diagnostic therapy center/radiation

  • Emergency Department

  • Inpatient units

  • Pediatric palliative care

  • Pediatric specialty clinics

  • Surgery Department

Child-centered services 

We provide a wide range of activities, guidance, services and spaces to keep your child comfortable and relaxed and to support your family. They include:

  • Adjustment to hospitalization

  • Coping techniques

  • Daily activities

  • Education and resources for difficult conversations with children

  • Emotional support

  • Medical play

  • Memory making and legacy building

  • New diagnosis teaching

  • Pain control and comfort measures

  • Playrooms and teen lounges (24-hour) 

  • Preparation for surgery

  • Procedure support

  • Self-expression activities

  • Sibling support and education

  • Special events and visitors

  • Therapeutic activities

  • Trauma support

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.


Monetary and in-kind donations to support patients

Our Child Life program is entirely funded through the generous support of donors. You can support our certified child life specialists to help children, teens and families cope with the fear and anxiety associated with coming to or staying in the hospital. To make a gift or for more information on how gifts make a difference, visit our giving site.

Donations of brand new items (no stuffed animals/used items) can also be dropped off between 7 a.m.–3 p.m. to valet staff on behalf of Child Life.

You can also directly donate the most needed in-kind items for our patients by visiting our Amazon registry. Items are shipped directly to our hospital.

For questions, please email childlifedonations@uwhealth.org or call (608) 264-5437.

Patient resources

How to prepare for your child’s hospital visit

You can work with our child life team to prepare your child and family for a hospital stay or surgery. Steps you can take include:

  • Help your child understand what will happen with our teaching sheets (below)

  • Inform your child’s school and other groups about the upcoming hospital stay.

  • Request a hospital or surgery area tour.

  • Talk with your child and encourage questions.

  • Use the anesthesia mask and surgical caps from your surgery tour packet to practice wearing them at home.

What to bring

When your child needs to come to the hospital, be sure to pack familiar items to help your child feel more comfortable and at ease. You can bring:

  • Comfort items

  • Electronic devices

  • Favorite clothes

  • Personal care items

  • Phone and phone charger

  • Photos of family and friends

  • Special books or games

Show your child what to expect during a procedure

You can use these teaching sheets to talk with your child about an upcoming procedure. The sheets include illustrations so your child can see and understand what will happen.

More resources

Programs and spaces

What we do

We provide many programs and spaces to make the hospital experience more enjoyable for your child and family.

You can spend time together with your family and enjoy meals together.

Community groups donate meals several days a week. You can eat and talk with other families.

Our teachers help children in 4K through high school keep up with their school work.

We connect you to helpful resources as you care for a child diagnosed with cancer or a blood disorder.

The Parent and Family Advisory Council strives to promote a positive, creative partnership to enhance relationships with the American Family Children's Hospital and the community.

Our team provides pet therapy for your child and family.

Your child and your family can access our 24-hour centers. We offer activities and play to meet the needs of children, teens and siblings.

We work with your child to ease anxiety about appearance-altering conditions or procedures.

We ease fears and help your child prepare for surgery. Watch our surgery preparation video. If you would like to talk with a child life specialist about how to prepare your child for surgery, call (608) 890-8296 or talk to a nurse in your child's clinic about how to connect with a child life specialist.

Watch our surgery preparation video

We offer interactive experiences for kids and their families.

We provide space and programming where your other children can interact with siblings of other patients.

We have many friendly volunteers who interact and play with patients and provide support to families.

Music therapy

Creating connections through music

A music therapist playing guitar for a toddler in a hospital room

Music is naturally engrained across various cultural affiliations, and the life span of all developmental ages. It can also access multiple areas of the brain simultaneous and therefore, can be inherently healing. Music therapy is an evidenced-based practice that uses individualized assessment and treatment plan to address a variety of your child’s goals, including:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety

  • Decreasing pain perception

  • Promote memory/legacy making

  • Normalizing the environment

  • Promote development

  • Enhancing self-expression

  • Supporting functional motor, cognitive, or speech skills

  • Improving mood

  • Alternate engagement during medical procedures

  • Promote family connection and bonding

  • Promoting autonomy

Music therapy sessions can vary from passively listening to actively creating and may include:

  • Playing instruments

  • Songwriting

  • Singing

  • Music for relaxation

  • Listen and talking about music

  • Creating playlists

  • Moving or dancing to music

  • Creating recordings

  • Learning a new instrument

About our music therapist

Music therapists are trained health care professionals designated by the credential MT-BC. Music therapy is a bachelors entry level position from an accredited university, with 6-month full time internship and board certification exam. Others may pursue additional education with masters or doctoral in music therapy as well. For more information about music therapy education visit American Music Therapy Association or Certification Board for Music Therapists.


Where to find us

UW Health Kids child life specialists are located at American Family Children's Hospital and East Madison Hospital.