Child Life

Helping comfort your child during their hospital stay

Certified child life specialists help children, adolescents and families cope with the fear and anxiety associated with the medical environment and hospitalization.
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Promoting positive experiences for kids and families

We know it can be scary when your child needs to go to the hospital. The child life specialists at UW Health 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, child life specialists work in most care settings. You’ll also find child life specialists at UW Health at the American Center.

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

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.

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 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.

What to bring

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


Where to find us

Child life specialists are located at American Family Children's Hospital and UW Health at The American Center.

  • American Family Children's Hospital
    American Family Children's Hospital
    American Family Children's Hospital
    • 1675 Highland Ave. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 263-7337
    • Open now
    • Offering your child the most advanced medical care directed by University of Wisconsin pediatricians – all in a state-of-the-art, family-friendly facility with lots of cozy amenities.

      View hours, services and more
  • Flad_TAC_063843_006
    UW Health at The American Center
    • 4602 Eastpark Blvd. / Madison, WI
    • (608) 440-6400
    • Open now
    • Welcome to UW Health at The American Center in Madison, Wisconsin, part of UW Hospitals — ranked #1 of all Wisconsin hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report. Located on Madison’s far east side, close to the intersection of I-90 and U.S. Hwy 151, we’re a state-of-the-art hospital, health and wellness facility, and sports performance center all under one roof.

      View hours, services and more


For the safety of our patients, families and staff, we are not currently able to accept any in-kind, fabric or homemade donations due to COVID-19 infection control guidelines. Please check back for updates on these restrictions.

You also could consider a philanthropic gift, or you could shop for our most-needed items online at Amazon, Amazon Smile or Target and have them safely shipped to us. For details, visit our Philanthropy page.