Child life and expressive therapies

A child faces many new experiences while in the hospital. Child life specialists help provide a supportive environment, which helps children and teens cope with their hospital stays. Our goal is to normalize the hospital experience for patients and their families through play, socialization, preparation and support during procedures. Using distraction tools such as iPads, bubbles or music, child life specialists help children relax and take their mind off their discomfort.

Expressive Therapy Program

The Expressive Therapy Program at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin helps patients and their families express their thoughts and emotions through art and music. The Program uses the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of patients and their families.

Expressive therapy provides:

  • A safe and healing environment, promotes self-expression, storytelling and creative stimulation.
  • An opportunity to address concerns about hospitalization, traumatic incidences, loss and pain through a variety of artistic and music mediums.
  • Pain management opportunities through art and music experiences.
  • Emotional support in coping with loss, trauma, chronic illness, repeated hospital stays and changes in appearance.
  • Integration of personal goals and medical compliance through art and music.

The program is offered in group settings, in the art studio and at the bedside. It includes a registered art therapist, an art specialist, local artists, volunteers and graduate student interns.

Preparing children for procedures

Preparation and support during a procedure also are important. Child life specialists provide information about an upcoming surgery or procedure based on each child's developmental level. Pictures, books and realistic medical equipment are used to help explain to a child what he or she will experience before, during and after the procedure. Child life specialists may also provide support, distraction and relaxation techniques during the procedure itself.

Relaxation during procedures

Teaching patients how to manage their pain during procedures is an important role of child life specialists. Using distraction tools such as kaleidoscopes, bubbles or music child life specialists help children relax and take their mind off their discomfort.

Child Life specialists work closely with patients and their families on relaxation techniques to support children and help them manage their own pain.

Therapeutic play

Play is important. It’s a form of communication for children. Within the hospital setting, play provides a sense of the familiar. Child life specialists use play to help reduce stress, allow children to express their feelings and to help them adjust to the hospital experience. We offer programs for teens whose needs and communication skills are different than young children.

Our child life specialists work one-on-one with children and often use role-playing to identify fears and concerns. With this method, children act out experiences they have had in the hospital and Child Life specialists address any fears communicated during play.

Children's Hospital has several playrooms filled with games, books, toys and art supplies. All the playrooms are considered “safe” rooms where no medical procedures can be performed. Child Life specialists coordinate the activities of trained volunteers who supervise patient play activities in the play rooms and at the beside.

Special activities

Group activities are scheduled regularly. Child Life specialists plan events such as a family resource fair, State Fair and winter carnival as well as visits by special guests. Learn more about bringing your group to the hospital or how you can donate toys or create a project for Children's Hospital patients.

Animal-assisted Therapy

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin provides patients the opportunity to heal through our Animal-assisted Therapy program. This program brings in dogs certified by Pet Partners or Therapy Dogs International to visit with patients on the inpatient units and in the clinics. We have a diverse fleet of therapy dogs who participate. Learn more about the certification requirements. Our teams offer educational, motivational and therapeutic benefits to our patients. Learn how to get involved.

Music therapy

Music therapy helps patients and families express their thoughts and emotions by using their imagination for creative stimulation, communication and coping.

We offer music therapy in single or group settings.