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Child Life Services

Child Life

At Children’s National, our Child Life Specialists help create a positive experience for families during their child’s outpatient visit or hospital stay. Our Child Life Specialists are specially trained and certified to help children, adolescents, and families understand and cope with illness, treatment, and hospitalization.

What Child Life Specialists Offer

Child Life Specialists provide psychological preparation for medical procedures, as well as emotional support before, during, and after treatment. Child Life Specialists also provide developmentally appropriate activities and therapeutic play experiences to minimize stress and anxiety. Child Life is responsible for the management of play spaces, unit playrooms, and teen rooms. In addition, Child Life provides games, toys, and small electronics, and helps celebrate important milestones such as patient birthdays, end of treatment, and discharges.

Watch our video on Child Life Services to better understand how we serve our patients and families. We also encourage you to read about the programs and services, annual events, and training programs that our Child Life Specialists provides to patients, families, and staff.

Contact Us

For more information about Child Life Services, contact us at 202-476-3070. The team is available Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., but you can reach an in-house specialist until 10 p.m. for urgent needs.

Programs and Services

Child Life Programs and Services

The Bunny Mellon Healing Garden

Giving your child an uplifting experience is a top priority at Children’s National. We understand how stressful a hospital stay can be, so we’ve designed an outdoor Healing Garden for patients to relax and enjoy nature with their families. The Child Life team hosts numerous events in the garden, such as arts and crafts and much more.

Help Me Keep Calm Program

The Help Me Keep Calm (HMKC) Program provides supportive services for children with autism and/or developmental delays who are scheduled for surgery or a procedure under anesthesia. Prior to the day of surgery, the Child Life team will complete an assessment over the phone with your family to discuss your child's sensory needs, behavioral challenges and past medical experiences. Based on this assessment, the team will then create a safe passage plan for your child and share the plan with your medical team.

In addition to the safe passage plan, our team offers the following resources for the day of surgery:

  • Private, quiet waiting space
  • Modified forms of communication, including picture schedules and preparation materials
  • Sensory items including weighted lap pads, sensory toys, headphones, noise machines and more

If you have questions or think your child would benefit from the HMKC Program, please call Child Life at 202-476-5665.

Sibling Support

Hospitalization impacts the whole family and can be a stressful, traumatic time for everyone.  Brothers and sisters often need special attention.  Child Life Specialists provide support to siblings through individualized teaching sessions, psychological preparation, and play opportunities prior to their visit with a sibling.  We can recommend books and resources that will help brothers and sisters better understand what their sibling is experiencing and what they can expect when visiting.

Child Life Specialists also help caregivers understand the impact of hospitalization on siblings and the importance of providing additional attention. Here are a few tips our Child Life Specialists provide to families:

  • Plan special individual time with each sibling
  • Try to keep to familiar routines and schedules
  • If able to visit, prepare siblings for what they will see and experience
  • Encourage siblings to exchange photos, cards, or write letters to each other
  • Reassure them that they did not cause their sibling’s illness
  • Support and encourage siblings to express their feelings

MR – I Can Do It

The “MR-I Can Do It” program is designed to help children ages six and older undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without sedation. This program embraces family-centered care and has both the patient and family’s needs in mind. Child Life Specialists use a special MRI preparation room to help teach children about having an MRI. Children are able to listen and become familiar with the sounds the camera makes, play with a doll-sized mock scanner, as well as practice holding still while lying in a play tunnel. Learn more about Children’s National’s Division of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology.

Taking Care of You and Comforting Your Baby in the Hospital

“Taking Care of You and Comforting Your Baby in the Hospital” is a support and teaching group for parents and caregivers of medically fragile infants and children. The group meets every other Wednesday afternoon, alternating locations between the Heart and Kidney Unit and Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.

A key component of this program is the training that demonstrates massage techniques to parents and caregivers on teaching dolls so they can feel confident in providing comfort to their own child through hands-on touch. The group is led by two of our Child Life Specialists who are certified as Educators of Infant Massage and trained as practitioners in Mind Body Medicine techniques.

Kids Club House

Kids Club House is a weekly schedule of supervised playroom activities where patients and siblings participate in group play through activities such as arts and crafts, medical art, game days, and medical play. The activities are scheduled in the afternoons between 2-3 p.m. and the location alternates between the playrooms located on 7E and 5E in the East Inpatient Tower.  

All children who are able to travel to other units are encouraged to come meet other patients, socialize, and have fun. Families can find the Kids Club House calendar of activities through the Getwell Network or by contacting a Child Life Specialist.

Storybook Magic

Spend a magical hour each month with Lyn Ingersoll, the Family Librarian, as she reads stories and encourages patients and siblings to use their imagination. Story time takes place in the Family Library on the third Tuesday of each month from 2:00-3:00 pm. Patients three years and older are invited to participate, but must be accompanied by an adult or Child Life Specialist.

Closed Circuit Television

Patients and families staying at the hospital, especially those confined to their rooms, can tune into channel 89 on their television to watch “Bedside Broadcasts,” a developing roster of interactive programming that encourages self-expression and creativity.

Each program offers socialization opportunities to children and families experiencing isolation, stimulates learning through engagement, and provides therapeutic diversion or entertainment to lessen stress and promote fun. Patients and siblings are encouraged to participate by calling into a live show to ask questions, give answers, help characters develop a story, or win a prize.  

The Child Life team produces and coordinates the following interactive broadcasts:  

  • Hospital Bingo: The one-hour medical bingo game is shown in the playrooms and inpatient rooms every Thursday, 2-3 p.m. We encourage patients and siblings to call in when they win to receive a Bingo prize
  • Clown Care TV: A half-hour show full of fun, laughter, and entertainment from our Clown Care team is featured on Thursdays,1:30-2 p.m.
  • Only Make Believe: The one hour segment is shown twice monthly in which Only Make Believe DC creates and performs interactive theatre for inpatients. The show airs on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, 2-3 p.m.
  • Name that Tune with Eliezer: A thirty minute magical trip through music with Chaplain Eliezer Oliveira, his saxophone and friends, which is featured on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 2:10-2:40 p.m.
  • Special Guests: Impromptu shows featuring musicians, magicians, storytellers, and other celebrities who visit Children’s National 

Who Let the Dogs Out! Pet Therapy Program

Patients and families are invited to participate in twice monthly visits with the Greenbelt Dog Training Program’s specially-trained and veterinarian-approved therapy dogs ranging in size and breed.  The dogs interact with patients and siblings in the playrooms, performing a range of tricks, and spreading furry joy to children on the first and third Friday of each month from 2-3 p.m. Permission from a child’s healthcare provider and a parent is required for participation.

Annual Events

Annual Events For Patients and Families


The Slime-O-Rama event is a fun-filled afternoon where patients get to slime their doctors, nurses, technicians, and Child Life Specialists. Every March, our Nutrition Services Department provides green or yellow gelatin for this event. Patients are given the option to slime their healthcare providers by tossing or shooting the gelatin through a giant syringe.

Child Life Fun Fair

Every March, Children’s National hosts the Child Life Fun Fair in the Costco Wholesale Atrium, a health fair designed to familiarize children with medical equipment and materials they may encounter when visiting the doctor’s office or hospital. The Fun Fair’s hands-on activities help children express their questions, concerns, or fears about the medical environment through play. Resources and handouts that address developmental considerations and ways to support children through their medical experience are available to parents, caregivers, and staff.

Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day

Each year, Child Life Services invites Children’s National employees to participate in “Take our Daughters and Sons to Work® Day,” which is celebrated nationally on the fourth Thursday in April. It is a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about medical careers and experience a hospital environment. We design a full day of activities for our employees’ children to learn about our hospital. The program is offered to a maximum of fifty children between the ages of seven and 16. The program includes visits to different departments and areas of the hospital, a panel discussion about health careers with our employees, lunch, and more.

Dr. Bear’s Holiday Toy Shoppe

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families when a child is sick or injured, and in need of hospitalization. As these hospitalizations are usually never planned, parents are often forced to put aside normal preparations for the holidays, which often include toy shopping for their children.

Each year, parents and/or caregivers whose children will be spending the holidays at Children’s National receive a special invitation from the Child Life Services team to come and shop in Dr. Bear’s Holiday Toy Shoppe. They are invited to select toys or items that they know their child will appreciate and enjoy. After shopping, parents and/or caregivers may choose to have their gifts festively wrapped and labeled by members of our Board of Visitors. This program would not be possible without the generous donations that come to the Dr. Bear Toy Closet throughout the year.

Training Programs

Child Life Training Programs

Bear Hugs: Positioning for Comfort Training

Child Life Specialists, in collaboration with Nursing, have established this training program for use during invasive procedures. The program trains staff on techniques to involve and support parents and/or caregivers in providing comfort to their child during blood draws, IV starts, injections, and other procedures. Research has proven these holding techniques to be safe and beneficial.

Child Life Shadow Program

Children’s National offers a Child Life Services Shadow Program for individuals 18 years and older that are interested in pursuing the field of child life. Shadowing is a one-time, half-day opportunity that will allow shadows to hear more about child life and the process of becoming a child life specialist, as well as to shadow specialists in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Find out more on how to apply to Children’s Child Life Shadow Program.

Child Life Special Category Volunteers

Our Child Life Special Category Volunteers help facilitate the normal growth and development of pediatric patients as well as their adjustment to hospitalization through age appropriate play opportunities. Activities take many forms such as arts and crafts, games, story time, special hospital events, Seacrest Studios activities, etc. Every volunteer reports to and is supervised by a certified child life specialist. Find out more on how to apply to the Child Life Special Category Volunteer Program.

Child Life Practicum Program

Children’s National offers a Child Life Practicum Program to individuals with academic training in the fields of child life, child development, early childhood education, psychology, and other related disciplines. This program provides students with an opportunity to work with children and adolescents in a healthcare setting. Students help facilitate the normal growth and development of pediatric patients through the provision of supervised, age appropriate play opportunities. Find out more on how to apply to Children's Child Life Practicum Program.

Child Life Internship Program

Our child life internship  is an intensive, clinically based program, which meets the child life certification requirements regarding clinical experience. Our full-time training program is designed for college seniors and graduate-level students from the fields of child life, child development, early childhood education, or other related fields of study that include a strong child development emphasis. Individuals not affiliated with a university or college, but who hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in one of the fields listed above also are encouraged to apply. Find out more on how to apply to Children's Child Life Internship Program.

How Child Life Specialists Help Patients at Children's National

Child Life Specialists Ease Anxiety

Watch how child life specialists help ease the anxiety of patients and their families at Children's National.