Child Life, Recreation & Creative Arts Therapies

At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that illnesses and medical procedures have the potential to cause anxiety and fear in children. To ease these feelings and help your family prepare for and cope with your child’s surgery or hospital stay, we offer child life services, music therapy, art therapy, and therapeutic recreation in part through the Sala Institute for Child and Family Centered Care.

Depending on the child, he or she may learn best by playing, creating art, or making music. Our child life specialists and art, music, and recreation therapists help children who are experiencing illness or injury or are being treated for a chronic condition to better understand and deal with their experience. We encourage parents and siblings to participate at their comfort level, as we strongly support the importance of maintaining the family unit during a hospital experience.

“Play is really important to children—it’s their form of communication. It’s how they express themselves. We try to normalize their experience while they’re in the hospital or after they have a procedure, to get back to a baseline and help them to just be kids.”

—Frances Clemente, MS, CCLS

Program Coordinator, Sala Institute Connecting the Dots Program

Baby in Bed

Our team is skilled at selecting approaches that are best suited to each child. For example, if your child is anxious about an upcoming procedure, he or she may find comfort sitting in a loved one’s lap. An adolescent may benefit from playing his or her favorite game on an electronic device or simply engaging in a conversation.

We aim to sustain the routines that help children feel safe, and we work with families to develop effective coping strategies to support them throughout their child’s hospital experience.

We also help parents manage the hospital experience. We can provide suggestions about what to pack for your child’s hospital stay and how to talk to your child about his or her upcoming medical experience. In addition, our specialists support you and your family by providing information about what to expect before and after surgery.

The unique needs of brothers and sisters are also addressed. Both individually and in small group settings, our team helps to identify issues and concerns that siblings may be experiencing and provides support, education, and opportunities for expression.

Child Life Services

Often, the greatest source of anxiety for children is a fear of the unknown. Child life specialists assess children’s understanding of the medical environment and how they’re adjusting to it. We prepare you and your child for any medical procedures, such as an MRI scan, surgery, or video electroencephalogram (VEEG). In some instances, we also work with the children of adult patients to help them understand their parent’s condition, why they are hospitalized, and what may happen during hospitalization.

Pediatric Patient Reading Book

Using guided imagery, relaxation exercises, and other coping techniques, such as medical play, we can help your child manage any pain associated with treatment as well as any negative emotions he or she may have regarding the experience. This approach often includes rehearsal of a procedure.

Children are given the opportunity to process these learning experiences through play or discussion and are encouraged to share any questions or concerns they may have. Our team is skilled in reading the behavioral cues of a child who is unable or not ready to verbally express questions and concerns.

Our specialists use computer games, dolls, and real and play medical equipment, such as a pretend MRI machine, to help a child understand what he or she may see, hear, feel smell, and taste during a medical experience.

We can also support you and your child during the medical procedure or hospital stay. Whether a child is having a procedure that requires receiving fluid through an IV, having blood drawn, or getting an X-ray, a child life specialist can often be available before, during, and after the procedure. The specialist can help to reduce your child’s anxiety and provides tools and suggestions that help your child effectively cope throughout the experience.

Child life specialists, along with recreation therapists and creative arts therapists, strive to provide ample opportunities for play throughout the healthcare experience. This allows children to be children, even in the hospital.

Music Therapy

Music therapists use music to address your child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. Our music therapists encourage children and adolescents to explore coping and expression by listening to, creating, and playing music, and as a way of expressing their feelings, questions, and concerns.

Pediatric Patient in Music Therapy

Our board certified music therapists provide group and individual music therapy sessions and can be available to provide support during medical procedures. We also bring music to some of our outpatient waiting rooms, where it can help parents and children as they await procedures.

Art Therapy

During art therapy, children are encouraged to use art as another means to express their thoughts and feelings. Depending on the age of a child or adolescent, we use tools ranging from finger paints to woodworking as a way to encourage self-expression, improve a child’s overall wellbeing, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem.

Our licensed art therapists provide individual and group art therapy sessions.

Recreation Therapy

Certified recreation therapists provide treatment services and recreation activities for your child.  Using a variety of techniques, including arts and crafts, animal-assisted therapy, sports, games, dance and movement, drama, music, and community outings, therapists work together with patients and families to improve and maintain the physical, mental, developmental, and emotional wellbeing of your child throughout his or her hospital stay.

Our recreation therapists can help children and adolescents adjust to life after an injury. We introduce various adaptive activities to teach them how to remain active after hospitalization. We encourage socialization and reentry into the community by providing various daily group activities that meet the different needs, interests, and abilities of all participants.

Connecting the Dots Program

Our Connecting the Dots program provides child life services to parts of NYU Langone where the focus is not on pediatrics but care is still provided to children. These include radiology, outpatient surgery, pre-admission testing, and various outpatient clinics.

As part of the program, we support nurses and clinical staff in helping your child cope with various experiences and concerns. These may include pain or anxiety experienced during blood testing or the placement of an IV or in preparation for an EEG of the brain, an echocardiogram of the heart, or a CT scan. We also help children who are waiting to go into the operating room.

Pediatric Patient in Connect the Dots Program

Each unit has “coping kits” that include varied items, such as bubbles and light up wands for babies, I Spy books for toddlers and preschoolers, and brain teasers or squeeze balls for older children. By using these tools for coping and distraction, children feel supported and are often calmer during procedures.

We also encourage children to select developmentally appropriate toys, board books, or art supplies from our play pack collection while they wait. When the procedure or treatment is completed, we offer a choice from our prize bin.

For parents, we offer tip sheets to help make the healthcare experience as easy as possible for a child. This includes information about how to hold your child while he or she is having an IV inserted or during other tests and procedures and suggestions about using words or phrases that are familiar and comforting.

For more information on Connecting the Dots, talk with your child’s nurse, a child life specialist, or another member of your child’s care team.

Contact Us

Programs vary by location and hospital experience.

You can call our Peace of Mind hotline at 212-263-1100 to talk a child life specialist who can help you prepare your child for surgery or hospitalization. You can also email

For more information about child life, creative arts, and therapeutic recreation at Tisch Hospital, call 212-263-6190.

For more information about child life and therapeutic recreation or about how to prepare your child for surgery or hospitalization at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital, call 212-598-6444, 212-598-6461, or 212-598-6585.

Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital also offers a therapeutic recreation, creative arts therapies, and child life internship program for students enrolled in clinical degree programs.