Child Life Services at the Cardiac Center

How we can help

Patient Family Care So, what is Child Life anyway, you ask? No problem, we hear this question a lot! Have you put off getting blood work for your child because you aren't sure how they'll cope? Are you unsure of the best way to tell your child that he or she needs surgery? Has your son or daughter been hospitalized for over a week, and they just aren’t coping well? We're here to help!

Within the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), there are more than 60 staff dedicated as certified child life specialists (CCLS) or child activity coordinators (CAC). These clinicians are educated with a sound understanding of human growth and development and the impact illness, injury and/or disability has on children.

Through the use of education, preparation, and developmentally appropriate activities, Child Life can help to minimize stress while encouraging a patient to learn positive coping skills. Our services are designed to incorporate age-appropriate play, increase familiarity with the hospital setting, and offer an orientation to new experiences while bridging the gap between home and hospital with the goal of minimizing stress.

Cardiac Center support

Within the Cardiac Center itself, the Child Life team is made up of one CAC, three inpatient CCLSs and one outpatient CCLS specifically devoted to providing care for your child. You can find us either covered in paint in the playroom, providing pre-operative preparation and education, or supporting a patient through a procedure in the Treatment Room. Be sure to also check with Child Life to see what events are happening on the unit and Hospital-wide.

For example, we teamed up with Mended Little Hearts to provide an array of activities for mothers whose children were in the Hospital during Mother’s Day. Massages, haircuts and manicures galore! We also helped the patients get a little messy so they could create wonderful heartfelt masterpieces as sweet little gifts for their caregivers. There are a wide variety of reasons to look for your Child Life team!

Art therapy

Art therapists use the creative process of art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. Trained in counseling psychology, art therapists utilize art to help children develop coping skills, promote relaxation, and express difficult thoughts and feelings.

While surgery and other medical interventions place children in a passive role in their treatment, making art requires that they become active participants in their healthcare. Art therapy provides an opportunity for control in appropriate situations and promotes communication with others. When patients struggle to find the right words, art therapists assess and create developmentally appropriate, non-threatening ways to help process feelings without relying on verbalizations.

Music therapy

Music has been shown to benefit pediatric patients by improving their psychological, physical, cognitive or social functioning. Ongoing research supports that music therapy has multiple benefits for children and can:

  • Improve moods
  • Return a sense of control to children
  • Encourage cognitive and physical development
  • Create positive environmental stimulation and comfort
  • Reduce anxiety and stress
  • Diminish pain and discomfort
  • Provide a space and opportunity for the expression of feelings

Music therapy is offered in a group setting weekly for patients who are able to leave their rooms, as well as at the bedside for individual sessions. Referrals for music therapy are made by members of the treatment team.

Hospital school program

School is an important part of every child's life. By participating in the Hospital School Program, school-age children can continue to achieve academic goals and interact with peers. The Hospital School program is staffed by certified teachers who collaborate with the student's classroom or homebound teacher and other healthcare professionals involved with the patient's care to provide appropriate educational services. Educational sessions are provided in a group setting or at bedside, as medically appropriate.


The Child Life team has numerous resources for patients and their families.

Medical play

Learn about medical play and its therapeutic benefits for hospitalized children, along with links to age-specific information. Learn more.

Play and recreation during hospitalization

Play and recreation can be therapeutic by giving children the opportunity to explore, express and process their healthcare experiences in a safe, non-threatening environment. Learn more.

Preparing for hospitalization and medical procedures

Find information on how to prepare your child for hospitalization and how the child life staff at CHOP can help. Learn more.

Support siblings of hospitalized child

Learn about the reactions siblings may have when a brother or a sister is in the hospital and what caregivers can do to help the family cope. Learn more.

Articles from the child life team

How to Help Your Child Cope with Blood Draws: Bloodwork can often be a stressful experience for many children. Certified child life specialists are trained to support children of all ages during blood draws and are offering tips for helping your child or adolescent cope with bloodwork.

Preparing Your Child for Medical Experiences: Research shows that talking to your child about their medical experience before it happens greatly increases the likelihood that they will cope well presently and in the future.

Beads of Courage Program Recognizes Your Child's Journey: The goal of this unique program is to honor the challenging journey your child takes while receiving care at CHOP. As part of the program, your child collects Beads of Courage to recognize various milestones they achieve throughout their treatment.

Planning Ahead: Summer Fun in the Sun: Children living with a cardiac condition or chronic illness can have a positive experience by attending summer camps, where they can be free to just be a kid.  

Truth Telling: Why Honesty is the Best Policy: When it comes to supporting a child through appointments, medical testing and procedures, studies show that parents should be honest with their children and provide developmentally appropriate information ahead of time regarding what is happening and why.

Sun Sand and Scars: It is important to help your child feel proud about their scars or physical difference.

Children's books

Cardiac-specific theme

How Will They Get That Heart Down Your Throat? A Child’s View of Transplants
A kindergarten class learns their teacher needs a heart transplant. Specific topics such as organ donation, descriptions of the transplant operation, post-op medication, and promotion of organ donation are discussed. Ages 7+. Learn more.

A rhyming story about a young girl who had heart surgery. She tells the story of how she got the scar on her chest and how she isn’t any different from anyone else. Ages 5+. Learn more.

Chronic illness theme

Little Tree: A Story for Children with Serious Medical Problems
A story about a tree that loses some of its branches during a storm and its journey to healing both physically and emotionally. This book is recommended for children who have experienced life-changing illnesses or accidents by providing comfort, inspiration, and an inner sense of well-being. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Feelings and emotions theme

Alexander and the Dragon
Alexander is a young boy who is scared of the dark. He thinks the shadows in his room are monsters. Alexander decides he is going to make friends with the dragon under his bed. Ages 4+. Learn more.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
This book assists children in coping with their emotions by following Alexander as he battles through many obstacles, making for a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Ages 6 to 9+. Learn more.

All Feelings Are OK: It's What You Do With Them That Counts
This workbook/coloring book teaches children through creative use of their own definitions that all feelings are “OK;” it’s how we choose to respond and act when we feel a certain way that matters most. Age 5+. Learn more.

Bravery Soup
A story about Carlin, a young raccoon, who is scared of lots of things. He goes to Big Bear, the bravest animal, for help. Ages 3 to 7+. Learn more.

Crazy Like a Fox: A Simile Story
The book explores Rufus the fox in a story of similes leading to his birthday party. Ages 4 to 7+. Learn more.

Double-Dip Feelings: Stories to Help Children Understand
This book walks children through the many instances in which they would be feeling two emotions at the same time, in settings such as school, with siblings, and at home. Ages 4-8+. Learn more.

Face Your Feelings! A Book to Help Children Learn About Feelings
This book gives examples of why kids may feel different feelings. It provides many examples of feelings children may experience along with photos of real people acting out that particular emotion. Ages 3+. Learn more.

This book follows a school-age boy through many feelings associated with peers, caregivers and his own feelings in rhyming sequences. Ages 4 to 7+. Learn more.

Glad Monster, Sad Monster: A Book About Feelings
The monsters in this book talk about different feelings and give examples of what makes them feel the different feelings. The story asks children to talk about what makes them feel glad, angry, loving, sad, worried, scared or silly. Ages 3 to 6+. Learn more.

How Full Is Your Bucket
This book follows Felix throughout his day as the water in his bucket increases and decreases with the emotions of the day. Ages 3 to 8+. Learn more.

Sometimes I Feel Like a Mouse: A Book About Feelings
This book helps children understand that they may have many feelings and all these feelings are OK. It talks to children about “feelings” being their friends and why it’s important to listen to their feelings. Ages 3+. Learn more.

“I Was So Mad”
This book follows a little girl as she tells readers why she gets mad. The book emphasizes that it is alright to be mad sometimes and normalizes the sometimes frustrating emotion. Ages 4+. Learn more.

It’s Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel
This book addresses the challenges of being a 5-year-old, such as interacting with siblings and peers, growing, discipline, hygiene and school. But in the end, it’s fun to be 5. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Miss Rumphius
This story takes you through the life of Miss Rumphius who keeps a promise she made to her grandfather to make the world a more beautiful place. Ages 5 to 10+. Learn more.

My Many Colored Days
Dr. Seuss uses his rhyming fashion to explain to children different feelings that they can have by giving emotions a color that we can feel in the day. Ages 3 to 7+. Learn more.

Proud of Our Feelings
Priscilla follows her friends and their feelings. This book fosters discussion by asking children when was the last time they felt the same emotions as the characters in this book. Ages 3 to 6+. Learn more.

Stand in My Shoes
A story about Emily and her older sister, Alicia, who gives her the task of learning about empathy. We follow Emily as she goes about her day standing in other people’s shoes and reflects on the good feelings she has from becoming more empathetic. Ages 5 to 10+. Learn more.

Tease Monster: A Book About Teasing Vs. Bullying
This book follows “One of a Kind” as he battles challenges with bullying. He and his mother make a plan on what to say when he is teased again. Ages 5 to 12+. Learn more.

The Feelings Book
This book shows examples of many emotions, from feeling lonely to feeling silly. The book advises children that no matter how they feel, they should not keep these feelings inside, but share them with someone they love. Ages: 3 to 6+. Learn more.

The Moon Balloon
This interactive book helps kids understand different emotions like anger, stress and love, and provides information on how to understand these emotions. Ages 5+. Learn more.

Today I feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day
This book follows a school-age girl as she tells of all the feelings she is having and why. At the end of the book, children are able to identify how they feel from silly, happy and excited to cranky, angry and sad. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Unstoppable Me! 10 Ways to Soar Through Life
This book teaches 10 life lessons through short, rhyming explanations that grab children’s attention. Themes such as persistence, having choices, creating peace, and being healthy are explored. It includes examples and illustrations of how children may apply the lesson to their everyday life. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Wemberly Worried
This book helps children transition back to school by following Wemberly as she returns to school. Wemberly worries about almost everything, but when she meets a new friend at school, she is finally able to put some of those worries aside. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry...
A story about a little girl who becomes very angry about sharing her toys with her sister. The story shows how Sophie calms herself down after she gets really upset. Ages 4-8+. Learn more.

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine
This book follows Wilma as she identifies all the things that make her worry. Her teacher helps her decide whether these are worries she can control or not. There is a helpful page for parents with tips on dealing with an anxious child. Ages 7 to 10+. Learn more.

Zach Gets Frustrated
This book follows Zach as he goes to the beach and has to learn how to handle frustrations by naming them, finding ways to tame them, and reframing them from negative thoughts into positive ones. Ages 4 to 7+. Learn more.

Going to the hospital or doctor theme

Do I Have to Go to the Hospital? A First Look at Going to Hospital
This book focuses on the emotional experiences of going to the hospital and identifies common places that children would encounter. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

It's Check-up Time, Elmo!
This book helps kids be less scared from going to the doctor. Elmo helps keep kids company so a checkup can be about learning something new. Learn more.

ABC Doctor
A story to help teach kids about some of the common words they might hear at the hospital or doctor’s office. Each word correlates with a letter in the alphabet. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

The Little Encyclopedia of the Human Body
This child-friendly encyclopedia helps children to explore the human body with fun facts and pictures. It also provides information about fertilization. Ages 9+. Learn more.

A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital
This book follows Grover for his trip to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. Grover’s mother brings him to the hospital for a tour exploring the patient rooms, X-ray machine, playroom, operating room, library and much more to ease his fear. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

All Better Now
This interactive, rhyming story is perfect for preschool children. It teaches kids why they get sick and how they get better with medicine or rest. Ages 3+. Learn more.

Big Bird Goes to the Doctor
This book follows Big Bird and Granny as he goes for a checkup with the doctor. Big Bird expresses his emotions about the visit as he gets his height, weight and temperature taken and his eyes checked. Ages 4-8+. Learn more.

Cooper Gets a CT Scan
When Cooper falls and hits his head, his doctor wants him to have a CT scan to make sure everything is OK. This book does a great job at explaining what a CT scan is and the different things that kids will see and feel and may be asked to do during the scan. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Curious George Goes to the Hospital
This story follows George as he accidently eats a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. He visits the doctor’s office, and after an X-ray, he is admitted to the hospital for surgery. Follow George through surgery, making friends, and causing some trouble. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Franklin Goes to the Hospital
This book follows Franklin for his first trip to the hospital for surgery to fix his shell after being hit by a soccer ball. It explains the use of anesthesia, the hospital environment, X-ray and surgery. Ages 3 to 8+. Learn more.

Going to the Doctor
This book explains each step of a visit to the doctor, from the stethoscope and checking reflexes to eye exams and receiving shots. Ages 4+. Learn more.

Little Critter: My Trip to the Hospital
This book is about Little Critter’s journey to the hospital after a soccer injury. We follow him into the ambulance, X-ray machine, getting a cast, and learning to use crutches. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Going to the Doctor
This book explains the use of medical equipment, such as an exam table, otoscope, tongue depressor, stethoscope and needles, to help prepare children for their visit to the doctor’s office. Ages 3 to 6+. Learn more.

Say Ahhh!: Dora Goes to the Doctor 
A story of Dora’s visit to the doctor’s office for a checkup. The doctor checks important things like Dora's height and weight and listens to her heart. This story is helpful for young children who are nervous about going to the doctor. Ages 3+. Learn more.

The Boo-boo Book
This interactive book explains common childhood injuries, including burns, stitches and rashes. The stories are told in rhymes throughout and have flaps to lift for more information, as well as touch and feel for additional learning. Ages 3+. Learn more.

Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital
This book tells the story from the perspective of a young boy named Luke who’s getting ear tubes. Luke talks about having vital signs taken, receiving anesthesia, and recovering from a surgery while sharing his feelings of the process throughout. Ages 4 to10+. Learn more.

Self-esteem theme

I Like Me!
A story of a young African-American girl, Nia, who points out all the positive things she likes about herself. This book is relatable to all children with a simple message of liking everything about themselves. Ages 3 to 8+. Learn more.

It's Okay to Be Different
This book teaches children important messages such as acceptance, understanding, and having confidence in themselves. With its bright colors and silly pictures, it encourages children to celebrate individuality and respect differences. Ages 3 to 6+. Learn more.

I Want Your Moo: A Story for Children About Self-Esteem
A story about Toodles, a turkey who doesn’t like herself and goes in search of a new voice before she realizes that her gobble can help save the day. This book uses lively rhymes and funny illustrations to help children embrace their differences. Ages 4 to 8+. Learn more.

Just Because I Am: A Child's Book of Affirmation
This book promotes self-esteem in young children by recognizing that all children are unique and special. Short affirmations teach children to listen to their bodies for their physical and emotional needs. Ages 3 to 8+. Learn more.

Siblings theme

My Brother Needs an Operation
This interactive story explains some of the normal reactions of a sibling of a hospitalized child. Throughout this story, the author asks questions to the person reading it and offers helpful tips for parents. Ages 3+. Learn more.

Together Toby and his sister Clemmie can conquer anything — even the scary hospital — with the right attitude and a dose of fun. This is a positive and light-hearted book that encourages imagination and sibling relationships in order to help children be brave in the hospital and throughout life. Ages 5 to 7+. Learn more.

The Sibling Slam Book: What It's Really Like to Have a Brother or Sister With Special Needs
This book asks questions related to having a sibling with special needs such as: “Does your sibling ever embarrass you?” and “What life lessons have you learned from being a sibling?” The responses from other children and teens dealing with the same issues may be helpful for young adults seeking comradery and someone to relate to. Ages 13+. Learn more.

Views From Our Shoes: Growing Up with a Brother or Sister with Special Needs
In this chapter book, 45 siblings share their experiences as the brother or sister of someone with a disability. Their personal tales introduce young siblings to others like them and allow them to compare experiences. A glossary provides definitions of many of the conditions mentioned. Ages 9+. Learn more.

What About Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick
Using the story of siblings, Laura and Tom, this book explores how a child may be feeling and reacting to their sibling being in the hospital. It also includes an introduction to parents on how to help their children cope with a sibling’s illness. Ages 4 to 10+. Learn more.

When Molly Was in the Hospital: A Book for Brothers and Sisters of Hospitalized Children
Through Anna’s actions and words, this book addresses many emotions that children may feel while their sibling is in the hospital, such as anger, fear, guilt, loss and worry. The book also provides suggestions on how to stay in touch and show support while someone is in the hospital. Ages 4 to 10+. Learn more.

Connect with Child Life services

If you would like to learn more, please visit the Child Life Services website or call 215-590-2001. You can also email the Cardiac Center Child Life team at

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