NEWS | March 22, 2019

What is child life?

Department helps minimize the anxiety of hospitalization for children and encourage play


When a child is hospitalized, the UC Davis’ Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department is there to help minimize the anxiety of hospitalization, increase understanding and strengthen coping skills while helping children to continue their typical growth and development.

One of our child life specialists works with a patient in the pediatric emergency department. One of our child life specialists works with a patient in the pediatric emergency department.

“Watching my staff work, I see these children transform before my eyes,” said Diana Sundberg, manager of the UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy Department. “Kids come to us scared and anxious and I watch as they literally transform into masterful, in-control patients. It is really something.”

What do child life specialists do?

UC Davis child life specialists:

• Provide information, support and education to families regarding hospitalization, illness or injury
• Explain medical and surgical procedures to children using play, puppets and medical equipment
• Accompany children to medical procedures and/or surgery to provide explanation, reassurance and emotional support
• Introduce coping strategies to help reduce anxiety and enhance cooperation with the health care team
• Help siblings understand the hospital environment, coping and visitation
• Arrange special events and activities for children and families to help normalize the hospital environment

Child life specialists collaborate with the rest of the patient’s health care team to meet the psychosocial and developmental needs of each child, while also supporting their families. 

“Kids don’t always use words so we connect with them using alternative means. It’s amazing when they are able to release emotion and share their thoughts,” Sundberg said. “It gives us the perspective we need to help them.”

Sundberg’s early beginnings

As a volunteer at UC Davis Medical Center in the early ’90s, Sundberg first learned about the importance of helping children thrive emotionally as well as physically during their hospital stays. 

From volunteer to intern to employee and now manager, Sundberg has seen this field and her department expand exponentially.

Once a group of three, the team now consists of 20 child life and creative arts therapists on staff supporting different pediatric units at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. They also work with children of adult patients.

They also provide a training ground for child life interns. UC Davis Children's Hospital is the only child life internship program in Northern California that is accredited by the Association of Child Life Professionals.

While the child life field continues to grow, research is being conducted to collect data supporting the benefits child life has on medical outcomes as well as the emotional well-being of the child. After having provided these services for almost two decades, Sundberg is convinced.

“The resilience these kids show … it’s beyond words,” Sundberg said. “I see it every day.”

The Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy department is supported solely through donations. To make a donation, visit  or view their wish list on Amazon: