How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces


For kids, going to the doctor's office or hospital can feel scary and overwhelming. All the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells are enough to make any child feel anxious. This can lead to a lifelong fear or distrust of healthcare. The environment we create for young patients deeply affects their emotions and perceptions of medical care. A child-friendly setting can actually improve health outcomes by easing anxiety and stress.

When healthcare spaces feel welcoming rather than intimidating, children and their families have better experiences overall. We'll explore the key elements of child-friendly healthcare design, with strategies for creating human-centric, welcoming and engaging spaces for kids of all ages.

Make it colorful and bright

How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces

Ospedale Giovanni Paolo II by Sally Galotti Healthcare Design

Color is one of the most impactful yet easiest elements to implement when designing child-friendly spaces. Avoid sterile, all-white color schemes, which can feel cold and clinical and instead, opt for bright, cheerful colors like light blue, yellow, green or orange.

Painting murals is a great way to add color, such as an undersea world or mountain landscape. Alternatively, edit photos to create a colorful photo gallery wall of interesting, bright images for an engaging attraction that kids can explore during their visits. Soft, comfortable furniture in bright hues can also brighten up a space and make it feel more appealing for children.

When designing child-friendly spaces, pay close attention to lighting. Natural light is best if available, but it can also be supplemented with soft lamps instead of harsh fluorescent overheads that can be off-putting. Installing night lights or glowing stickers to combat kids' fear of the dark can also create a more inviting space.

Consider the impact of different environments

How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces

Lismore Base Hospital by Conrad Gargett

Designers need to pay attention to the needs of specific rooms and areas. For example, waiting rooms are often a child's first impression of the healthcare facility. Make them engaging places just for kids by including a play area with books, toys and games – an aquarium or terrarium can provide distraction without taking up too much space. Above all, avoid just having plain rows of chairs.

Exam rooms can feel cold and scary with unusual equipment, so make them more kid-centric by hanging artwork at their eye level. Having toys and books stored in open cabinets during the appointment can bring comfort and consider fun themes for decor that will temporarily distract little ones.

If possible, include a playroom where patients and siblings can play, read, and do arts and crafts if they’re staying for longer. This allows for stimulation away from an intimidating clinical environment and can help to provide a sense of normalcy.

Designing multi-functional spaces that maximize services in limited square footage can be valuable for parents and children. This is already being rolled out in medical facilities and offers huge potential for pediatric units.

For example, seating that incorporates charging facilities for phones and laptops, or fold-out tables that provide space for drawing or reading, can help people feel more comfortable without compromising the space designers have to work with.

Give kids a sense of control

How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces

Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital by Perkins&Will

One important element in healthcare design for children is providing a sense of control. At home, kids have their own spaces where they can choose to sit, play or relax on their own terms. However, in a hospital or clinic, they are subject to unfamiliar rules and routines. Finding ways to give children and families some empowerment over their environment can reduce stress and anxiety.

This means including features that allow kids to exert autonomy over their immediate surroundings. For example, give them the ability to adjust lighting and temperature controls or offer flexible storage space like cubbies or compartments to store personal belongings. Have furniture that can be moved around to customize the space, and provide a variety of seating options so they can move around and choose seating that’s most comfortable to them.

Designing spaces in waiting rooms with touch and feel toys can be a great distraction – designers should opt for toys that are engaging to all ages, such as those with mirrors, lights or sounds, that keep kids interested during what can sometimes be long wait periods. A feeling of helplessness compounds anxiety in an already difficult situation. When patients and families have a sense of command in the space, it fosters a more positive healthcare experience.

Add therapeutic spaces for parents

How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces

University of Minnesota Physicians Broadway Family Medicine Clinic by Studio BV - Image Credit: Corey Gaffer Photography

While child patients are the primary focus in pediatric facilities, creating a healing environment for parents is also crucial. A parent's health and emotional state directly impacts their child's experience. Strategically placed acoustic panels can help minimize alarming sounds from medical equipment that may cause stress too, and if infection control protocols allow, incorporating plant life can add a peaceful natural element. Adjustable lighting also gives parents control over their space and the mood, which aids the healing process.

The goal is to design a patient room that facilitates rest, recovery and renewal for all family members, which in turn helps parents be more present for their child while coping with their own care. Even small touches like providing comfortable recliners and warm blankets help reduce parental anxiety. A well-designed room can be a refuge for parents during turbulent times.

Create a sense of adventure

How To Design Child-Friendly Healthcare Spaces

Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford by Perkins&Will

It's important to create an environment that feels welcoming and adventurous for children of all ages. Of course, hospitals still need to consider the diverse perspectives and needs of patients of all backgrounds.

Thoughtful design features can help ease anxiety and stress for children. Graphic wayfinding guides, bright flooring and interactive video walls all help. These elements make navigating the hospital feel less clinical, and also give kids something entertaining to focus on as they move through the facility. The goal should be to make the hospital an environment children feel comfortable returning to, rather than afraid of.


Thoughtful design considerations that make medical spaces more comfortable, engaging and welcoming can dramatically improve a child's experience. With deliberate, compassionate design, healthcare spaces can become less intimidating for our youngest, most vulnerable patients.

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