Pediatric behavioral health design thinking

A nurse and a mother laugh as her children play a game in a pediatric clinic waiting room

Children with mental, behavioral or brain health problems require special care and sensitivity, as do their families

The environment in which this care is delivered plays an important role in supporting the child and their family through diagnosis and treatment. It can also positively influence users’ attitudes and beliefs about mental and behavioral problems and their prognosis, priming patients for success and helping their families provide essential support. Thus, the demands from users and stakeholders on pediatric behavioral and mental health facilities are numerous.

Our interdisciplinary teams include nurses, clinical experts, PhDs, administrators and guest advocates, so that we may understand their perspectives and incorporate their requirements from the beginning. Our work on behavioral and mental health facilities benefits from our expertise on non-clinical projects including mission-critical buildings, research labs, commercial office buildings, schools and hospitality environments. Our diverse design teams draw on this varied expertise to synthesize competing goals into welcoming, functional, sustainable - and affordable - healthcare facilities.

Val Williams, Page thought leader in our Denver office, shared some insights about what underpins pediatric behavioral health design.

Content modified from an interview that appeared in the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

A mother and child check in with a nurse at a hospital pediatric unit with colorful accents on the desk, walls and ceiling light fixture.
© Slyworks Photography

How do designs of pediatric hospitals or outpatient facilities differ from adults?

The primary differences are scale and form. In pediatric environments, we want to incorporate moments of play and whimsy. We carefully consider color, textures, the play of light, and environmental graphics to create interiors that are comfortable and provide positive distractions. We also consider how to support children with special needs or different abilities so that they feel included.

What design elements support families while their children are being treated?

We anticipate that some families will spend many hours at the facility while their child is in treatment. Siblings need space to play, relax, do homework. Adults may want to catch up on work. We create flexible living spaces within the facility that support a wide program and are adaptable over time. We also incorporate smart TVs to disseminate reassuring and empowering information about new research, treatment options, support groups, or coping techniques.

What details help promote healing?

Our designs include opportunities for the patient to personalize their private space so that it is comfortable, inviting, and reflects their personality. Patients can select lighting levels, change the color of accent lighting, and play their own music. Choice gives the patient a sense of autonomy which reduces stress.

We also consider the impact that public spaces have on patients. Some need the stimulation of a group setting. Others require more privacy and separation. We make sure that public spaces can adapt to these operational changes.

At our Texas Children’s Specialty Care Austin project, behavioral health areas incorporate sub-waiting rooms that serve just four exam rooms each. Instead of televisions, the sub-waiting rooms have a quiet ambience with views of the outdoors to promote a sense of calm.


About Val Williams

Val Williams is a licensed architect and member of the American College of Healthcare Architects with nearly two decades of experience in healthcare facility planning, HR/staff development, communication training, and survey/data creation and analysis.