The rational prescribing of oral antimicrobial agents for bacterial infections in children who can be treated in an ambulatory setting is the subject of this review. First, restrictive use of antibacterials is advocated to avoid widespread development of bacterial resistance. The use of simple methods, suitable for office use, to discern viral from bacterial infections is recommended. Second, in selecting an antimicrobial agent, the physician should consider a number of distinctive features of each agent. Besides aspects of pharmacokinetics, antibacterial spectrum and tolerability, the number of daily doses and, of particular importance for children, the palatability of suspensions plays an important role in achieving patient compliance. Agents that can be administered once or twice daily and possess an agreeable taste in addition to proven efficacy, established tolerability and a reasonable price are to be preferred. Specific paediatric aspects in choosing among penicillins, cephalosporins, macrolides and other oral antibacterials are discussed. For pharmacoeconomic reasons, the optimal duration of antibacterial treatment and the role of short course therapy for various bacterial infections should be studied in more detail. Finally, rational antimicrobial treatment of common paediatric bacterial infections, such as streptococcal tonsillopharyngitis, acute otitis media, acute sinusitis, bacterial pneumonia, pertussis, Lyme borreliosis (early stage) and lower urinary tract infection is reviewed.