Explanatory models (EMs) for asthma among inner-city school-age children and their families were examined as a means of better understanding health behaviors. Children and parents were interviewed about their concepts of asthma etiology, asthma medications, and alternative therapies. Drawings were elicited from children to understand their beliefs about asthma. Nineteen children with 17 mothers from a variety of cultural backgrounds were interviewed. Among children, contagion was the primary EM for asthma etiology (53%). Twenty-five percent of children reported fear of dying from asthma, while fear of their child dying from asthma was reported by 76% of mothers. Mothers reported a variety of EMs, some culturally specific, but the majority reported biomedical concepts of etiology, pathophysiology, and triggers. Although 76% of mothers knew the names of more than one of their children's medications, 47% thought their child's medications all had similar functions. Thirty-five percent of families used herbal treatments and 35% incorporated religion into asthma treatment. Seventy-one percent of families had discontinued medications and 23% reported currently not giving anti-inflammatory medication. Reasons for discontinuing daily medications included fears of unknown side effects (53%), addiction (18%), tachyphylaxis (18%), and feeling that their child was being given too much medicine (23%). The traditional focus of asthma education is not sufficient to ensure adherence. Asthma education for children should address their views of etiology and fears about dying from asthma. Conversations with parents about their EMs and beliefs about medications and alternative therapies could assist in understanding and responding to parental concerns and choices about medications and help achieve better adherence.