The reliability of visual interpretation of electroencephalograms (EEG) is of great importance in assessing the value of this diagnostic tool. We prospectively obtained 50 standard EEGs and 61 EEGs after partial sleep deprivation from 93 children (56 males, 37 females) with a mean age of 6 years 10 months (SE 5 mo; range 4 mo-15 y 7 mo) with one or more newly diagnosed, unprovoked seizures. Two clinical neurophysiologists independently classified the background pattern and the presence of epileptiform discharges or focal non-epileptiform abnormalities of each EEG. The agreement was substantial for the interpretation of the EEG as normal or abnormal (kappa 0.66), almost perfect for the presence of epileptiform discharges (kappa 0.83), substantial for the occurrence of an abnormal background pattern (kappa 0.73), and moderate for the presence of focal non-epileptiform discharges (kappa 0.54). In conclusion, the reliability of the visual interpretation of EEGs in children is almost perfect as regards the presence of epileptiform abnormalities, and moderate to substantial for the presence of other abnormalities.