The aetiology and management approach for cough in children differs greatly to that in adults, so the empirical approach commonly used in adults is unsuitable for children. Clinical evaluation of cough in children should include an assessment of environmental factors, particularly tobacco smoke, parental concerns and expectations. Most children with acute cough are likely to have an uncomplicated viral acute respiratory tract infection, but the possibility of a more serious problem, especially aspiration of foreign material, should always be considered. Isolated chronic cough in children is rarely asthma, and the term "cough variant asthma" should not be used. Over-the-counter and prescription medications are ineffective for the symptomatic relief of acute cough. Treatment for chronic cough should be based on aetiology. Because of the favourable natural history of cough, a "positive" response in medication trials should not be assumed to be due to the medication. Children should be reassessed within the expected timeframe of response to therapy.