There is a lack of definitive data on the effective management of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in infants and children. The development and validation of the Berlin definition (BD) for ARDS and the Pediatric Acute Lung Injury Consensus Conference (PALICC) recommendations in children represented a major advance in optimizing research and treatment, mainly due to the introduction of a severe ARDS category. Proposed reasons for the lack of consistent results with surfactants in children and infants compared with neonates include different causes, type of lung damage (direct or indirect), timing and mode of administration as well as the type of surfactant used. Secretory phospholipase A2 plays an important role in inflammation and possible dysfunction of surfactants in ARDS. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) with normal saline and surfactant allows the removal of inhaled material, the recruitment of non-ventilating areas and the maintenance of the surfactant pool size. BAL with diluted surfactant allows rapid absorption of the surfactant at the air/liquid interface, which blocks the progression of pathological lung disease and in turn disrupts the inflammatory cycle. Importantly, it is now recognized that the type of surfactant, the time of administration and the method of administration could all play an important role in the management of ARDS, and there is evidence that surfactant is effective and well tolerated in children and infants with ARDS.