113 families with young children were studied over a 12-month period, when all contacts with the general practitioner and hospital emergency services were recorded. Socioeconomic data was obtained at interview, together with responses to a vignette instrument describing common childhood problems. Health diaries were completed by 70% of mothers, providing further information about illness and mothers anxiety about it. Analyses showed that significant disease in any child was the strongest predictor of frequency of new consultations, with measures of mothers anxiety, number of children in the family, mothers education level and her response to the vignettes also contributing significantly. Socioeconomic deprivation was associated with increased utilisation, even when the effects of prevalence of chronic diseases, size of family and mothers' anxiety were taken into account. From the spontaneous comments made during the vignette responses further information was obtained about how mothers reach the decision to consult the family doctor about children's illness. Thus in a Primary Care setting some systematic differences have been demonstrated between high and low consulting families, which may partly explain the wide variation in spontaneous consultation rates observed.