It is common practice to administer atropine before a first dose of succinylcholine in infants and children. However, the administration of succinylcholine without atropine has not been investigated in children. This study was designed to compare cardiovascular changes after the administration of either atropine with succinylcholine or succinylcholine alone. In 41 ASA I or II patients aged from 1 to 12 yr anaesthesia was induced with thiopentone 5 mg.kg-1. Patients were randomly allocated to receive either atropine 20 micrograms.kg-1 and succinylcholine 1.5 mg.kg-1 (n = 20) or succinylcholine 1.5 mg.kg-1 alone (n = 21). Heart rate and rhythm were recorded continuously from two minutes before induction until two minutes after tracheal intubation. Blood pressure was measured non-invasively before and after induction of anaesthesia and both immediately and two minutes after laryngoscopy. One self-limiting episode of bradycardia was recorded during laryngoscopy in a child who received atropine. Heart rate increased in both groups compared with baseline values (108 +/- 25), with a greater increase in patients who had received atropine (150 +/- 13) than in those who had not (128 +/- 18) (P < 0.05). There was no difference in mean arterial pressure or incidence of arrythmias between the two groups. No recorded arrythmias were judged to be clinically important by a cardiologist. The incidence of bradycardia after succinylcholine in the absence of atropine in children aged from 1 to 12 yr appears to be lower than previously estimated. The use of atropine before a single dose of succinylcholine in children deserves to be reconsidered.