The aim of the investigation was to evaluate the prevalence, severity, and parents' management of children's pain following short-stay and day surgery. The subjects were 189 parents of children (2-12 years of age) who had undergone short-stay or day surgery. Parents completed a 3-day diary of their child's pain and the methods used to alleviate it. There were clear differences in pain reported according to type of surgery. Some surgery, such as insertion of myringotomy tubes, appeared to cause little pain. Other procedures, including tonsillectomy, circumcision, and strabismus repair, resulted in about one-half the children experiencing clinically significant pain (> or = 30 mm on a 100 mm VAS). Sixty-eight percent of the parents reported they had been instructed to use acetaminophen for pain 'if necessary', 13% had been told to use acetaminophen regularly, and 8% recalled no instructions. Of the parents who rated their child's pain as significant, 13% administered no pain medication and 47% gave 1-3 doses on day 2. On day 3, 17% gave no medication and 45% gave 1-3 doses. Some types of 'minor' surgery result in significant pain postoperatively. Even when parents recognise that their children are in pain, most give inadequate doses of medication to control the pain.