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Twenty-four children (aged 5 months to 18 years) who were admitted to a university hospital were observed for a total of 135 hours with the aim of describing their degree of participation in decisions concerning their own care. Grading of their participation was made by using a 5-point scale. An assessment was also made of what was considered as optimal participation in each situation. The results indicate that children are not always allowed to participate in decision making to the extent that is considered optimal. In no case was it judged that a child participated in or was forced to make a decision that was too difficult for the child. The interactions between children, parents and staff were also described in connection with discussions and decision-making processes. This showed that parents do not always support their children in difficult situations and that health care staff often inform children about what is going to happen without presenting alternatives or asking for their views. Staff may, however, find themselves facing an ethical conflict in deciding between supporting a child's view or following hospital routine. It is of great importance that children are looked upon as potentially autonomous individuals and that staff members realize that one of their core duties is to facilitate children's participation in decision making concerning their health care.