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OBJECTIVE: To assess the reactions of parents and their children to the request for a blood sample and an attempt to take blood. METHODS: 1859 children aged 1.5-4.5 years took part in a national survey of diet and nutrition. A retrospective inquiry of the parents' and children's reported reactions was carried out six to 18 months later by postal questionnaire sent only to the 1157 who had given consent for an attempt to take blood. RESULTS: 866 questionnaires were returned; 790 were from parents of children in whom an attempt to take blood had been successful. Thirteen per cent said that their child had given blood previously. About 30% discussed the request with the family doctor or nurse. Some 90% said that they were given enough information and that the phlebotomist was sympathetic. Attempting to take blood caused upset in over 50%, which, in most, lasted for less than five minutes. A substantial minority were upset for up to 30 minutes and a few much longer. Bruising or bleeding occurred in 20-27%. Degree and duration of upset were both adversely associated with a failed attempt to obtain blood. CONCLUSION: The majority of preschool children experienced no more than a little upset of short duration after an attempt to take blood, but a substantial minority exhibited a greater degree of upset. These responses should be taken into account when assessing the benefits and risks of the procedure. The best equipment and expertise should be employed for taking blood as successful attempts are less upsetting.