BACKGROUND: Induction of general anaesthesia can be distressing for children. Non-pharmacological methods for reducing anxiety and improving co-operation may avoid the adverse effects of preoperative sedation. OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of non-pharmacological interventions in assisting induction of anaesthesia in children by reducing their anxiety, distress or increasing their co-operation. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2009, Issue 1). We searched the following databases from inception to 14th December 2008: MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, DISSERTATION ABSTRACTS, Web of Science and EMBASE. SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomized controlled trials of a non-pharmacological intervention implemented on the day of surgery or anaesthesia. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently extracted data and assessed risk of bias in trials. MAIN RESULTS: We included 17 trials, all from developed countries, involving 1796 children, their parents or both. Eight trials assessed parental presence. None showed significant differences in anxiety or co-operation of children during induction, except for one where parental presence was significantly less effective than midazolam in reducing children's anxiety at induction. Six trials assessed interventions for children. Preparation with a computer package improved co-operation compared with parental presence (one trial). Children playing hand-held video games before induction were significantly less anxious than controls or premedicated children (one trial). Compared with controls, clown doctors reduced anxiety in children (modified Yale Preoperative Anxiety Scale (mYPAS): mean difference (MD) 30.75 95% CI 15.14 to 46.36; one trial). In children undergoing hypnosis, there was a nonsignificant trend towards reduced anxiety during induction (mYPAS < 24: risk ratio (RR) 0.59 95% CI 0.33 to 1.04 - 39% versus 68%: one trial) compared with midazolam. A low sensory environment improved children's co-operation at induction (RR 0.66, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.95; one trial) and no effect on children's anxiety was found for music therapy (one trial).Parental interventions were assessed in three trials. Children of parents having acupuncture compared with parental sham-acupuncture were less anxious during induction (mYPAS MD 17, 95% CI 3.49 to 30.51) and more children were co-operative (RR 0.63, 95% CI 0.4 to 0.99). Parental anxiety was also significantly reduced in this trial. In two trials, a video viewed preoperatively did not show effects on child or parental outcomes. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: This review shows that the presence of parents during induction of general anaesthesia does not reduce their child's anxiety. Promising non-pharmacological interventions such as parental acupuncture; clown doctors; hypnotherapy; low sensory stimulation; and hand-held video games needs to be investigated further.