Coughs and colds are seldom associated with serious diseases or complications, but they frequently cause patient discomfort, prompting many telephone calls and visits to hospitals and physicians' offices. Parents often harbor misconceptions regarding the etiology, diagnosis, and management of these conditions, leading to inappropriate treatment and home "remedies." The pitfalls associated with treating coughs and colds can be minimized when the physician takes time to educate patients and parents. Education should be anticipatory, reassuring, and unrushed. Adequate communication requires practice and thought. Good techniques include asking open-ended, nonthreaternng questions and avoiding the use of jargon. Parents must be asked about their understanding of and fears concerning coughs and colds. Education must include repetition, with feedback and rewards by someone who believes in the vlaue of education and transfers this belief to patients and parents. Effective patient education in the treatment of coughs and colds may be achieved by adopting the above common-sense techniques.