Detailed records were kept of interactions between nurses, mothers and children at 18 child health clinics run from six centres in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea. The time spent with mother and child was rarely more than two minutes. Family planning advice was given to only one mother and nutrition advice to mothers of one-quarter of the underweight children. Most of the time was spent weighing, examining and treating children. Nurses of these teams clearly give low priority to nutrition and family planning education. This is the result of several factors. These include the way clinics are organized, the structure of the health service and the attitudes and motivation of nurses. One way of promoting the preventive and educational role of clinics would be to make them problem-oriented, focusing on at-risk families rather than individual children. This would help nurses to set goals and to see the rewards of their work.