This study assessed the relative efficacy of two imagery-based attentional strategies for modifying pain experience in children. Children aged 7-14 years ( n = 120) were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: distraction, sensory-focussing or control (no imagery). The distraction condition prompted children to focus their attention externally; the sensory-focussing condition prompted the child to focus internally on physical sensations. Self-report measures of pain coping style preferences and imagery ability were completed. Children's pain tolerance and perceptions of pain intensity were assessed using a 10 °C cold-pressor task. Results showed pain intensity ratings after 1 min were lower for both intervention conditions than for the controls. Younger children (7-9 years) showed higher pain tolerance in the distraction condition than in the sensory-focussing condition, whereas both interventions were equally effective for older children (10-14 years). Among older children, coping style interacted with the intervention type: in the sensory-focussing condition, pain tolerance was negatively associated with self-reported distraction-based coping style, whereas in the distraction condition this association was positive. The results are interpreted with reference to current models of attention. The implications for use of attentional strategies in helping children to cope with clinical pain are discussed. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.