There is increasing interest in the public health sector in the health-related quality of life (HRQL) of healthy children. However, most HRQL instruments are developed for children with a chronic illness. In addition, existing questionnaires are mostly based on expert opinion about what constitutes HRQL and the opinions and views of healthy children are seldom included. In the European project KIDSCREEN, a generic questionnaire was developed for children between the ages of 8 and 18 on the basis of children's opinions about what constitutes HRQL. Focus group discussions were organised in six European countries to explore the HRQL as perceived by children. There were six groups in each country, stratified by gender and age. The age groups were 8-9 years, 12-13 years, and 16-17 years, with 4-8 children in each group. Experienced moderators guided the discussions. The full discussions were audiotaped, transcribed and content-analysed. The discussions went smoothly, with much lively debate. For the youngest group, the most important aspect of their HRQL was family functioning. For both younger and older adolescents, social functioning, including the relationship with peers, was most important. Children in all groups considered physical and cognitive functioning to be less important than social functioning. These key findings were taken into account when designing the KIDSCREEN HRQL questionnaire for healthy children and adolescents, with more emphasis being placed on drawing up valid scales for family and social functioning. In addition, items were constructed using the language and lay-out preferred by the youngsters themselves. We conclude that focus groups are a useful way of exploring children's views of HRQL, showing that an emphasis should be placed on constructing valid social and family scales. © 2006 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.