A generation ago, children with arthritis faced a lifetime of pain and disability. Today, there are a multitude of treatment options, including a variety of biologics targeting key cytokines and other inflammatory mediators. While non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids were once the mainstay of therapy, they are now largely used as bridge or adjunctive therapies. Among the conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, methotrexate remains first-line therapy for most children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) due to its long track record of safety and effectiveness in the management of peripheral arthritis. Sulfasalazine and leflunomide may also have a secondary role. The tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (TNFi) have shown tremendous benefit in children with polyarticular JIA and likely in enthesitis-related arthritis and psoriatic JIA as well. There may be additional benefit in combining TNFi with methotrexate. Abatacept and tocilizumab also appear to benefit polyarticular JIA; the role of rituximab remains unclear. For the treatment of systemic JIA, while the TNFi are of less benefit, blockade of interleukin-1 or interleukin-6 is highly effective. Additionally, interleukin-1 blockade appears to be effective treatment of macrophage activation syndrome, one of the most dangerous complications of JIA; specifically, anakinra in combination with cyclosporine and corticosteroids may obviate the need for cytotoxic approaches. In contrast, methotrexate along with the TNFi and abatacept are effective agents for the management of uveitis, another complication of JIA. Overall, the biologics have demonstrated an impressive safety record in children with JIA, although children do need to be monitored for rare but potentially dangerous adverse events, such as tuberculosis and other infections; paradoxical development of additional autoimmune diseases; and possibly an increased risk of malignancy. Finally, there may be a window of opportunity during which children with JIA will demonstrate most optimal responses to aggressive therapy, underscoring the need for rapid diagnosis and initiation of treatment. © 2014 Stoll and Cron; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.