The participation of children and young people in decisions that affect them is now mainstream in social and public policy in the UK. Yet for many young people formal participation opportunities are abstracted from everyday lives and concerns. Children may not feel empowered despite the existence of formal structures for participation. This raises questions about how ‘spaces’ for participation are constructed. This paper critiques prevailing models of participation in formal structures and instead, argues for the need to rethink children's participation as a more diverse set of social processes rooted in everyday environments and interactions.