According to Article 3(1) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the best interests of the child have to be a primary consideration in all cases concerning children. The Committee on the Rights of the Child understands Article 3(1) as a ‘threefold concept’: a substantive right, an interpretive principle and a rule of procedure. This article argues that the provision is best understood as a procedural obligation. Understanding Article 3(1) as a procedural obligation remedies key problems that originate from interpreting the provision as a substantive right. A significant strength of the procedural approach is that it can be consistently applied in different case groups. This article illustrates the argument with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights related to children, in which the article detects three layers of a procedural approach to the best interests of the child.