The evolution of biological signalling in the face of evolutionary conflicts of interest is an active area of evolutionary ecology, and one to which Maynard Smith has made important contributions. We explore the major theoretical challenges in the field, concentrating largely on how offspring signal to their parents when there is the potential for parent–offspring conflict. Costly offspring solicitation (begging etc.) has been interpreted in terms of a Zahavi–Grafen honest handicap signal, but this has been challenged on the grounds of the costs of signalling. We review this controversy and also explore the issue of pooling versus separating signalling equilibrium. An alternative explanation for costly begging is that it is due to sibling competition, and we discuss the relationship between these ideas and signalling models in families with more than one offspring. Finally we consider signal uncertainty, how signalling models can be made dynamic, and briefly how they may be tested experimentally.