I’m a little hesitant to write this post, as I know making any sort of commentary about parenting approaches is like opening a gigantic can of worms. So I’ll ask you to be kind and respectful in the comments. I will make some generalizations in this post that I know are not true for every family or every parent. And I realize my thoughts and opinions on parenting are not shared by everyone. I wouldn’t expect that to be the case, and I embrace that. But I thought addressing some of the differences I’ve noticed in parenting styles between the U.S. and Great Britain was an interesting topic, and something I’ve spent a lot of time observing over the past 9 months since moving to England.
- In general, I feel as though British parents seem to be less “helicopter.” This is by and large the biggest difference I’ve noticed, and for the most part I think it’s great. At the playground, in the school yard, even just walking around town, I notice that parents hover much less than American parents. They don’t seem quick to get involved in some of the little squabbles that develop between young children, instead letting the kids sort it out for themselves. And I find parents here to be much more encouraging of children taking risks (but safely!) at places like playgrounds. I think it leads directly to my next observation:
- British children are encouraged to be more independent at an earlier age. At the parent meeting we attended in the summer, during the weeks leading up to our 4-year-old starting school, we were encouraged to make sure our son could cut his own food and dress himself completely on his own. This came as a bit of a shock to us… he hadn’t mastered either skill, and I knew of few kids his age in the U.S. who could do these things at such a young age. But sure enough, he’s picked it up quite quickly and can now do both. He’s now expected to keep track of all his belongings at school, get his homework done, etc. I’ve heard from fellow expats living here with older kids that this will continue on into his school years. I’m excited to see this develop in him, as I think in America we tend to “baby” our children well into their school years (not that there is anything wrong with that either, but it’s been fun to see him come into his own a bit since we moved here).
- British children begin school at a younger age. Yes, school starts at 4 years of age here with reception (roughly equivalent to the U.S. kindergarten, which typically begins at age 5 or 6 in the U.S.). But it’s common to begin placing children in nursery (equivalent to U.S. preschool) as early as 1. Beginning at age 3 in the UK, families are entitled to 15 hours per week of government funded nursery/preschool. In the U.S., some kids don’t set foot in a school setting until PreK (age 4-5), and even then, it’s often only for a few hours each week, as the cost is typically on the shoulders of families.
- Napping seems to be less of a priority here. This is very much anecdotal, just what I’ve noticed on a personal level. In the U.S., I feel as though parents of young children place a big emphasis on napping, and ensuring that young children take a good nap each day. Here, I often notice toddlers out and about in the middle of the afternoon (when my own 2-year-old is sound asleep each day). Toddler groups and classes often meet in the afternoons, whereas in the U.S. those were typically limited to mornings or early evenings. People here are sometimes shocked when I say that my 4-year-old was still regularly napping until he started school this fall. I’m not saying British kids don’t nap, I’m certain that they do. But it just seems less routine here than in the U.S.
- There is a greater emphasis on outdoor play. I’m a huge believer in the benefits of children playing and spending a lot of time outdoors. So I’m glad it’s a priority here as well. Every school we toured prior to moving (both private and public) had a classroom style that allowed a lot of indoor/outdoor movement. My son spends a large portion of his school day outdoors, regardless of weather conditions. In the U.S., outdoor time is often restricted just to recess. Even cultural attractions, like National Trust properties, spend a lot of their resources maintaining and encouraging families to use outdoor spaces, like adventure playgrounds, bike trails, hiking paths, nature workshops, etc.
It’s impossible to articulate an entire country’s parenting philosophy in under 800 words, nor do I know enough about that to do so. That’s definitely not my intention in writing this post. Again, this is just my very unscientific observations regarding some general differences in parenting between the U.S. and the UK.