What the U.S. Can Learn From British-Style Parenting

Brits have uncovered the secret of great parenting! (Photo from the series 'Outnumbered' via BBC)

Brits have uncovered the secret of great parenting! (Photo from the series ‘Outnumbered’ via BBC)

Listen up, Americans! British parents have unwittingly honed a fail-safe formula for moderately/sometimes/probably successful child-rearing…

We assume medical professionals know their stuff
In Britain, doctor knows best, even when they proffer a ludicrous diagnosis or prescribe compression socks for warts. With deference and apathy stitched into our souls, we nod and do as we’re told, and that goes for when some lunatic is treating our kids too. Only when it all goes tits up do we get in a huff and sell our story to the Daily Mail. Most of the time, however, our “Of course, whatever you say, Dr” attitude makes for an easier, less neurotic family life. Conscientious American parents, meanwhile, challenge everything they’re told in the pediatrician’s office, because they’ve read 359 books on every childhood medical condition ever documented, and so they obviously know more than someone with a mere medical degree.

We let them eat (some) cake
Moderation can be a difficult word in American child-rearing. You either have parents who ban sugar — and anything else fun — from their kids’ diets completely, or the ones who think Strive for Five refers to cans of coke. Middle-class British parents generally end up somewhere in the middle. They don’t ram unnecessary sucrose down their tots’ tiny necks but they will, on occasion, give their five-year-old Skittles for lunch because they’re distracted by their toddler, who had a three-hour tantrum after they took away the plug it was chewing.

If our kid swears, we don’t assume we’ve failed as parents
Americans do not like their children to curse. When they do, all manner of unpleasant things happen. Letters are sent home from school; fingers are pointed and the likelihood of the potty-mouth devil child enjoying a successful, happy future is called into question. Also, the sky falls in. In Britain, when your precocious, dimply three-year-old spouts her first “bloody,” parents swell with pride. Because she used it correctly!

Sometimes we need to leave our kids alone, and it’s FINE
Leaving your children to amuse themselves (even if it means them eating multiple Milky Ways and watching TV) while you nurse a hangover or read very important celebrity gossip is entirely reasonable to the average British parent. We assume our kids will still get into university even though they once watched Power Rangers. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of conscientious US parents occasionally “ignore” their infants too. The difference is, deep down, many Americans suspect they’re doing something wrong, and it could have devastating consequences.

What are your top child-rearing tips, Brit expat parents?

See more:
Crazy Baby Names and Five Other U.S. Parenting Trends That’ll Drive You Nuts
Five Things Brits Need to Know About Bringing Up an American Baby
10 Expat Parent Worries and How to Handle Them

Ruth Margolis

Ruth Margolis

Ruth is a British freelance journalist who recently swapped east London for Brooklyn. She writes about TV for Radio Times and is working on her first novel.
View all posts by Ruth Margolis.
  • KeystoneKarla

    The reason why Americans are more skeptical of doctors is because of our well-documented history of the FDA and pharmaceutical industry lying to us for DECADES about the safety and efficacy of drugs and medical procedures. Throw in the highway robbers at the insurance companies who will charge us out the rear for every little test and doctor’s visit, and of course you’ll end up with a large swath of the population questioning whether that procedure, prescription, or test is truly medically necessary (and worth the outrageous bill we’ll have to pay for it).

    • Guest


  • American Mom

    Wow….the whole thing is stereotyping American parenting. Don’t assume everything you see on TV about American families is true. Not to mention, parenting ideas and styles differ in areas of our own country. The “conservative south” is much more likely to swat their (kids) rear ends than the more liberal north. I’m quite certain that on both sides of the pond there differing ideas and styles on parenting. I don’t believe anyone person, culture, or country is perfect.

    • Anonymous

      It’s the BBC stereotyping is what they do best

  • Leah

    I agree with everything but the first one. While I do generally think doctors know their stuff and I listen when it comes to medical diagnoses, I take a lot of what my pediatrician says with a grain of salt. By that, I mean he basically says things like since my son wasn’t potty trained before he was two he won’t go to college or if my son watches any TV at all he’s more likely to have poor grades when he’s in school.

  • Eric Andrews

    Lol, I don’t take offense to any of that. I know people who are every single one of those

  • annefrank

    Well, yeah, Brits know how to bring up children :) Although, the situation of Americans isn’t that grave, there are people there as well, who know how to do parenting well, these are only stereotypes listed. Anyway, Brits, keep on being British!

  • PauperPrincess

    I agree with all of your points EXCEPT the doctor one. Maybe the UK having a national health service makes the difference, but here, many doctors are driven by $$, plus some are just lazy. I had a situation once where my mom was very sick and I had taken her to the ER. Long story short, she was in a bad way, and the ER doctor wanted us to take her home, she wasn’t worth admitting. I fought for a second opinion, and she was admitted by the second doctor, and was in the hospital for a week. So, no, doctors don’t know everything, and I take very little at face value from ANYONE.

  • Mrs Baum

    As a Brit, I’m really not impressed with the majority of British parenting! That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good parents, but there are far too many “helicopter parents” (always hovering), and plenty that don’t seem to understand that you have to positively train children to do what you want them to, not assume that they’ll somehow learn the good things by osmosis. You have to have firm boundaries, be calm and consistent, have both positive consequences for obedience and negative ones for disobedience. Have high standards but have fun too. It’s really not rocket science.

    I can’t really comment on American parenting, except to say that the few American parents I’ve known well-ish have been really good. The only thing I find hard to cope with is the over-praising. Eg “Good job! You did so great!” when the kid has just done up his shoes or something. It seems a bit over the top. I’d just say “Good, well done; now let’s go and do x…” and save the mega praise for when it’s actually something genuinely great.

  • Someone

    I swear all the British ones are wrong! Excuse me, but no one, British or not, would dare to be “proud” because their child swore! Oh, they used it correctly?! I am sorry but that’s just absolutely wrong. And for your information, I have yet to meet one British parent or child who accepts and likes the feedback they received from a fellow GP. Not. One.
    And I’m not even going to go on about how stereotypical the american parenting is! I could rant about more failures in this post, but I don’t want to waste even more time.

  • GDB

    If the children I encounter on Xbox Live in the early US mornings are to be any measuring stick, you’re not doing much better than Americans are at teaching them appropriate use of language in the least. They’re just as likely to spout homophobic and racial slurs as loud as their developing diaphragms can expel them.

  • Irené Colthurst

    So, I was not and am not the only American whose parents raised them through the use of liberal amounts of benign neglect. And mine tended towards the . helicopter end of things. Had to, even though they implicitly trust doctors.

    One point to keep in mind is how much of this is generational cultural change on both sides of the Atlantic. Both societies have changed enormously because of their immediate postwar generation’s changing of how things were done.

  • lindsey

    My mom and grandmom are guilty of not trusting doctor’s and self-diagnosing. They’re always reading medical books and health books. Then when there is something wrong they go through all the possibilities trying to figure out what’s wrong instead of making an appointment to see a doctor/specialist.
    Though, I don’t think there should be 100% blind trust in medical professionals. I saw one doctor who prescribed 300mg of a medication and wanted to increase it even further, then later saw another who said she would never prescribe that high of a dosage and weened me off.