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Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Thomas the Tank Engine, The Hobbit, Gulliver’s Travels, Roald Dahl, Harry Potter: Britain’s canon of children’s literature is unrivalled . With such an impressive lineup of heavyweight British children’s stories in the distant and more recent past, you might imagine that Britain would be a warm and welcoming place for travelers with children.
However, as is often the case in Britain, the reality does not quite match what you might imagine from movies and books about the country. In many ways Britain is quite a child-unfriendly society and travelers with children may face difficulties here. The headline-grabbing statistics about Britain in comparison with the rest of Europe: the highest rate of child obesity, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of underage drinking and teenage pregnancies, largest proportion of children in jail, tell part of the story. More extensive studies have also concluded that children in Britain are not having the balanced and healthy childhood enjoyed by children in Britain’s European neighbors.
Nowhere is the famous British reserve more obvious than in the way people respond to children. As you walk with your children around streets and parks, you find that strangers rarely interact with children. Indeed some people go out of their way to avoid them! There is a fairly low tolerance of children’s antics in Britain and children are expected to adjust to the adult world, not the other way around. Some hotels, pubs and restaurants may not welcome younger children, but others are more geared up for children, with child seats and small cutlery etc. You just have to see and ask where other parents go.
The particular problems you might face with children in Britain are:
Toilets: Public toilets are harder and harder to come by. You often have to hijack some shop toilets (risking the ire of the counter staff) or walk miles to the one and only public toilets in the town. Railway and bus stations generally have toilets but they may be locked at weekends or at night.
Steets and cars: Many streets are very busy, and playing outside can be problematic. Residential areas and streets usually have pavements (sidewalks), but people are increasingly using these to park their cars on.
Doctors: If your child is ill you may not be able to get a doctor’s appointment quickly especially at the weekend. In extreme or emergency situations you should go to a hospital and you may also find your local pharmacy can give you helpful advice for everyday illnesses.
Lack of childcare: Britain has spotty childcare provision and it is dramatically more expensive as well.
There are some positive points to mention. There are many excellent museums, geared to provide an imaginative and educational experience for children. There are parks everywhere, even in central London, which are a good place to take a break when the children are tired and irritable. Even small towns have shows for children especially around Christmas or during the summer vacation. And Britain's famously beautiful countryside really is beautiful, with thousands of miles of footpaths to explore.
So in summary, whilst you need not worry about bringing your children to the UK, and there are lots of things to see and do, you should also be prepared for some additional frustrations that you might not face elsewhere.