Expats Children Guide
In general, Beijing is a very safe city for its size and population. Families will find that they can bring their children almost anywhere and they will be welcomed. Unlike some other places in the world, restaurants, shopping venues, and parks are all kid-friendly here. Many restaurants have small play areas and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one without booster seats or high chairs available, especially in western restaurants (even the fancy ones). The Chinese are especially fond of children and waitstaff at eateries will often treat kids with special attention. Shopping complexes usually have dedicated children’s retail sections that also include playgrounds and play areas. Beijing parks have play equipment and sometimes even mini-amusement parks for young kids which include ball pits, bouncy castles, and the like.
For those that live in housing complexes in the suburbs of Shunyi, there are sidewalks and playgrounds for children to enjoy. For those that live in apartment complexes in the city, there is usually a garden area as well as play equipment for children within the complex as well.
If both parents work outside the home, children are often tended to by “ayis” (household helpers) who are employed to cook, clean and babysit. Some families have live-in ayis and some employ them during the day to watch the kids, take them to school, etc. It is very common and very affordable to get help with children in Beijing, freeing up mom and dad’s time immensely. Ayi also ends up being a Chinese-language teacher to kids and parents. Some families find that their children pick up Chinese without even going to school because of the time they spend with their ayi. Many families find this aspect of living in Beijing to be one of the greatest perks.
Due to Beijing’s unfavorable air quality (though much improved since the Olympics), international schools often have weather policies that forbid playing outside when the pollution index is too high. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Some families attribute their children’s asthma and breathing problems to poor air and many invest in expensive air purifiers for their home and keep their kids in on bad days.
Another challenge in Beijing is finding nice facilities for children to have organized activities, outside of a school setting. There are casual playgroups formed by friends and acquaintances, but few dedicated places where parents can meet each other regularly. For example, parents are often hard-pressed to find a place to hold kids’ birthday parties if they did not want to throw a party at home.
Speaking of school, the one down-side to having children in Beijing is the extremely high cost of international school education. Unless an employer helps with the tuition, families often struggle with the “education question” here.