Working and living in the same environment can be challenging. As an au pair, not only is she working and living in the same environment but it is an unfamiliar environment. It also is an unfamiliar country and household with rules and a lot of responsibility she will be undertaking quickly. Your au pair has a lot to learn. Please be mindful of these common issues that au pairs struggle with in their first month. As time passes and your au pair is lovingly welcomed into her new home and role, these issues will begin to fade.
- Be clear when your au pair is off-duty and on-duty. When your au pair is off-duty make sure she knows that she is welcome to sit on the couch and turn on the television or to lend a helping hand in the kitchen or to just “hang out.” After a long day on-duty, your au pair may just want to spend time alone in her room for a while. Be sure to talk about open and closed doors as this has different meanings in the different cultures. In some cultures, it is normal to keep the door closed, maybe to keep the room warm, but it doesn’t always mean they want to be alone.
- Au Pairs feel awkward asking for things. Be sensitive to her request and make sure you have been very clear on your household rules and expectations. Be welcoming and open to conversation to allow her to feel more comfortable coming to you.
- Adapting to different food and not having your favorite food item available. Invite your au pair to share and cook her favorite meals with your family. Encourage her to cook if she enjoys it. Be sure to ask your au pair what things to put on the grocery list. Be sure to distinguish between everyday foods and special food. Special things, like a certain type of cheese, may be something your au pair can purchase since it will not be used by the whole family. There are several imported items that are expensive here but very cheap in the au pair’s home country. It would be best to take your au pair with you to the grocery store so that she understands the cost of that item and perhaps be open to switching it out or trying something new.
Rules of thumb regarding food:
- If your au pair has certain items that she will be buying, be sure to have a place in the kitchen cabinet where it is clearly marked and understood that this is her food.
- You do need to allow some purchases just for your au pair. There may be certain things only she would eat, but you need to make sure that your au pair feels welcome too. There are certainly things purchased for the kids or for the host dad that no one else eats.
- Be sure to mark food that may be off limits, such as the cookies that were made for the kid’s play date tomorrow, or the expensive chocolate bought for an upcoming holiday.
- Make sure your au pair knows that her room is her own space. Allow your au pair to settle into her room with her personal belongings. Bringing photos from home or small items from home can make her feel more comfortable. If you don’t want anything hung up on the walls be sure to let your au pair know.
- Not always sure when to join you or not to join. Encourage your au pair to participate in family games and conversation. Ask your au pair questions about her family and show interest in her culture. Maybe ask her to teach your family a fun game her family plays.
Your relationship with your au pair is very important. As with any relationship, good communication is the key to working out problems and to making sure that you, your child, and your au pair are satisfied and thriving as a family.
Establishing a relationship
- How you communicate with your au pair from the beginning will set the tone for the relationship. You can show your au pair from the beginning that you care about and value her opinion and desire to get to know her.
- It is important to help your au pair get to know each of your children. You can begin by describing each of your children’s personality. Is this child shy or outgoing? Does this child prefer to play one-on-one? This will help your au pair begin to understand and be sensitive to that child’s needs.
- Share with your au pair what each of your child’s likes and dislikes are. What does your child like to eat or won’t like to eat? When your child takes a nap, does she have a favorite stuffed animal she must sleep with? Show your au pair how to operate the baby monitor. How do you properly raise and lower the sides of the crib? Share the routine for each child and what details help make it go more smoothly.
- Make sure you talk about what to do if your child is sick. Do you want to be called immediately? Have you given your au pair the name of the doctor’s office, phone number and address? Have these phone numbers been programmed into your au pair’s cell phone? What medication do you want your au pair to give and how much?
What are the child safety rules?
- What are the rules at home? What is off limits for your child to be playing with? Do your children have any food allergies? How do you prepare the child’s formula and food? How do you want your au pair to change the baby’s diaper? Is there a certain cream you want your au pair to use? Mention that baby’s wiggle and can roll. Don’t leave the baby on the changing table or on a bed unattended. Where are, the children allowed to play outside? Where are the children’s safety helmets for when they ride their bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc?
- What are the rules away from home? How does the car seat work? Is the car seat removable? Must the children hold your au pair’s hand when crossing the street? Are there certain neighbors your children can or cannot play with? How do you fold and unfold the stroller? Do you allow play dates with other au pairs and their host children? Are there restrictions as to where your au pair can go, when and for how long?
- How do you want the children dressed when going outside? Which outfits are preferable for this time of year? Where can your au pair find clothes in case of unseasonable temperatures or rainy days? Where is the children’s clothing kept?
- There is a lot to talk about in the first few weeks upon your au pair’s arrival to her new home with you. If your au pair is not a native English speaker she may have trouble understanding you and vice versa. Be sure to speak slowly. If you aren’t sure that your au pair understands you, ask her to repeat back what you’ve said. It is important that there isn’t miscommunication. Your au pair may be nodding her head, but not fully understand what is being asked of her. As the weeks go on, it will become much easier. Try to be patient, laugh and maintain a good sense of humor.
- To know how things are going each day it is important to have ongoing communication.
- Address small problems before they become big ones. Don’t let things build up to the point where you’re very angry before you talk.
- Schedule a weekly meeting to go over the week and to review expectations or changes to the next week’s schedule. Have a schedule written and displayed where everyone can see it. Set up a communication area where notes can be taken that need to be discussed, questions that come up during the day when you are away, or concerns about the children or a situation, etc.
- Use a positive, problem solving approach. During your ongoing or scheduled weekly meetings discuss any issues in a non-negative way. Try to describe the behavior or issue in a neutral way. Then ask for ideas about what may be causing the problem and come up with suggestions together to help resolve the issue.
- Provide on-going feedback to your au pair. Be positive and encouraging.
Show your appreciation towards each other. Your au pair and you are both working hard. It is important to be respectful to each other. As a host parent, you can thank your au pair at the end of each day for doing a great job caring for your children. If it has been an especially long and trying week with sick kids, you may want to give her a special extra something. Hand written notes or cards can go a long way too. I believe that if your au pair feels appreciated for all that she is doing she will want to go above and beyond.
Friday, 27 January 2017 9:00 AM