Au Pairs can reinforce discipline and expectations, but it’s Parents who remain responsible.
Many parents who are either new to parenting at all or new to host parenting specifically struggle with this issue.
We all want our children to be kind. Full stop. (I’m assuming this is true. It’s true, right? We want our kids to be kind.)
We also want our children to treat others with respect as well as with kindness. So a child who hits, punches, gets aggressive, and is generally mean is a kid whose behavior we want to change.
We can ask our au pairs to help our children change their behavior, but we parents have to take responsibility for taking the lead in this.
Host Parents Are Responsible for Addressing Children’s Misbehavior
That means that the host parent has to decide on the strategy for discipline, reinforcement, punishment when necessary, and rewards when appropriate (time outs? corner time? Candy rewards? 1-2-3-Magic?).
The host parent also has to decide on the standards of behavior, standards that fit the expectations of the family, the child’s developmental age and ability, the situations the child will be in, and the other children, adults, and creatures who will be interacting with the child.
(I’m adding creatures because I think that it’s important to teach children to be kind to animals. Sometimes I’ve seen parents teaching children to be kind to an animal as a way to teach them to be kind to any living things. And cats and dogs are so easy to cuddle!)
The host parent has to teach the au pair how to discipline the child, as well as demonstrate this same kind of discipline in her or his interactions with the child too.
Even though we know that kids treat non-parent adults different from their parents, and that parents have additional authority with children that au pairs don’t have, the parent still has to set and demonstrate what’s expected. We cannot expect our au pairs to discipline our children if we won’t.
And, we can’t expect our children to be kind to au pairs unless we parents teach them to be.
I emphasize this because I’ve gotten an email from a host mom who’s child is mean to the au pair, and the mom wants some advice. What’s key in this situation, I think, is that the host mom is new, the au pair is new, and the child is young. Seems like no one really has experience with coordinating discipline.
We are new to hosting an au pair and she has been with us now for 3 weeks. She is a lovely girl, speaks excellent English and we get on really well. We have two young children a 3 year old boy and a 9 month old girl.
The boy is abusing the au pair constantly, pulling her hair, biting, pinching, etc and no matter how much discipline, time out etc we instill on him it continues when he is being looked after by her. We are so worried she is going to leave us because of his behavior.
We’ve had similar instances of poor behavior at nursery, but usually when he is over tired. When it happened in the first week we put it down to excitement and expected it to calm down by now, but its getting worse.
Parents, what would you advise this mom to do regarding discipline?
And everyone, what should the Host Mom discuss with the Au Pair to help sort this out and give the au pair the support she needs?