What’s the Best Way to Instruct Your Au Pair?

by cv harquail on August 28, 2015

“Blah blah blah blah blah.”

There must be hundreds of Au Pairs out there who can appreciate this FarSide cartoon by Gary Larsen.**

gary-larson-far-side-cartoon-what-we-say-to-dogs-blah-blah-gingerA Host Parent’s constant instruction can quickly become just background noise. Possibly interesting, possibly important, but rarely punctuated by anything that grabs your attention.

And we Host Parents have SO much to say, especially when an Au Pair is new to our family.

“To use the dishwasher, set it on regular unless the dishes are sticky, then use Heavy Duty but only if you take the wineglasses off the top shelf and make sure to put the bottle caps and covers in that little plastic compartment next to the knives, which should ALWAYS be put in ‘point down’. Right? Easy peasy.

When you have a lot to tell your Au Pair and even more to *teach* him or her, the best way is to limit the amount you talk.

Shocking, but true.

The less you say the better.

Use this simple process:

1.  Prioritize the one or two most important things about the situation you’re discussing  (e.g., the knives, which cycle).

2.  Say it once, with words that are two syllables or less.  

“Knife points down.” “Regular Cycle.”

3. Say it in one or two sentences. Sentences with no clauses.  

“Always point the knives down.  Use the regular cycle.”

4. Demonstrate the desired actions.  

Put a knife in the dishwasher, point down.  Close the door and put your index finger on the Regular Cycle button.

Then, mix it up with my own crazy  step 5:  

5. Demonstrate the wrong way. 

Yep, go ahead and put that steak knife point UP. Then demonstrate what it might look like if a hand reached into the dishwasher and got speared by the knife point.

Finally, encourage your Au Pair to take Step 6 him or herself….

6. Have the learner demonstrate the action for the teacher. 

Hand the knife to your Au Pair and watch your Au Pair put it into the dishwasher point …. down.

This strategy of Tell, Show, and Turn It Over works best for Au Pair tasks that can be demonstrated. Obviously.  ( It can be fun, though, to try to demonstrate (act out, mime, etc.) things that seem less demonstrable.)

The 6-Step Process works best when you have a definitive way of doing things.  

If you don’t have a preference for how the knives should go in, that’s fine.  But in most cases, it works best to be definitive.

Why? Because people need to know WHAT to do, not that “something” needs to be done.

Bonus:  Many Au Pair will appreciate knowing how you like things done because they want you to be happy with their work. You actually make it EASIER for them if you have a way of doing things and if you show this to them.

Everything in moderation — Certainly, do make distinctions between things that MUST be done a certain way (e.g., putting a child into the car seat) vs. things where you show them a way but it really isn’t a priority. (Nothing horrible will happen to those dishes from Ikea if your dishwasher is on Heavy Duty for the first three weeks of your Au Pair’s life in your home.)

Have you found any tricks for feeling less like a drone when giving instructions?  



**NOT that any of our au pairs are like new puppies who need to be scolded.


In a world where most AuPair-Host Parent relationships are just “fine”, are those of us who’ve had terrific Au Pairs simply lucky?

Or have we forgotten the hard parts –as we’ve forgotten the pain of childbirth, or the sleepless nights of new parenthood– and just held on tightly to the good?

8569015920_a9dffccf17_mTruth be told, I’ve erased lots of the petty annoyances from my memory.

I’ve forgotten my own short temper, my chronic disappointments, and my own awkwardnesses. I’ve forgotten the scratches on the car, the using of my favorite coffee mug, the clomping up the stairs to the third floor.

Or wait, maybe I haven’t forgotten them. Maybe I’ve pumped up the happy memories so that these have ultimately overshadowed the constant grind of Host Parenthood?

The disappointment in this Host Dad’s email, below, rang true to me.

How many times did I start off promising to be my ‘very best host mom’? To let the dumb things slide? To focus on the good?

To play the year like a DJ at a dance party, pumping up the beat till everyone in the room was having fun?

Is there any way to change the arc of the Au Pair year, so that there’s a better chance of a truly *happy* ending?

The HostDad writes:

It always seems to happen this way:

We start off great. But after about six months (and a few times even earlier), our relationship with our Au Pair seems to falter.  Towards the last month or two they grow distant. They start counting the days until the end. And everyone is relieved to say goodbye. A week later, we’re making a fresh start, welcoming a new Au Pair into our home.

Sometimes I think the whole experience is doomed from the start.     [click to continue reading ...]


For Bothered Host Mom, things started out fine.
Then, oops, turns out her au pair wasn’t who she thought she’d be. Now what?


Our Au Pair was great — in the beginning.

We treated her like a friend and family member, gave her lots of gifts, took her to Vegas for her birthday.

She does a great job with the kids. There’s nothing abut her care of the children that concerns me.

However, as I’ve gotten to know our Au Pair, the more I started seeing that her values are very different from our family’s values.

She was on tinder and got a boyfriend. That’s when everything went south.

She does her job but she goes out every night. She doesn’t always respect the curfew of being home by 11:30.

She is not allowed to use our car anymore because at one point she drove the car at 94mph.

I found out that she can’t be trusted, she has lied to us about reasons she needs to borrow the car.

Now the boyfriend comes and picks her up every might. We’ve refused to meet the boyfriend or to introduce him to the kids. He’s not the kind of guy we want around our house.

We had 2 conversations about the car, how we wanted her to respect the curfew, how we enjoyed when she was a part of our family.

We saw her going from being a responsible adult who had lots of flexibility,privileges and freedom to acting like a bratty teenager and doing stupid stuff after she met this guy.

I feel like she doesn’t care about our family anymore. We are just being taken advantage of. She has no problem or shame in asking for anything that she needs.

Her presence in the house bothers me.    [click to continue reading ...]


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au pair problems

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