5 Key Strategies For Building A Strong Relationship With Your Au Pair

by cv harquail on November 8, 2012

Dear AuPairMom Readers–

I need your advice for summarizing host parent wisdom.

Next Tuesday night, I’m scheduled to give a talk at The Modern Village, a parenting workshop series, about being an effective Host Parent.

Back when I agreed to give the talk, I was sure I’d have a lot of ideas to share with the participants. Now as the time draws nearer, I’m overwhelmed by ideas. I need some help selecting the “most important” strategies from all the wisdom that gets shared in our AuPairMom community.

awesome takes practice.jpegWill you help me figure out where to focus?

The talk is titled “5 Key Strategies and 1 Secret Insight for Building Strong Relationships with Au Pairs“. The idea is that while the workshop will focus on Au Pairs, the insights will be relevant and useful for parents with babysitters and nannies too.

When you think about the advice you’d give to new host parents, what are the top two or three strategies you’d recommend? They could be things like these, which I literally just pulled out of the air:

  1. Understand the balance between employee & family member. Start with ’employee’ expectations and grow into a family member relationship.
  2. Write a handbook. Make sure s/he reads it. Make sure you follow it.
  3. Be firm in your principles, and flexible about the tactics.
  4. Start by being explicit, and relax as your caregiver shows s/he understands what you need.
  5. Build systems that help to maintain themselves (e.g., a log book, a morning routine, a list on the diaper bag, a weekly schedule)
  6. Help your caregiver build a strong relationship with your kids, by (giving her /him meaningful work, not getting in the way, not correcting her in front of them, giving her some training in your model of discipline)
What do you recommend that I tell these host parents, based on your experience, hindsight & insight?  
Please let me know, below.    And of course, many thanks in advance.

(p.s. The “1 Secret Insight” I already have down– and I’m not going to mention it here in case any of the attendees look at the blog beforehand. Gotta keep the surprise.)

(p.p.s I’ll be sure to post a summary of the talk next week. )

See also:

5 Secrets of Good Au Pair Host Parents

How has being an au pair Host Parent changed you?
Realizing you aren’t ready to be Au Pair host parents? And you have an Au Pair?
A Good Au Pair Relationship Requires Your Emotional Investment
Share One Bit of Advice for a New Host Parent


Should be working November 8, 2012 at 5:08 pm

CV, wish I could attend this talk!

I think #1 and #4 are pretty much the same thing.

There are so many other good main principles I have learned on this blog, not all of which are transferable to nannies:

1. Hire for attitude, train for skill

2. Have weekly meetings

3. Say thank you, sincerely and frequently (if merited)

4. If things aren’t going well, don’t give up until you have tried communicating more clearly and directly what you need.

5. Then if that doesn’t work, give up. Move on. Most people who have moved on think that they waited too long.

6. Read this blog and become part of the conversation. It will make you a better HP and possibly a better manager at work and even a better parent.

Should be working November 8, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Addendum to #5: If having tried more direct communication, you feel frustrated, preoccupied, disappointed with your au pair, listen to your gut.

JJ Host Mom November 8, 2012 at 7:56 pm

If I had to pick five, they would be:
1) Choose well. Not every au pair candidate is actually up to the job, so take the time to find one who is.
2) Set expectations early. Don’t treat the au pair like a guest at first because the first few days set the tone for the rest of the year.
3) If things are working, show your appreciation and let your au pair know how much s/he means to you.
4) If things aren’t working, try to fix them for a limited amount of time, but if you can’t, don’t be afraid to rematch.
5) Make sure you both benefit from the cultural exchange and extended-family aspects of the au pair/host family relationship, in addition to just childcare.

Posie November 9, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I don’t know that I have 5…but my biggest one is about expectations. I feel like most of the tension and upset in relationships is caused by misalighned expectations, so…

1. Start setting expectations from your first communications with your potential APs and reinforce them all along the way. “We expect that you will take your job as the caregiver of our children” “we expect that you will be responsible with the car” “we expect that you will be the third adult in our home and will pick up after yourself” etc. AND “you can expect that we will listen to you and help you if you have a problem with your job” and “you can expect that we will support you in having a great year here” and “you can expect a set schedule a week in advance but expect you to be flexible with us when absolutely necessary for schedule changes”

The last part of our AP manual is actually a list of expectations but we communicate them constantly throughout our screening process…

Taking a Computer Lunch November 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm

1. Communication is the key to any successful relationship – sit down at the table when the kids have gone to bed, and have a chat. Don’t wait for things to come to a head. Do your best not to chastise your au pair in front of the kids, unless one of their lives is in danger!

2. Treat your au pair fairly. Treat your au pair as you would prefer your own supervisor to treat you – schedule her hours in advance and apologize when you need to change them. Be fair about hours, and be as flexible with her as you require her to be with you.

3. Set the example for your au pair. Don’t ask her to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself. When you break your rules for her and she questions you, explain yourself.

4. Au pairs who have had real work experience are far less likely to chafe at regular work hours than those who have recently graduated from high school with a few hours of babysitting experience. Au pairs who have taken courses that relate to teaching, childcare, or that focus on children will have a natural inclination that is worth its weight in gold.

5. Expect that you will spend 4 weeks training your au pair. If it takes less time, fantastic, but don’t expect that she’ll pick everything up in 3 days of training after she arrives at your home.

OB Mom November 14, 2012 at 10:01 pm

1) Communicate in multiple ways
a) write it down (start by writing down everything and then back off as they become proficient). Remember that they are listening to a foreign language and probably only understand 70% (at best)
b) talk to them about a lot of things. Expectations, the kids, activities and plan on repeating things multiple times. Remember that they probably only understand 70%
c) listen to them. Make them feel comfortable to talk with you about everything. Have them tell you about their friends and family. Their experiences at the training school. As time goes on, about their AP friends and any challenges they may have. Feelings their friends are having. Eventually they will even tell you how cool your kids are!

2) Have high expectations. Make sure the list is attended to each day. As CV comments, it is easier to loosen up then tighten up.

3) Be fair … I concur with TACL’s #2. If you outline the plans/schedule then if you have to break occasionally it is much better accepted.

4) Define roles and responsibilities. Who is in charge when both of you are in the house? Most failed AP situations I have learned about through my APs are when the parents work in the home. It sounds like the APs are uncomfortable taking charge or their positions are undermined when other parents are home. Tell your kids to go ask the AP, not you (they need to know who is in charge too!). And NEVER NEVER tell the kids that the APs choice was wrong. Support them and then follow up with the AP after the kids are in bed …”I would have preferred if you did …” (assuming that the first choice was not actually dangerous).

5) Remember the golden rule of management … Manage someone else the way they need to be managed, not the way you want to be managed. Understand their strengths/weaknesses and manage appropriately. That will all go back to #1 … communicate.

JJ Host Mom November 14, 2012 at 11:43 pm

#5 is a really good one. Thanks for the reminder, OB Mom.

Should be working November 15, 2012 at 7:50 pm

I’m not in management, so I’ve never heard #5. It is really good. But how do you KNOW how someone needs to be managed? I mean, how do you discern that and figure out what style would meet that need?

Au Pairs in Australia November 14, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I agree with Posie, the most important for me has been different expectations, is important to speak about them at the beginning to ensure we are with the right person and she is with the right family

SandyKassia November 21, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Is there a facebook group for host families?
I sometimes have pressing questions and nowhere to answer

Anonamomma November 22, 2012 at 4:33 am

You can ask them here – generally – this is my FB! and this is where I go to for guidance because most of the posters here are so experienced and share that knowledge in a very positive way.

Best of luck

Carmen December 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm

hi! i’ve been reading this site for a few months, and now i decided to apply to the au pair program, but i’m scared my HF won’t like me, i do like kids i really like to talk with them, watch movies, but i’m not super FUN, and i don’t know what do you expect from an au pair, but i am responsable and really patient with kids

anonamomma December 5, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Hey Carmen,

Just one bit of advice – be honest – no matter what be honest – some HFs like myself are not super fun either.

The most important thing when matching/interviewing is to get a good fit with the family. This must be on a personal level and also on a lifestyle level.

Do not pretend to be a superfit outdoor loving girl scout if that’s not you – chances are you will end up with a family who is looking for exactly that and will not be happy to have been deceived. Your life will be miserable and what’s worse is you will have taken that family off the market for their perfect match. They will not thank you for the deception either.

Different families have different needs, for instance if a family has a young baby (6 months to 1 year) then you will be spending a whole heap of time indoors – babies sleep (a lot) and this would drive little miss superfit girlscout nuts, but that same family might be a perfect fit for a bookworm or someone who is happy doing crafts etc. Meanwhile miss super fit girl scout would be a brilliant fit for a family with young boys (or girls!) – that’s where high energy really becomes important.

There is no one size fits all – that’s the beauty of the programme. It is quite literally what you make of it – attitude is everything..

In my family letter I state that we are “normal” and by that I mean we have good weeks when we goes for walks, climb mountains (quite literally!), go to shows, etc but then we have not so good weeks when we all we have the energy to do is get a few movies and laze on the couch……

What’s wonderful about our match is our AP is right beside us at all times whether it’s on top of the mountain or next to me snuggled up on the couch..

Pretty cool huh!…

Mom Of 2 Cool Kids December 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm


My family is laid back and pretty mellow. Since we are not super high energy people, I avoid au pairs who come across that way.

It would be difficult for us to live with someone who was bouncing around the house all day because they would become the center of attention. I’ve seen au apair applications and videos when I could tell they had the wrong personality for us.

We have been successful with quiet, laid back, but still very fun au pairs.

So as everyone else has stated, be honest about yourself and the know the environment that you will be happy living in for a year.

apnewbie December 5, 2012 at 12:34 am

Good luck Carmen! I’m not that experienced, but if you’re honest about the age groups you’re best with and what you enjoy doing I think that’s half the battle. Everyone has a different personality and you’ll find a family that fits yours. Don’t pretend to be super fun just to match quickly and you will get a family that knows what to expect with you.

Au Pairs in Australia May 30, 2013 at 3:07 am

They are great ideas, the most important for me is to be clear that she is not an employee but a family member and do our best to help her to avoid homesick by making her part of our activities, there are some other useful ideas about The au pairs arrival to consider

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