Dear Au Pair Mom readers–
Our au pair has been with us for 1 1/2 months. She’s 19, Italian, and speaks excellent English. She cares for our daughter while I work part-time the house, part-time out.
The problem is that our daughter, who is about to turn 4, is having a hard time with this au pair. I know it can be typical around age 4 for a child to have some tantrums, occasionally kicking or striking out (not hard, but she’s clearly trying to make a point). She’s yelling a lot more–all normal, but difficult.
Our newest au pair really wants to be a part of the family, she refers to herself as a big sister, she wants the long-term relationship that we want as well. However, she argues with our daughter so much that it’s driving me insane.
Our last au pair was with us for 3 months and went home homesick after 7 months in the US. Our daughter and previous au pair, who was very calm, got along really well. We didn’t have these problems.
When I work at home I can often hear them bickering, often with yelling on both sides.
The au pair has very little patience for our daughter. Culturally, I understand that this au pair is a little feistier, and more prone to stronger reactions, and more dramatic behaviors. But, I really can’t continue to hear the bickering.
My daughter and our au pair do have moments of love and affection –hugging, reading, giggling, etc. And, my husband and I like this au pair. We’d like her to stay with us until the fall.
My husband and I are struggling to deal with this stage in our daughter’s life and are trying hard to be good examples, but we are often falling short too. We’ve talked to the au pair about needing to demonstrate a little more patience than she has. We are also clear with our daughter that hurting anyone is not allowed. She has gotten time outs or “sit downs” with mom or dad to talk about why it’s not okay. It’s natural, though not easy, for a strong-willed 3 year old to act this way. I do recognize how hard this is, the au pair has to act like an adult and not yell back at the child.
I’d really appreciate any advice on what we can do for both au pair and child. Thanks! Julie
Dear Julie –
What a challenge- a child going through an emotional time, an au pair with a feisty personality, and parents who are doing their best and haven’t yet found an effective strategy! Your situation reminds me how hard it can be to continue to adjust— not only with each au pair, but as each child grows. Kids and their needs are a moving target– what works this month might not work next month, and it keeps us parents on our toes.
Many moving pieces
It seems to me that you are looking at many of the important moving pieces, and considering how all three partners (parents, child, au pair) might adjust to create a calmer and stronger relationship. All three of you have things to learn and to try.
Certainly, though, it’s your au pair who is going to bear the brunt of the changing– she is the one in direct conflict with the child and the child isn’t mature enough (obviously) to fix the situation herself. Your daughter needs to be taught how to manage her emotions in an age appropriate way, and your au pair needs to be a key person in teaching her that. And, at the same time, your au pair needs to learn how you and your DH want this situations handled and what you and your DH want your child to be taught.
When you mentioned the ’emotionality’ element, my thoughts went directly to the book “How to talk so kids will listen“, which is one of my parenting bibles. One of the many things that I found useful about their advice was the way they recommend that we (adults) detach emotion from our responses to kids, and in this way not only model appropriate conversation but also disengage from the emotional drama ourselves.
[[This is also the advice of my other favorite toddler-8 yr old book “1-2-3 Magic”.]]
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen
One thing that you might try is getting two copies of this book, highlighting relevant sections and asking your au pair to follow their strategies with you. You each get a copy of the book to read, highlight, refer to. This tactic has the advantage of getting all the adults on the same page– literally– for consistency in handling things with your daughter. We all know, consistency is key to teaching kids what kinds of behavior we want in our families.
Plus, the book explains “why” the tactics work– from an ‘expert’ perspective that makes it less about you and your spouse and more about ‘what’s been shown to work’. Sure, the book is culturally-bound, and very American. But that’s okay if the values of the authors fit with the values of you and your spouse.
Discuss your family vision
Another big picture approach is to talk with your au pair not about her personal reactions, or the the 1:1 relationship you want her to have with your daughter, but about the kind of climate you want in your home. Saying things like “We want to create a home where disagreements are handled with love and patience” sets everyone on the same goal without putting anyone in particular on the spot.
Also, these big goals leave some room for each of us to devise our own personal tactics. Your au pair could follow the “How to talk” advice along with you… plus she could come up with her own, proactive, positive ways to ‘bring ‘love and patience’ to the fore in her relationship with your daughter.
These are my two first thoughts- and I’m sure the rest of the group has some great ideas…. so let’s hear ’em!
See also, this more general post: Improving the Relationship between your Au Pair and Your Kids
Image: Arguing Penguins by nouQraz