Au Pair Appreciation: 3 Ways To Make Your Words Matter

by cv harquail on February 6, 2014

“Why”, “Because”, and “For Example” are some of my favorite words.

As a trained social scientist, I’ve been taught to hunt down the reasons, the connections, and the proof behind every claim I make in a research paper.  In research papers you have to persuade people that what you’ve found is real. And it turns out, these three words are really useful for host parents who want to tell their au pairs that they are appreciated.


Why, Because, and For Example: Three Ways to Make What You Say Matter.

“Why”— as either a question or an explanation — excites me because I like to see the links between things. I want to know causes and effects, and I want to understand how the world works.

“Because” is a favorite, and not just because it is the answer to “why”.  I like ‘because’ because we use it to tell each other what matters, what we are paying attention to, or what’s giving our statement some kind of authority or meaning.  Showing causality makes a statement more persuasive.

“For example” really brings it all home.  Examples are reality checks that prove statements are real-ish.  I’ve found that with my kids the examples help to translate abstract ideas (e.g., be kind!) into real actions (Be kind!, For example, help your sister with her sweater.)

While these words are generally interesting and useful, they become critical when we’re aiming to verbalize our appreciation to our au pairs.

 What To Say To Appreciate Your Au Pair

We need to tell our au pairs not only ‘that’ they matter, but also why they matter.

For example, “Your sunny attitude —even when the kids are being grumpy— is one of the reasons why I love having you around.”

We need to tell our au pairs why what they do actually matters to us personally.

For example, “Because I want our kids to be generous and helpful, I appreciate when you offer to share snacks or to give another kid a push on the swings.”

And, we need to offer our au pairs more examples, because we need to show we are paying attention to specific, real things that they do that are wonderful.

“I appreciate that you take the kids safety so seriously. For example, when you checked that the car seat was tightly belted in, I could tell you were on top of things.”

Examples, explanations for why, and links back to the source of our appreciation help our au pairs know that we’re not just making it up just to say something nice.

Even better, it tells them that we see them, in all their specific goodness, demonstrating the more abstract values and qualities that we appreciate about them.

In our efforts to make our appreciation real, we can get into a routine where we say ‘thank you’, or ‘that was great’.  It’s not that we don’t mean this when we say it — of course we do. But, we can make it more meaningful to our au pairs when we tell them why. For example, even if it’s just ‘because’.



Momma Gadget February 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

This is great advice! One of the things I appreciate so much about my current bro-pair is that he truly wants to understand things. He will always ask for clarification. He asks ” what do you mean”, “for example?” or “Why” in response the the many colloquialisms we speak in -and take for granted especially now that he has been with us a while.

TexasHM February 6, 2014 at 5:08 pm

Great points. I do regularly email our APs notes of praise and while I do occasionally site an example, it is more often a general “thanks for being patient with us during this crazy week” or “thanks for being extra on top of things while mom was sick” and reading this, I realize that I have the right idea, wrong execution. What would I do without this site?!?! :)

Gigi February 7, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thank you! Even though my au pair brushes off my thanks and compliments, I need to do it more. Just yesterday, for the first time, she remembered to check the carseat buckle position and I didn’t say anything – great reminder.

We have a CRAZY week ahead (guaranteed my three year old will be in fine form) – I have to figure out a way to really appreciate her when it is all over.

Host Mom in the City February 7, 2014 at 11:17 am

I love this. I am going to start being more specific with my positive feedback. So many times, she’s done something I really liked that I hadn’t asked her to do or in a way that was better than I could have suggested, and I just said “thanks!” and then ran off and saved the details to tell my husband how great she is. I am going to start saying directly to her instead “I loved that you did [this] because it shows me you really care that the kids are well cared for” or whatever. It’s awkward to say something like that for some reason! But I think it’s very valuable.

Host Mom in the City February 11, 2014 at 10:49 am

Update – I’ve used this technique multiple times already (with my au pair, but also at work, and with my kids and my husband lol) with great results!

Should be working February 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm

It’s true, I’m sometimes embarrassed to thank her so specifically, but a warm look might not mean enough as “Thanks so much for making the pancake batter so that when I got home it would be a breeze to put “brinner” on the table. I love how you anticipate stuff like that.”

Taking a Computer Lunch February 7, 2014 at 11:09 pm

Crazy stuff always happens in our house, but because we have a child with special needs, sometimes it reaches fever pitch. One morning AP #4 called me twice. First, she had accidentally pulled out the Mic-Key “button,” a brand of g-tube (feeding tube in the wall of the stomach). I calmly explained how to take a new “button” out and insert it successfully. Ten minutes later she called me, because child #2 was screaming – his hamster was in a glue trap in the basement. I quickly researched how to remove glue trap glue from a pet, and told her to use peanut butter (which she hated). Later, I found the video online of her giving the hamster a peanut butter bath and wiping it down.

When the AP goes above and beyond, it requires more than thanks. It requires hugs, and a few key purchases – favorite treats, a gift certificate to a favorite eatery (and in the old days a phone card to call home). Pay attention to what your AP likes – because when you need to reward her for going way above the call of duty (like rescuing a hamster for a sobbing 8-year-old), then she’ll know you really care.

Happy Host mom February 11, 2014 at 10:30 am

Great post. I forget to be so specific at times, and this is a good reminder.

AmericanAP in Germany February 14, 2014 at 7:01 am

I wish so badly that my host family would say something like this to me. The culture is different in the country I’m in (way less positive-reinforcement oriented). They’ve kept me around for 6 months and seem pleased with me overall, but man would it be lovely to hear a simple “thank you” or acknowledgement of something I did. It makes me kind of sad to read this :(

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