When Your Au Pair Repeatedly Loses Things

by cv harquail on January 23, 2015

I’m known for losing things.

Sunglasses, cell phone, car keys, arguments, emergency chocolate, the Costco card… . I try hard to hold on to things, but the absent-minded part of being a professor is really strong with this one.

My own sensitivity to losing things has led me to compensate for potential losses in two ways.

glenn euloth lost nemoFirst, I work to have a system — a firm place that things go, an extra one hidden somewhere — to cut back on the problems that losing things can cause.

Second, I try to cut other people some slack when they mess up.

That said, when other people lose things repeatedly, I get pretty irked. I want people to treat things with respect and to take care of their things. With au pairs, I want them not only to take care of what they are in charge of, but also to teach my kids how to treat things responsibly.

[See:  When Your Au Pair Loses Your Smart Phone]

MKK Host Mom emailed about some trouble she’s been having with her au pair —

Her Au Pair has lost and ‘left behind’ kid items like sweaters, toys, books and mittens. Recently the au pair left a pair of the kids’ tap shoes at dance class, and the shoes disappeared before the Au Pair thought to return to look for them. MKK Host Mom says —

I have never asked our Au Pair to replace these items, but my husband thinks we should.

What do other families do when items are lost forever and must be replaced? What would happen if our au pair forget our kids’ iPad somewhere?

Also, all 3 of our Au Pairs has misplaced important items in the house (like car keys and the TV remote), and it’s taken days or weeks to find them. Each time this has happened, the burden of ‘not having’ the item has been a drag, and it’s been compounded by the Au Pair’s not treating it seriously or taking responsibility to find it or fix it.

Any suggestions for what to do when — despite having a plan and place for putting things where they belong— items are commonly lost or misplaced by our Au Pair?

See Also:
Extra Umbrellas and Hidden House Keys: The beauty of redundancy
Can you guess what prompted this Host Parent tip?
When Your Au Pair Loses Your Smart Phone

Image: Lost Nemo, by Glenn Euloth on Flickr



Caringhp January 23, 2015 at 10:01 pm

My 4 word response ‘ribbons, labels, strings + trackers’ stuck on everything possible and it had reduced parent, AP and kid losses 500%!

There’s a GPS tracker in the car and on our phones (‘where’s my iPhone’ or AT&T tracker app). I love the new Tile App tags. 1 year battery. Stick them in violin boxes, kids backpacks, tape onto phones and Key chains and more. mastrack is great for use in car. trackimo is also good.
Huge labels sewn into kids clothes (nice job for AP to do while sitting around at Music Class Waiting Room for 2 hours); sharpies to mark names onto books and school stuff; labels made with a label printer on water bottles etc.
We don’t pay for expensive smart phones for Ap. Our old ones are fine because they get lost!
Bike, bike helmet, sunscreen bottles all labeled.
The AP car keys must be hung upon return of car in a KEY Spot in Kitchen and if missing it’s obvious. That keeps them mindful of the keys plus the Keys have a crazy ribbon tied on making them harder to lose. Remotes and other small things have big ole ribbons taped on too so the ribbons help you find it. A contact # is written on all jackets too so we OFTEN get calls saying: ‘your sitter left the kids coats/book/water bottle at our office… We found the # on the label’. If the AP has to drive to pick it up on her personal time she will be less likely to forget it next time!!!
We notice $10 bottles of sunscreen are less likely to disappear forever from our house coinciding with the AP Beach Trip if our bottle from the Daycare Bag is Labeled with Child’s Name in sharpie. bless sharpies! They make it easier to help things ‘return ‘ to or remain with owner.
As regards bikes and tennis or sport equipment, we have a note in handbook telling AP she is warmly welcome to borrow but must not leave unlocked/unattended and if it ‘walks’ she will need to purchase a used replacement.

CaringHp January 25, 2015 at 4:11 am

Ps: 2 more things…
*We replaced keys on doors, gates, bikes and any other key items (except the car key) with a combination lock or punch code. Home Depot and Lowes sell secure keypad touch button locks for front and any internal:external doors. So easy. We keep the codes the same and change them as needed. Eliminates the risk Anna’s AP caused to home security as described below.
*kindof off topic. A school head lice scare motivated our AP and kids to remember to bring home hats scarves jackets etc… We explained to them that if these items had been missing at school and worn or brought home by another kid before making their way home to us, the item might have lice and should be wrapped in a sealed bag for 2 weeks before being washed and worn again. Between the nuisance of that and being grossed out they all got better at remembering!

Seattle Mom January 24, 2015 at 2:07 am

I could have written this. But I didn’t, and I’m eagerly awaiting comments.

Actually of 3 au pairs, only one chronically lost things (and broke things)- she just seemed to have no regard for property. It was very annoying. And like the OP, she didn’t seem that concerned when things were lost. Drove me mad, but I didn’t know what to do, so I didn’t really do anything about it. I guess in the beginning I had a few discussions with her where I tried to impart that part of her job was taking care of the kids’ stuff. It didn’t really sink in though. It wasn’t enough to rematch, but it was a huge negative. Luckily we don’t have expensive electronics, most of the lost/broken items were not very costly. But we are not rich people, and we try to take care of our things and keep them for a long time. To be so careless goes against our values.

Our other 2 au pairs did not have this problem, I would say they were pretty responsible.

ProPair January 24, 2015 at 4:32 am

I was probably guilty of being “one of those” au pairs. In general, I’m a mildly-moderately forgetful person, but, like CV, I have my system and follow it religiously. With my first host family I was responsible for multiple small losses, and one real doozy. The small losses were mittens, scarves, and Tupperware containers, always left at school. Fortunately the school was tiny and five minutes from home, so most of these items were retrieved later in the day. I’m sure this drove my host mom nuts (I think she went easy on me because I usually had an infant strapped to my chest when I picked the older kids up, possibly contributing to my forgetfulness).

The doozy was a bike. I lived in a remote town, so I would bike ten minutes to the bus stop and go to the city from there. One night, I returned to find my bike gone, my keys (both bike and house) still in the lock. I had to call another AP to pick me up. We got pulled over by a cop on our way home for added excitement. When I got home, my host parents were still up to let me in. They were really understanding and laughed it off, but I did buy a new bike because I felt terrible. Naturally, as all this occurred in a village of 200 people, the hot topic for a week was “That Au Pair Who Lost The Bike”. The whole experience was so embarrassing/traumatic that the rate off missing items decreased drastically the rest of the year ;)

I felt completely responsible and didn’t see any other way to clear my conscience than to replace the bike. Had my host family asked me to, I would have seen that as completely sensible and fair. As for forgetting something like an iPad, it might be best practice to just not let expensive items like this one leave the car/house. When I brought HK #2 somewhere “boring” like HK #1’s dance class, I packed a bag of paper, crayons and playing cards to help him stay quiet and entertained.

spanishaupair January 24, 2015 at 5:40 am

With my first host family i sometimes loose small staff like hats that the toddler throw on our way to school or back home. My hf never complained but i guess because they also sometimes they loose them too.

Funny part with my second HF i usually was the one who found the missing items. Usually my HM came to me like ohhhh this is lost and after a bit of researh find it.

I agree with propair that the best thing to not loose expensive items is to just keep them home or in the car, there are cheaper things that are also good to keep kids entertained

WestMom January 24, 2015 at 8:34 am

As I read the title, I thought this was perfect description of my in laws! They used to take the kids on little fun trips, like fishing and would inevitably bring them back without certain important items. I kid you not, they have brought back kids with only one shoe.

I find that most of the time, lost items are clothing. I have a system for that- if you wear it, you can’t lose it. And I try to share this wisdom with my children, husband and Au pair, but the in laws are a lost cause at this point, so now I hand over my kids to them with the absolute minimum. I ever left toothbrushes at their house for sleepover… If one kid is sick, I only send the amount of meds needed for that day…

I would add one important question to that post: Until what age are the kids ‘exempt’ from the responsibility of bringing back their own stuff? I suspect OP has younger children, but I would suggest that by the time they go to school, kids should start to remember to bring their stuff home (lunchbox anyone?). I would expect AP (and DH, and in laws) to help remind them, but at some point the responsibility shifts to the children. Then I think it would be unfair to ask AP to replace items actually lost/forgotten by the children.

Seattle Mom January 26, 2015 at 12:39 am

Kindergarten is too early to expect them to remember everything, but it’s probably a good time to start practicing responsibility.

My older daughter is in kindergarten and she is pretty bad about her stuff. I have a feeling it’s not going to get that much better as she gets older, she’s just very spacey sometimes.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 24, 2015 at 1:08 pm

We’ve never had an AP who repeatedly lost something, although the less mature ones (the ones who continued to express the desire to be parented) were more likely to lose their own stuff. Although we have a loss policy on our cell phones, the only one who has ever lost one was DH (although I once found child #2’s on the sidewalk on my way to work – picked up up and kept on going – I figure if he couldn’t be honest about misplacing it, then it could travel with me for a day).

What more frequently happens is that things break. Most of the time I don’t care. Although one AP drove me nuts by repeatedly hiding things — cups, mugs, glasses, that had broken in the back of the cupboard. The worst breakage was the AP who slammed a car key in the door and bent it. My husband gave her permission to replace it at a hardware store, but it never worked the same. We eventually had to purchase a new one from the dealership. (The same AP who did that misplaced her passport. She was also one of the ones who wanted to be a child.)

Child #2 often leaves his musical instrument at school – we’ve had to train our APs to send him back to retrieve it.

OpinionatedHM January 24, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Four APs to date and all have lost or damaged one thing or another at some point. The thing is, we’ve all been guilty of losing or misplacing items, it’s going to happen at some point. The problem with deciding how to deal with it when it happens is that there really can’t be a hard and fast rule. It all depends on the circumstances and the AP response.
Regarding items that the AP uses like chargers, car keys, bicycles, etc:
My general rule of thumb is that if the AP shows a true understanding of how the item was lost and takes responsibility for ensuring it doesn’t happen again, I am more lenient in my response. I didn’t ask them to replace the item, although often they did anyway, I just asked them to make changes so it doesn’t happen again. Three of four APs have been great and this approach has been all that is needed.

One of our APs was a disaster and it was clear that her parents have always rescued her from every difficulty. She had no understanding of the burden she placed on others when she lost or broke items. Even worse, when I started asking her to pay to replace things, she stopped telling me when things were broken or lost. She said she knew I would just ask her to replace them and she intended to do so eventually so there was no need to tell me. Frustrating.
I think I need to add a few questions to my interview process. Something along the lines of: tell me about a time when you borrowed something and lost or damaged it. What did you do? If someone is not ready to take responsibility, there’s nothing you can do to help them. The only thing to do is avoid this type of AP in the first place.

When you find yourself with an AP who refuses to change, You have to make a decision. Gut it out, accept that they will possibly lose or damage anything they have access to and then adjust what they can use accordingly. Or, you sit your AP down and her/him it’s become a problem and they must start paying for lost or broken items from this point on. Both might lead to a resentful AP which might lead to rematch. But it’s much better than being a resentful HP.

Regarding kids items lost/damaged while AP is on duty:
Generally, I’d say up to age 5 the AP is completely responsible for kid items, age 5 to 10 the AP is responsible for reminding the child but the child is responsible for his/her own things. After age 10 it’s up to the kid with occasional prompts from the AP.
So, in the case of the tap shoes. If the child is 4, the AP should have a good reason why they were forgotten or she should be responsible for part of the replacement costs. Is also suggest a checklist or some other method to help her remember these things. (If it’s the first time something has been lost and the AP is truly distressed, I’d let it go and replace them myself) If the child is 7, I would talk to the child and tell her she is responsible for her things and ask her to contribute to replacing them. I would talk with the AP privately about helping the child remember her things and suggest a system -like a “before you leave” checklist to help them both. If the child is 12, I’d tell the child she should let me know her plan for replacing the shoes before her next lesson and together the AP, child, and I would all discuss ideas to help prevent future incidents – perhaps a checklist?

In Rematch Hell - AGAIN January 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm

Our first (and beloved) AP lost her (our) iphone. At 2 AM. In a bar/club. And she was 19 at the time.

We had never told her how she could or couldn’t spend her time, and she swore up and down she didn’t have a fake ID; they just let her in with her AP girlfriends at the rope. I believed her, because she was 6 ft tall, blonde and pretty, and probably just smiled at the bouncer and voila.

In any case, we mutually agreed she would replace the iphone. She ended up paying $399 out of pocket because there was not insurance on the iphone. I offered to pay half of it (we probably should have had insurance on it, so we felt bad) but she felt REALLY bad about the circumstances, so she sucked it up and paid. That was halfway through her AP year with us and we carried on just fine and it was a really wonderful year. That was the one blemish.

AP2 lost track of the kids’ stuff constantly but we mostly blamed the kids for that. My son lost a $90 winter coat at school and we repeatedly asked AP2 to go into the school after drop off and see if it could be located. She was very nonchalant about the loss and said “you can just buy another.”

We would never make AP pay for something that the kids lost or belonged to the kids, unless it was 100% blatantly her fault and even then probably not.

I lose things sometimes, so I just had to create a system for myself. Keys ALWAYS go into the key drawer as soon as I come in from the garage. Glasses ALWAYS go on the bedside table. Rings ALWAYS go in the little bowl by my sink…

In Rematch Hell - AGAIN January 24, 2015 at 8:53 pm

I probably should admit that *I* lost my iphone on vacation last year when we were on a cruise and I ended up replacing it while still on the trip in Puerto Rico (and upgraded, natch). Six months later, the husband unearthed the iphone I lost from a small toiletries bag I never unpacked. It was a little mortifying. He laughed pretty hard and suggested I “lost” the phone because I’d wanted the upgrade so bad.

Anna January 25, 2015 at 12:07 am

Our au pairs haven’t lost big things, but when I had to keep buying pairs of flip flops for example for my child because some would not come home from the pool, I got upset and told her that bringing his shoes home is her responsibility and she should replace them. The flip flops were found on their next trip to the pool.
Another time she got her purse stolen with the phone and house keys and her driver’s license with our address on it. It was totally her fault, she was in a public pool in a bad area of town, put her purse down while distracted and smiling for photos with her friends… We had to replace the lock in our house and the phone, she didn’t offer to pay for either.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 25, 2015 at 11:34 am

If you want an AP to pay a portion of reimbursement expenses, then you need to be explicit. I would say the loss of a purse, with ID that identifies your address is potentially serious. She may not understand that the person who lifted her purse might either a) be willing to use her address and key set to break into your home or steal your car or b) sell it someone else who would. My guess is that all she saw was how inconvenient it was to her.

Whenever an AP’s behavior, lack of common sense (most pools provide wallet lockers for a reason), or risks have a potentially negative impact on your family, it’s time to have a quiet conversation after the kids go to bed. (AP #8 had the least common sense out of all the APs I have hosted, and my LCC was right when she warned me that she wasn’t going to learn it in a year.)

If you expect reimbursement, then ask for it. If you want the AP to understand that you will absorb the expense, but it will have an impact on your relationship, then ask her to step up her game.

Abba January 25, 2015 at 11:30 am

We struggle with this too. My kids are still preschool age so while they are increasingly given responsibility for keeping track of their own stuff, I still see the AP as having major responsibility here. Our AP (with whom we’re 6 months into a 12 month extension) is endearing and lovable, and genuinely loves the kids. This is in large part why I’ve done such a terrible job of insisting that she take responsibility for the many things (not just kids’ items) she’s lost and broken (water bottles continually disappear on trips to the gym; an expensive glass pitcher is taken outside for use in a lemonade stand and gets elbowed and shatters; my own headbands are “borrowed” and never returned; a $40 bike lock “disappears”). I am really frustrated by her failure to take responsibility for her own actions, but at the same time, I think I probably enable her by continuing to rescue her.

Old China Hand January 25, 2015 at 2:52 pm

Our first ap was not responsible about taking things like keys with her when she went out, keeping her bike locked appropriately (rather than by Chinese standards where someone watches the bikes), or keeping my then infant son from chewing on her iPhone. She didn’t tidy up well and we lost lots of minor things in the house. The lost play dough, which is still missing, really irritated me because we have some nice oriental rugs.

I finally got her to understand her own responsibility when her iphone broke. It had been my husband’s old phone but when it broke and we thought it was because she let my son chew on it, she bought it from us. My husband replaced the charger port and fixed it but later it was stolen and she bought a new phone. We have a bring your phone plan anyway, so we now provide only dumb phones. Because she was irresponsible with the bike, we now have in our handbook that ap is responsible for any loss or damage to it. That happens to be cheap here due to a bike coop which is free to use and get used parts from. Bikes are very cheap. We bought a combination lock to avoid lost bike keys and broken keys in lock because she didn’t tell us the lock was broken and she was just pretending to lock it.

I think the biggest things I have done after that experience are to 1) screen more carefully for honesty (hard for china), 2) make a big deal about wanting to know truth so we can solve problems, and 3) making explicit what ownership means and what financial costs she is responsible for. My kids are both under 3, so no classes or school yet.

WarmStateMomma January 25, 2015 at 11:40 pm

I can’t tell you how much this sounds like our first AP. She would never tell me about the damage and would not even say anything when I found it myself. Ugh.

ToniAnAmericanAuPairInHolland January 28, 2015 at 5:20 am

Okay, after ages of not being here, I’m finally back on USA soil, and really missing Holland. Anyway, this post hit home as I myself constantly loose and lost things while I was an Au Pair. My whole thing is my short term memory is out of wack due to a tumor they found, so I constantly am at a state of disaray. However when I lived with my host parents I always went to my room and smacked the keys down in the middle of the table in my kitchen so I would see it there in the morning. Some times I left it in my pants or coat pockets, or in a random spot and freaked out about. I left a sippy cup at the park, didn’t realize it until 3 hours later, went back and retrieved it thankfully. The parents misplaced the girls coats and mittens so at least I wasn’t alone there.

My host parents were aware when I lost things because I would be running around the house like crazy looking for said item. I’ve always found them though, within a few hours, the longest was a day though. My host dad just laughed whenever i lost something.

But your Au Pair sounds like she doesnt care that she lost it, I’m not sure how that would work as I did. I hated loosing things.Not to mention she hides it…what happened to the trust? Maybe it’s just me..lol

Mimi January 28, 2015 at 7:04 pm

HD loses everything or moves things so it’s become necessary to be uber organized. Also, my kids’ things are all color coded and labeled because I’m just one of those moms. :)

My thing is teaching my children self sufficiency and independence. Each bag for sports/library/church/whatever has a laminated card attached to it with the items that belong in the bag. This year we went from pictures to words on the cards when the twins started kindergarten. The kids are responsible for making sure they have everything so the AP only has to worry about the baby (the diaper bag has a checklist in it for easy restocking). The AP is responsible for having the kids do a “sensitive items check” which means looking at the card and locating/touching each item to make sure it’s there. The kids remind her to do it if she forgets until it’s habit for everyone.

I have a cursed sugar bowl lid that I’ve replaced 3 times after it’s been broken by 3 different APs. It’s now lidless forever. :) Plates, cups, etc. aren’t a big deal to me unless it’s a continual or intentional thing. Even though our electronics aren’t expensive, broken anything doesn’t get replaced quickly in our house, so we talk to the APs about use and care of these items during training. A few years ago, HD didn’t get his iPhone replaced when he was careless and it was stolen at the grocery store. Instead we located one of his old phones and he used that until he was eligible for an upgrade 11 months later. I’ve told them about this and I stress that if they aren’t sure about using something, ask first because a broken dishwasher/clothes washer could mean more work for them and an expensive repair bill for us.

We had an unusual number of things break when AP #5 was here (our only rematch to date) and it turns out she was under the impression that we would replace and upgrade these broken things because of something she misinterpreted HD saying. (This included the AP car.) Had we realized this sooner, we would have rematched earlier.

Abba March 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Mimi, I love the idea of having the kids remind AP. I am big on teaching my own twins independence and autonomy, too, but I still struggle with getting through to them the importance of keeping track of their own stuff (granted, they are not quite five, and won’t be in kindergarden until next year, but still). I’m wondering if you have had issues getting your AP to remember/care about/follow through on the “sensitive items” check? Or does the laminated card and system of touching each item take care of that in the sense that it communicates how important this is to you? I’m really struggling with this, as my kids continually lose things under the AP’s supervision and no one seems to care, until it’s time to go out on a subzero day and there are no mittens. I’m big on natural consequences, but getting frostbite isn’t one of them. Thanks for any ideas you’re willing to share.

Mimi March 5, 2015 at 5:29 pm

I think that stressing to the APs that losing things are a big pet peeve of mine and making them responsible for recovering lost items has helped, but the routine is what really makes this work and getting into the habit of doing it. The twins have been doing this since they were about three and I think you would be surprised what yours could do if you gave them ‘grown up’ responsibilities.

It sounds weird when you write it down, but they do a military style inspection line and we make it a game. Some of these routines have their own songs…which sound terribly OCD and bizarre, but not so creepy if you think of it a la Mary Poppins. (I hope!)

WarmStateMomma March 5, 2015 at 5:48 pm

My daughter would love the laminated cards and it would prevent HD from leaving the house with no diapers for the baby. Thanks!!!

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