How to Sabotage the Au Pair’s Authority By Refusing To Discipline Your Kids

by cv harquail on February 25, 2014

When I look around troubling dynamics in the au pair — host child– host parent relationship triangle, I see three Host Parent behaviors that seem to set everyone up to fail:

1. Parents undercutting the au pairs authority, especially by reversing decisions.

2. Parents skimming all the good chores, events and behaviors, leaving the au pair to do all the negative stuff. And,

3. Parents refusing to give the au pair tools that s/he needs to manage and guide the kids behavior.


The most important tool you can give your au pair is clarity about the Host Parents’ and family values around behavior.  

Host parents need to articulate very specifically what behavior is okay, what is not okay, and why.  Host parents need to be clear about what they mean and consistent with what they do— both words and actions matter here.

Host parents also have to support an au pair by giving him or her the tools that s/he needs to control/shape/guide the children’s behavior.

These tools have to be appropriate to the values that the parents want to reinforce, and they have to be tools that an au pair can easily learn to use.

For us, that’s meant getting explicit about what we value (e.g., ‘We want the girls to learn to take turns when they argue over a toy.”) While I’ve wanted my au pairs to reinforce the values that are important to our family, I’ve understood that each au pair has needed to find her own way to do this.  At each stage in my children’s lives I’ve offered our au pair a few parenting principles (e.g., “Follow every ‘no’ with a ‘yes’.”  ‘Focus on the behavior, don’t make a judgement about the worth of the person.”  and so on. )

 It has also meant that I’ve had to find and share the tools that I think fit with our family’s parenting philosophy.  We aren’t a family who spanks kids, or institutes a $.50 fine for every act of disobedience, or uses a jar of beans to count up the good behaviors needed to earn a privilege. We’re a family who has used the 1-2-3 Magic process  for helping the girls understand what kind of behavior isn’t appropriate in our family.  A very useful feature of this method is that it can be used by both parents and childcare providers to offer some consistency around ‘what happens if your behavior is naughty’.

How would you advise this Au Pair to get support from her Host Parents for disciplining the kids?

Here’s an example of an au pair being sold down the river by host parents who are guilty of sabotage #3.  Her host parents won’t use a system to discipline the kids, and the au pair is (wisely, I think) anticipating that this will all blow up sooner rather than later.

I’m wondering if you could give me some advice. I’m an au pair in the states at the moment, and with a family who have 2 kids – 5 year old and 9 year old. I’ve been here about 7 months. It’s gone really well so far – I love the family, I’ve made lots of friends and generally settled in well, the parents are absolutely lovely and have tried so hard to make sure I’m happy – generally I think we’re a good match.

However, the only problem is the kids – they’re sweet kids, and we get on, but, like any other children, they do have tantrums (mainly the five year old), argue, ask for things they’re not allowed, refuse to go to school/bed etc. The issue is that whenever I’ve worked with kids before, this kind of behaviour has had definite consequences – time outs, taking away something they’re looking forward to, etc, and that generally limits bad behaviour.

But here, the parents hardly ever discipline the kids, and have asked me not to wherever possible. This means the kids’ behaviour is getting worse and worse – getting them to bed, dinner, school can take a long time because there’s not much I can do when they say no. With the parents it works ok – the parents aren’t doing much differently to me and I’ve really tried to copy what they do – but the kids are very aware that they’re the parents and I’m not. When we’re just playing we get on really well, but whenever I need to get them to do anything it all goes downhill.

Although I’ve never had problems asking the parents for advice on anything else, or on specific situations (e.g. getting the kids to school), I’m reluctant to ask them about this because I’m worried it would sound like I was criticising/challenging their parenting style. Any advice would be brilliant! (And, I’m pretty sure my host-mom reads this site, so advice to her might be helpful too!)

Do you think this au pair should come up with her own system? Or buy 1-2-3-Magic for her Host Mom & Dad?

See also:
Image: DisciplineAttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by AirBeagle


Emerald City HM February 25, 2014 at 6:02 pm

As a parent, I actually sort of have the opposite problem. I still cannot figure out how the au pair is able to get our 3 year old out the door without a huge tantrum when we can’t seem too!

Do you have regular family meetings with your host family? If not, maybe ask to sit down and talk with them about some things you are struggling with, when everyone will be distraction free. Have an outline written down of what you what to make sure to talk about.

Outline a specfic situation that occurred recently. Suzie didn’t want to take a nap on Tuesday. Here are the things I tried. Here is how she responded. I think she is aware I am not her parent and therefore believes she doesn’t have to listen to me. Do you have any suggestions on how I can work through this? I would like for you to come home to a well rested child so your evening is pleasant and I would also like to do XXX activity with the children, but I find if it takes me an hour to get her to get her to lay down I find that I don’t have time to do those things. Can we find a way to resolve this together?

That would be my suggestion for starting out and seeing what you can come up with as a team. You might also suggest some methods that have worked for you in the past in caring for similarly aged children and see what the parents think.

midwest aupair February 27, 2014 at 12:28 pm

This is funny that you said that with your 3 year old.. I just had a similar conversation with my host-mom this morning. She said she cannot believe that i get my host-kid to practice the piano, do his homework etc. without pouting etc. I said, actually it is easier than you think. Give THEM the responsibility of doing their stuff.if he doesn’t want to do his homework, i say: That’s ok. Why don’t you put it back in your backpack and think of something to tell your teacher, why you didn’t do it. NEVER did i have an issue after that he wouldn’t do it. He takes his homework and does it. I think kids start to pout when they think YOU have the power over them. If you give them the power over themselves, they usually make the right decision. I also say things like, I think you are old enough, how much do you think you should get of X? (food). Kids don’t feel taken seriously when we tell them things like: do this do that, you don’t do this right etc. It is all about the tone and your answers. When you get upset, they get upset. I always think of my self as a mirror for them. They treat you the way you treat them. Yes they are kids, and there are certain things they need to learn, but when they can learn themselves they learn more. Your daughter is 3, you could say something like, so listen, we have to leave in 5 min. why don’t you go and put on your jacket and shoes, because I am sure you don’t want me to do it. I mean you are already 3 years old, that would be a little embarrassing don’t you think? This may work or not work, I don’t know your child, and I also don’t want to give smartie answers etc. But this is what i learned from books and studies I read about kids and tried them out. The only thing kids want is that you love them, set boundaries, take them seriously, and let them handle their own things.
Good luck.

Host Mom in the City February 27, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I love that you’ve thought through strategies and read books and studies about kids and that you’ve found some great things that work! Thanks for sharing midwest aupair!

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 1:12 pm

These are great suggestions! The only one I would object to is suggesting that he should be embarrassed for having the AP’s assistance. I have had more than one AP use shaming tactics and I strenuously object. Our 8-yr-old once reported that the AP told him he was being a baby, even my placid DH was furious. Shaming techniques and threats (“you’re going to have to get out of the car and WALK home”) are not permitted. I realize that this poster didn’t mean the line about embarrassment this way, but for me it comes close to a shaming technique.

Emerald City HM February 27, 2014 at 1:23 pm

I did pick up on that too and kind of assumed that might be a little bit of a translation issue.

midwest aupair February 27, 2014 at 2:00 pm

if you are referring to the my statement about the jacket and that it would be embarrassing to help her etc. I did not mean that in the way you stated. It was more a thought of giving her the thought that she could actually do it, because she is already 3. But if she wants me to help her, i certainly would. But if i can ask you, why do you think it is bad to tell them that they have to walk home if for whatever (hopefully a serious) reason? I once walked home with the kids because they misbehaved so bad in the car, that i was worried we would get into an accident because it distracted me so much. So i said: If they can’t behave we would walk home, they didn’t stop, and WE walked (obviously i couldn’t let them walk home by themselves, but that wasn’t the point) they never misbehaved this way ever again in the car.

Emerald City HM February 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm

There is a difference between, “you’re going to have to get out of the car and walk home” and “because of your behaviour it is unsafe for me to drive, so now I am going to pull over, park the car, and we will all have to walk home”. What you did is more natural consequences and still safe and ties their behavior to action. On top of that, it’s not necessarily easier for you (this is why I say this parenting style is difficult). So I would say what you did is appropriate. The first one is a threat of abandoment.

midwest aupair February 27, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Emerald City HM thanks for the clarification, that makes sense. I agree that threatening a child is not a good idea.

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 2:28 pm

MidwestAP, I guess I meant that EMPTY and mean threats are not allowed. Our AP threatened to make our 8-yr-old walk alone 2 miles, which was not something she actually would have followed through on.

If you actually do get out and walk with them, that’s a different story. But threats of abandonment as part of punishment aren’t ok. I myself have threatened, and a few times have actually done it, to pull over, make kids get out of the car while I get out with them and stand around on the sidewalk until everyone calms down and can sit quietly in the car. It isn’t even that terrible a prospect, if anything it sounds so pointless and boring that the kids respond pretty well. I wouldn’t do this in foul weather. I have also threatened, and would be ok doing it, to make my preteen get out of the car and walk, and we would slowly drive beside her–no abandonment involves. You sound very conscientious, so my comment was more aimed at APs who might read your ideas and invoke in a more shaming/threatening form.

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Here is another one I have used: If this behavior continues, I will pull over, call Papa (or AP) to come pick you up, and we will all wait for him/her, because I can’t drive the car if you two are fighting like this. And I would do it if it came to that. It’s like Emerald City HM said, it’s not a threat of abandonment, it is more a safety solution (that is boring and a pain for the kids, so they stop).

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Let me add that the non-empty threat to make my preteen walk a few blocks while I drive beside her is for HER a very embarrassing prospect–the walking home would not be as bad to her as me driving slowly beside her where people might stare. But in my view this is not a shaming technique, in that I am not trying to make her behave by threatening shame. She might be embarrassed for me to drive alongside her, but for me that is a side effect of a reasonable, safe consequence of the behavior.

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Come to think of it, these days a non-empty threat to make us all get out of the car and stand around to cool off would also be an embarrassment to her–basically being seen in public with us is embarrassing to her. So it is actually a good point of leverage for her social life: I can ‘threaten’ to accompany her or stop in on her ‘playdates’ or whatever unless she shows me she has a good, safe, chaperoned plan.

Emerald City HM February 27, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Hahahaha. I’m totally going to have to remember this 10 years from now. :D

German Au-Pair February 27, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Yeah, I also only used that if I could have actually followed threw with the threat. Like “we’re actually close enough to home that I will have you walk, if you don’t stop “(teenager, beginning of neighborhood). Had he not stop screaming in my ear (on purpose, aimed at me, BTW) while I was driving I would have done it and he knew it. (Would I have driven close by him for safety reasons? Yes. Did he need to know that? Not really.)

I got unwanted behavior (basically disgusting, rude behavior) to stop by imposing rules. He he behaved like a young child next to me (picking nose, burping and all those fun things) he’d be sitting in the back next time, like a young child. I don’t think it’s shaming when you point out that the behavior a kid is showing is not up to the standards of his/her age.
I actually did that quite a bit. Not like “you suck, you baby” but like “You are not behaving like a teenager but like a toddler and I would hate to have to treat you accordingly”. I also followed threw when I said things like that. I would take away privileges like choosing what’s for dinner or basically the right to any reasonable negotiations afterwards. I explained that you cannot get the perks of being older but act like a kid at the same time. It worked most of the time.

Momma Gadget February 27, 2014 at 8:13 pm

I once made my 13 year old walk the last 1 1/2 miles down a country road to Grandma’s house because of ridiculous, obnoxious behavior that was dangerously distracting to the driver (me). I did not even drive along side him.(he’d ridden his bike up and down this remote road many times before)

I only had to do this once. Momma doesn’t make idle threats.

Of course I would never do this with a younger child, or in an area we were not very familiar with. But it was extremely effective in this case especially since I was bringing pizza back.

I wouldn’t want an AP to do this either, but S/he would be well within their rights to turn the car around and go back home cancelling a fun outing, Or pulling over and waiting for everyone to settle down before proceeding, if the kids were misbehaving in the car.

Should be working February 27, 2014 at 8:18 pm

LOL on the pizza effectiveness!!! That is priceless!

Julia March 2, 2014 at 4:55 am

Im just giving my two cents. Be careful what you say in front of other ppl. We had taken a swim class and child didnt want to put on his coat. He was 3,5 at that point and he had 20 degrees and after having a 30 min fight in the changing room i walked out with him trying to explain it to him and he jus throw another tantrum. so i walked and said to him i wouldnt care if he would wear a jacket or not. One of the YMCA members pulled me aside and threatened me to call social service if i would let him walk outside without a jacket. I would have never let him walk outside without a jacket but i just pretended to not care anymore. 2 mins later he was wearing a jacket but still the lady from the Y watched me for months like a hawk

Emerald City HM February 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm


Oh yes, I totally agree that at 3 many things should be their responsibility. I pointed out a similar parenting style below, and we have the positive discipline books and references like that. It’s our ideal style. It is not easy all the time though and takes a bit of creativity. Which is why it’s great when everyone (including the au pair) can be on the same page and share ideas when an issue does come up.

We do give her the responsibility of getting ready to go, she will be almost all the way ready and then decide she just doesn’t want to leave the house for some reason that she can’t express and that’s what starts the tantrums.

I also think it’s excellent that you reading up on these things and are discussing them with your host mom.

Momma Gadget February 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm

It is hard when a parent doesn’t back up the AP ( or other parent for that matter) But positive reinforcement, especially in younger kid can be just as effective as punishments, or traditional “discipline”.

My Sister who is a former kindergarten teacher taught me this trick. Put a piece of paper on the wall, and every time they do something they are supposed to on the first request, or are nice to each other give put a sticker on the piece of paper. Tell them that if they get 25 stickers they get a treat, or you’ll make their favorite desert, or play there favorite game. Catch them being good!
At first it will be small things ” you said please so nicely! go put a sticker up!”.
Once they get the idea, you can up the cost and the prize -100 stickers gets a trip to the movies etc.
It also serves as a reminder/leverage. “Oh No! why are you guys fighting-you almost have enough stickers to XYZ”. ( Don’t take anything away for bad behavior, you just remind them that they missed an opportunity to earn a reward)

This way you don’t have to be the bad guy, and you get better behavior.

CAmom22 February 25, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Love this!!

Host Mom in the City February 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm

I think you just need to talk with the host parents and see what suggestions they have. Parenting styles can vary so much. For example, I would not be ok with a reward chart like the one described here. In our house, you’re helpful because that’s what people who live together do, not because you’re going to get a reward. You don’t hit your sister because you don’t hurt people, not because you don’t want to lose a sticker.

I’m not saying these methods don’t work, necessarily, but they don’t align with my parenting philosophy, and as such, I would always recommend talking to the parents first about any ideas you come up with.

It sounds like you’re mature and want to do a good job, which is wonderful. I think if you chat with them about the issue and approach them with some suggested solutions, if they’re good parents, they’ll be thrilled with your ideas. If they’re not and they’re just going to be overly-lenient people no matter what, then unfortunately you might just have to live with it for a few more months.

I hope it’s the former! Best of luck to you!

Momma Gadget February 26, 2014 at 11:12 am

Although our philosophies are very different, I do agree that any new strategies should be discussed with parents.

Host Mom in the City February 26, 2014 at 11:26 am

I think that was my point and upon re-reading it I apologize that my post came off rude. Basically, there are so so many parenting styles and perhaps more importantly, so so many different personalities in children, that the “right” thing to do is really going to vary based on the host family’s desires and the children’s needs. So something that seems completely standard in one family is not to be done in another.

Time outs come to mind – I think most Americans just assume that you use time outs as punishments and that’s totally normal. We don’t in our family. And no, my kids aren’t terrors. Our current au pair actually says they’re the best behaved kids she’s ever cared for.

So to emphasize my point – I’m not saying that one style is better than another. Just saying that parents will have preferences one way or another and au pairs would be wise to not only match only with parents whose styles are similar, but also to run things by the host parents before implementing discipline strategies. That would be a great question for an au pair to ask of a potential host parent actually – what’s your discipline strategy and parenting philosophy? I would be so impressed if a candidate asked that.

Momma Gadget February 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm

HMiC- I didn’t interpret your post, as rude in anyway. Obviously you feel strongly and are very passionate in your beliefs. :-)
It is always interesting to see/hear different perspectives, and get a glimpse of points of view we never thought about before- causing us to really define and evaluate our own.

German Au-Pair February 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm

HMITC, I love this! Reward systems are extrinsic motivation only and IMHO being a good person should ideally be motivated intrinsically.
I have always argued against reward systems, especially in a school setting because in my mind it rewards the kid who behave badly. People have suggested that for kids who misbehave in class but I always find that they will get rewards for behavior that is just expected of the other kids so effectively they are getting rewarded for usually behaving badly. (That is a different story of course if parents use it at home right from the beginning, but honestly, I think most start using it after the problem is already there.)
I would be interested in how you get your children to obey rules if you don’t use things like time-outs or rewards systems.

Host Mom in the City February 28, 2014 at 11:10 am

German Au-Pair – do you think this kind of thinking is “typical” amongst German parents? We had two German au pairs who I was totally on the same page with in this thinking. Our current au pair is not German, but I matched based on looking for this type of thinking this type around having learned that it’s important to me. Obviously three Germans who think this way doesn’t mean it’s a cultural norm, but just curious.

Host Mom in the City February 28, 2014 at 11:19 am

And to your question, we’ve used natural consequences, explanations of why we do the things we do, and felt that modeling behavior was very important since they were very young. Basically, we treat them the way we would want to be treated if we were doing something “wrong.” We never ever yell, shame, isolate, hit, or harm.

If we are feeling a certain way ourselves, we model being aware of and dealing with emotions. If I’m angry, I will say “I am feeling very angry right now. I need a break before I can continue to talk about this. I will be in my room for a few minutes, and then I will be ready to talk again” for example. The message is that it’s ok to be angry, but it’s not ok to let that anger cause you to, say, hit your sister.

With our kids, also, I’ve tried hard to learn and to help them be aware of external pressures on them and how that makes them behave. Fatigue, hunger, etc., but also, how to ask someone if you need attention rather than acting whiny and needy until someone gives you what you need. Every week or two, my kids will say to me “mommy, I really need some attention right now.” and I always make it a point to give it to them or to let them know when I will have time to set aside just for them.

We’ve also expected our kids to act appropriately and never used their age as an excuse. I think because it’s “normal” to them to act a certain way and they understand why it’s important. I’ve noticed that both kids feel “guilt” or at least feel that their body doesn’t feel good when they do something that isn’t the right thing, and I’ve encouraged them to listen to their bodies. If your body is telling you that something isn’t right, it’s important to acknowledge that and to learn from it. I’ve been surprised that they have such good instinctual and innate knowledge about social behaviors and intuition even from a very young age.

I do think to some degree, I’ve been blessed with well behaved and self-aware children anyway. We’ve yet to come across a problem where these methods haven’t been completely effective, but my kids are still young (elementary aged). So who knows. But those are the types of things that have worked so far.

Thanks for commenting German Au-Pair! I always appreciate au pair points of view and love how respectful you are in your posts. We host moms on here are really just trying to be the best host moms we can be :)

German Au-Pair February 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Oh my god, you sound like a great mom to me! I’m not saying other strategies don’t work or are worse, but for me this sounds like you are raising decent human beings. I think self-awareness is the key to almost everything because it affects not just you but your relationships. In TOTALLY understand that sometimes parents come home from work and give in to a whiny child because it’s easier and because the day has been hard. But I really love your approach and that you’ve found a way to establish that seemingly so successfully that it has never really been tested.

As for your question: The German culture generally focusses more on consequences and punishments than rewards systems. The whole idea of bribery seems weird to most of us, but we do believe in consequences pretty strongly. However, I personally find that we are more flexible when it comes to not using punishments than when we have to stick to reward systems (unless the children are very young). When punishments are not needed, we are good with that, too. One thing that I have observed in myself and others is that we really stick to the rules to an extent that makes it hard to be as flexible as many Americans are. For example my HP were of the opinion that it is more important to get homework done in ANY way possible than to get your educational point across. If the kid was yelling and screaming it was more important to be nice and calm him down so he could get the work done than to make a point of being a person you have to respect. I would rather have the kid go without homework (or have him sit there and do it on his own) but show that I will not be treated like that. I find it more important to say “I’m here to help you now, but if you don’t want that help, you will have to do it alone later” and then actually NOT help later than to help just so the homework might be a bit better but the child has learned what I say really doesn’t matter. It was really hard for me to learn how to be more flexible and I feel like this idea of being consistent in your rule-setting and expected behavior is typical for most Germans. The German word “Konsequenz” (relating to be being consistent and not deviating from your word, following through with promises and rules) is considered one of the most important skills when it comes to parenting and teaching. It makes us seem more rational or even cold but we really just believe that it’s important to be consistent so we can establish a trusting relationship with the children.
Of course that’s not true for every German. I’m not sure if you could consider it a cultural NORM but a cultural tendency for sure. Making your style very clear before matching should allow you to weed out the candidates who just can’t picture a life without punishments (those are probably the ones who think all American children are bratty and spoiled.)

Host Mom in the City February 28, 2014 at 3:12 pm

Thanks German Au-Pair! Based on your description and my sample size of two, I think that’s why we’re a really good fit with German au pairs. I am very committed to consistency in parenting. If I say something, I mean it, and I don’t give in to whininess. I don’t do something “just this once” because it’s easier than asking the kid to do it himself (e.g., I never turn off a light in my child’s room myself – I always ask them to come do it). You say rigidity in German culture, I say consistency :)

And in fact, your homework example to me shows flexibility rather than rigidity. You were able to see what the child needed in the moment rather than blindly following a requirement to get homework done immediately after arriving home from school. That’s actually what I look for in an au pair – ability to do what’s right and get to know and pay attention to my kids’ needs day to day and hour to hour. I learned the hard way that I don’t want someone who blindly follows my directions but then needs explicit direction for everything, every day (that lesson actually came with a German au pair, but I think it was more immaturity and lack of engagement than German-ness).

Now the homework example may not be a great one because American parents tend to be very focused on school success, perhaps even over development of a good personality and manners. Above all, you must get good grades, which means you absolutely must turn in your homework on time even if it means letting some other teachable moment slide.

In my city, parents are sometimes even hyper-focused on school achievement at the preschool level because the pre-school you go to might help get you into the elite elementary school, which is the only way you will ever get into the elite middle school which you MUST get into because otherwise you will never be accepted to the super-selective college prep school and then you’ll never get into the best university and if that doesn’t happen, you might as well just give up trying now. Obviously, I’m exaggerating a bit, but even if as a typical urban middle class or upper middle class parent you don’t totally subscribe to this idea, you still feel the pressure of it. And it’s difficult to see the big picture of raising children as and a goal of creating good adults when you’re thinking this kid is going to be a complete failure if he doesn’t complete his homework perfectly right now.

Anyway, hooray for sharing cultural perceptions and differences! Isn’t this what the au pair program is all about?

German Au-Pair February 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

I’m studying to become a teacher so I really helped to learn more about myself and more about how others do it and ultimately more flexibility.
My child was special needs so for him the whole school pressure was not as hard as it is for children who hope to attend an amazing college later on.
In a situation like that, my hp would later do homework WITH him (and helped him more than necessary so it would be done faster) so what he learned was that if he refuses with me, he’d get help later that does a lot of the work for him. I still think the approach “I’m here to help now, but if you really don’t want to do it now, you’ll have to do it on your own later” would help to get homework done more effectively in the long run. Doing it on your own later when you refuse help is a really good natural consequence.
It was hard at times and also frustrating but it really taught me a lot, too. That’s why I like this blog because so many different people come together and sometimes I think “wow, you could have done X and Y so much better”.

It’s funny that you mention the light thing. I made my kids come back down to put stuff in the dishwasher and I always worried my HM might think I’m too lazy to do it myself even though that would have been much much easier than standing there, arguing about it and waiting until it gets done. Sometimes it’s the little things that’ll teach you to be responsible.

skny February 25, 2014 at 8:49 pm

Even worse is when au pair says no, child call host parent who says yes over the phone. Or au pair takes privilege away, and host parent returns home and feel it wasnt enough reason, and return privilege
We specifically know one case where 5yo was physically aggressive to au pair (au pair got bruises from it), so au pair took tv away for the day. Host mom became very upset because child is only 5, and au pair should have been able to avoid the hits/hold child, instead of taking tv away (and allowed child to watch child at night)..

ReturnAupair February 26, 2014 at 4:58 am

Thats so horrible. If the Aupair would try to avoid it, she might have hurt (not on purpose) the Kid. That would be horrible. Has this happen in your house?
That would be a reason for me to call my LCC. If the Child hurts me so much, that theire are bruises and hostparents think i need to handle that and a punichment/consequence (taking away tv for day was not a really “hard” one) is not ok.

Host Mom in the City February 26, 2014 at 9:02 am

This is really terrible. Obviously the physical aggression is unacceptable, but I can’t imagine a faster way to sabotage a caretaker’s authority than to second-guess their completely rational decisions and make the caretaker seem like the bad guy.

We have in our handbook that we think it’s very important that our kids know that our au pair is the one in charge during work hours and that we work very hard to make sure that’s clear. I don’t step into arguments between the kids when I happen to be around when she’s on duty, I don’t pop my head out of where ever I am the second I hear conflict, etc. I imagine that if an au pair ever did something that I wasn’t ok with, I would talk to her without the kids later and see if we could develop a solution that she could then implement so the kids didn’t know I was involved. Fortunately, all three of our au pairs have been very much on the same page as we are.

Now I will say that as a parent, it’s very difficult to hear someone else correcting your child. That “mama bear” instinct comes up quickly for me for whatever reason and I do have to actively push it back down. So I think au pairs would be wise to recognize that it can be difficult, particularly if the au pair is doing things slightly different than the host mom would. Variations in “parenting” between childcare givers is completely and 100% fine and normal and is part of having childcare (if you want it done *exactly* the way you want it done and only that way, I’d suggest you just do it yourself or you’re never going to be happy). I personally think it’s a good thing – my children are learning to deal with authority figures that have different rules and styles. But it still is a bit of a challenge sometimes to let go.

spanishaupair February 26, 2014 at 9:50 am

Thats what my little girl does indeed and HP reaction. She is 4 and behaves good when we are alone but she knows when parents specially daddy is home, whatever i say is worth nothing becuase daddy will say the opposite. And yeah pinches, bites, hits, kicks, scratches, pull at my earrings trying to take them away; apart from calling me stupid, brat, mean, monster…

Host Mom in the City February 26, 2014 at 10:10 am

Honestly this sounds completely unacceptable to the point that I wonder why you stay? Of course it’s easier to say than to do, but this is NOT ok.

spanishaupair February 26, 2014 at 4:07 pm

I have think about that lots of times, is not the only issue but the big one.
The problems are two I’m here already 20 months and even as she is i love her and specially the little boy who im with him since he is 7 months and have been the first one to see all his development. Apart from that I’m studying at the same time and need to go to Spain to do exams here and them, Im aupair in Europe so easier, but most HF dont want someone who has to go for a week-10 days away.+
So deal with it, try to stay the least with my HD around and just ignoring her bad behaviour

Old China Hand February 26, 2014 at 2:08 pm

We have the opposite problem. Our AP is so scared that our son will stop loving her (he’s 21 months) that unless we give her very explicit consequences to give him for actions, she doesn’t discipline at all. So he walks all over her. For example, she can’t take him to the library and have him stay in the children’s area. He pulls off books and climbs the shelves. I try so hard to give her tools to use, but she is terrified of losing his love. Low self esteem, I guess. For example, for little ones, here are natural consequences I use (and I warn him about before an event that may trigger them so he knows):

Throw hard toys down the stairs, they stay on top of the fridge until next time you go to sleep.
Throw food, meal is over. (This was a really big problem, so it started with “course is over” and then progressed to ending the meal. It solved the problem in 2 days).
Leave the children’s area at the library, we leave the library.

We also don’t use time outs, but frankly, I don’t think it would matter if we did. She wouldn’t implement them anyway. So we have a fantastically well behaved child around us and he runs wild with her. I am glad that she’s leaving in July and we can talk more about discipline with our next AP. It just seemed so hard to visualize when we were interviewing her and he was 4 months old.

Should be working February 26, 2014 at 3:03 pm

I had a weirdly similar problem with our last AP and our PRETEEN!!–she was so afraid of losing the preteen’s love that she let herself be treated badly and then got resentful about it! May I point out that adolescents and toddlers have a LOT in common, lots of power struggles and threats to withdraw love. I tried to inspire confidence in the AP to handle the preteen but it was hard. I think her family at home DID withdraw love pretty readily, so that might be a reason for this ongoing problem.

Old China Hand February 26, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Interesting. Our AP has really low self esteem and apparently her mother spent a lot of time telling her she is fat and ugly as a child (cultural. Strange, I know. she is neither). In any case, it manifests itself in strange ways, like the no discipline thing. She also always wants to loan people massive quantities of money even if she might not get them back. Since she has been here she has agreed and had to back out of loaning people between $1000 and $5000. We’ve had to get her to tell them no each time. She’s afraid, I think, that they won’t like her if she doesn’t loan them money.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 26, 2014 at 4:09 pm

It’s hard to predict what you are going to need in the long run when you have an infant. We attempted to sponsor our first AP as employers. She was perfect when the kids were infants and toddlers, but she struggled by the time our youngest was a preschooler. She continued to dress and feed him, because it was easier, even though at the age of 4, he needed to learn how to dress and feed himself. After she left, it took him exactly one week to gain the skills he needed to be independent.

He would throw huge tantrums in the store to get AP to purchase him treats. He tried it with me. I calmly said, “You have a choice, we can buy what is in this cart right now, when you are able to stop crying, or we walk out of the store right now with nothing becuase you can’t. I’m not buying you a treat.” No problem.

I don’t think it’s always about wanting to be loved or respected. Sometimes it’s about the path of least resistance. We’re asking young women to come in and parent. For some, it is just to much; for others, a struggle; and, for the great ones – they learn to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. It might not be my way, but if they do it well and no physical or mental harm comes to the child, it’s fine with me.

The Camel has 22 teachers, therapists and instructors who take care of her at school each week. She has had to adapt to the way each person handles her. I had to learn quickly to let go, and be okay with the fact that each AP was going to make her care of The Camel her own and do it a little differently. After all, DH and I handle her differently, too!

AmericanAP in Germany February 27, 2014 at 1:48 am

I have the opposite problem as far as getting my almost 3 year old host child to do things on his own is concerned. The ladies at his preschool pulled me aside to tell me that the other kids have already started making comments/ lightly teasing him because he can’t get himself ready to go outside on his own, but rather plops himself down like a king and waits. I’ve been making a huge effort since then to get him to put his hat and coat on himself, walk instead of being pushed in the stroller…. My HM is really against it though. She’s a wonderful lady, but does have a tendency to baby him and gets VERY defensive when someone suggests he should do things on his own, not use baby words, etc. the mixed messages are making the process slower than it has to be, I think…

Taking a Computer Lunch February 27, 2014 at 7:48 am

I was fine with how AP #1 treated my son, until I read a child development book and realized that he was doing none of the things they said a 4-year-old should be able to do. So, when I asked AP #1 to give him extra time to do things himself, she resisted, because she could do it faster.

If you’re not caring for a child with a SAHM, then it’s okay to say, “When you’re with me, you put on your own coat.” Give yourself extra time to get out the door, and praise him for being a big boy. Three is that slippery age between baby and big kid. If he’s the last kid or the only kid, parents want to hold on to that babyness, so keep in mind that you’re not caring for him better than his mom, just differently – and helping him to acquire those skills necessary to be accepted in preschool.

Emerald City HM February 25, 2014 at 10:03 pm

So I actually happened to see this article today. This might be the parenting style the host parents use and while the au pair tries to do what they do, this settle of parenting is difficult. “How to Motivate Kids Without ‘Consequences”

Seattle Mom February 26, 2014 at 2:20 am

I was just about to post the same thing.. I actually sent this to my husband today and said it was “required reading.”

I am opposed to using punishments & rewards in my family. It’s true, sometimes that makes things harder to get done, but I think that in the long run it keeps us from having a “transactional relationship” with our kids. I hate the whole “if I do X then I get Y” mentality.. drives me bonkers!

So far our au pairs have managed to keep the kids in line without using punishments. The kids generally want to please the AP, and when they are misbehaving there is usually some problem at the root of their behavior. Often just an explanation of why the rule exists and what will happen if it isn’t followed works… and if it doesn’t, then things don’t go as planned. That’s life with kids.

Seattle Mom February 26, 2014 at 2:26 am

Need to add that our last AP was amazing.. I learned a lot from her. She managed to get the children to do things just with the tone of her voice. She made things fun.. she kept a positive tone always.. but she was somewhat strict and she was definitely in charge. She never had to punish or threaten. And she said that my kids were easy, compared to others that she took care of- including her previous HF, who used time-outs and did all the conventional rewards/punishment stuff.

Also, whenever my daughter complained about something the AP did or made her do or wouldn’t let her do I backed up the AP. I said “when I’m not here AP is in charge. You can tell me if you don’t like what she is doing and if I don’t agree I will talk to her. But so far I agree with everything she is doing.” I want her to know she can come to me and tell me stuff and I will listen (in case there is ever something I should be aware of), but at the same time I want to back up the AP.

Emerald City HM February 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm

I think I’m going to start a list of “required reading” for my husband and au pairs. Websites are easy and usually short enough. Some of the books are a pain in the rear becasue it seems to be about the number of pages. I love the ideas behind positive discipline and find it’s easiest to explain by example, but the books I have on that start out every section with a lecture on why not to spank kids. My thoughts on that in a book are, “I already bought your book becasue I’m not the type of parent to spank my kids, why are you lecturing me?”

So yeah, some of my issues are really pairing down the reading to give all of us useful tools and ideas.

Momma Gadget February 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Really great article, Emerald city. Thanks for sharing it.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 25, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Child #2 briefly had a friend whose mother didn’t discipline because she “didn’t want to break his spirit.” The child was a boor and frequently so whiny that it was unpleasant to be around him. Child #2 won a prize for reading a lot of books one summer, and this friend whined so much about it, that child #2 surrendered it, saying “He wants it more than me.”

I always tell friends who are pregnant for the first time, “Believe it or not, giving birth is the easy part. Raising kids to be people with whom you actually want to spend time is the hard part.” I’ve seen a lot of APs stuck in quandary, because their HP don’t actually want to parent. Kids actually thrive with structure and consistency.

We’ve always told the AP our rules, which obviously change as child #2 ages, but also back her up if she decides she wants to be less lenient than we. Don’t want child #2 to cross a busy road to buy candy at the 7-11 – because you don’t want to deal with anything bad on your watch? Absolutely fine with us – child #2 should know better than to break your rule!

Former CA-AP February 26, 2014 at 4:48 am

During my year in CA, I saw this all too often, and really think it’s something that needs to be discussed early on. For me, the fact that my HP didn’t disciplince was a huge issue at times – I come from a family where politeness is very importans, while my HK could basically get anyway with anything, especially when directed at me.
I finally just gave up one evening when the youngest girl(8) had spent 10 minutes furiously hitting me because I didn’t think fruit snacks less than 15 minutes before dinner were appropriate. HD came home, saw what was going on and told me(in front of HK) very firmly “you need to give her what she wants”.
No matter what parenting approach you use, I think it’s super important to talk it through, maybe even during matching, so that your AP is ready and willing to follow the same ideas and principles, and has the same values. Great post!

Brit AP Abroad February 27, 2014 at 6:46 pm

Wow, I actually have a pretty similar problem to the AP in the article – my hostkid is similar in that she mucks about and won’t listen to anything I sat, and is quite rude at times, despite being really sweet otherwise. There are some great tips here though – thanks :)

Former Au Pair (USA-Germany) April 16, 2014 at 3:46 pm

I had this problem with my host family (American AP in Germany). The parents expected me to be strict with the kids and get them to behave, but would sabotage me at every opportunity -and then ask me why I wasn’t enforcing the rules. Such a headache. The kids quickly learned to respect me and to follow rules while I was around, because they knew I would discipline them if they didn’t.

I remember telling them that they were not allowed dessert because they had been naughty all. day. and that I’d warned them that they would lose dessert privileges if they didn’t behave. The mom went “wow, that just seems so harsh!” (even though she had suggested it as a form of discipline before!)

I just eventually made my peace with it. The kids behaved beautifully for me, and when mom and dad were around, it was their problem.

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