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?
Share with your Au Pair your system for ‘disciplining’ your kids
5 Key Strategies For Building A Strong Relationship With Your Au Pair
Au Pair Asks: When Host Kids Are Mean
Improving the Relationship between your Au Pair and Your Kids