Change the Family System, Not (Just) Your Au Pair

by cv harquail on June 14, 2016

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

My neighbor says this all the time, when she’s trying to make herself aware that the problem she’s complaining about might have its roots in her own behavior. That saying came to mind to me, when I read the email below.

5520753376_1e80601b29_mOf course, the problem described is a serious one — the Au Pair can’t seem to keep the Host Kids in line. One child in particular is mean, and lashes out trying to hurt the au pair.

Whose “fault” is this?

  • Is it the fault of the Au Pair, who is too much of a “pushover”?
  • Is it the fault of the children, whose behavior is inappropriate and unkind (even for 5 and 7 year olds, who just *might* not know better)?
  • Or is it the responsibility of the Host Parents themselves, who have established a family system that for whatever reason and in all its complexity allows this sort of behavior to happen?

When stuff like this happens with one Au Pair, my first thought is to consider what the Au Pair should do differently. Then, I consider how the Host Parents should back up the Au Pair’s authority and support her or his actions with the children.

When the same thing happens with a second Au Pair, I consider different places in the equation.

  • Did the parents unconsciously pick a “pushover” au pair for the second time? If so, why?
  • What are the parents doing that is inadvertently letting the kids get away with unkind behavior?
  • What is the bigger picture situation that needs to be addressed here?

Not to be harsh, though I know it might sound this way,  I think this is a situation where the Host Parents should consult a family therapist or social worker– someone who is trained to see the whole system in a family that is contributing to this constant problem.

‘Cause it’s not like getting a different Au Pair is going to fix this. Nor will the current plan of punishments and consequences.

Sure, when the Au Pair leaves the surface problem will be fixed. Without the pushover Au Pair to be mean to, the mean behavior goes away right?


I get that the Host Parents are really trying — it’s not like they are sitting back and letting this happen without any effort to curb their son’s negative behavior. But what they are doing isn’t working. And blaming the Au Pair, even though she’s contributing to the problem, will not fix the problem. There is something else going on here.   It might be helpful for the whole family if the parents were to take a step back, get some outside perspective, and try a different strategy altogether.

This is likely not what the host mom wants to hear. Maybe you have other suggestions…   

Your thoughts?

Dear AuPairMom,    We are host parents for a second year and can’t believe we are on the same place we were a year ago with our first AP.

I probably should not be here writing this, experiencing the same anxiety I was under almost a year ago. We are hosting a very sweet, happy AuPair, the only problem she is a pushover, she always has been and things have deteriorated overtime making it almost unbearable for everyone involved.

My kids simply do not listen to her, we have tried to correct things since the very beginning introducing positive reinforcement and consequences for their actions, we think we have done everything humanly possible to help her. She can barely manage my youngest children (7 and 5) with a few tricks. However, not with the oldest (9), who is a sweet, respectful, kind kid with everyone else (i.e., teachers, coaches, CCD leaders, etc.). The stuff he pulls with her is makes us wonder where is that coming from?!? We have taken electronics away and school fairs, birthday parties, you name it, the kid always ends up in the same place.

Today he is facing loosing a week away with friends because he kicked the AP and said something mean about her in front of his friends before going to school. What did she do? She stood there quietly took it all in instead of marching the kid inside of the house and talk to my dh, who was home at the time.

We heard about the incident much later, so we had a discussion and we are making him apologize to everyone who heard the statement, tomorrow, long after the incident. My dh will be there to ensure it gets done or he looses the trip. But if history is any indicator we will have another occurrence soon after and it will be probably worse. DS gets consequences but she is simply not able to stand up for herself and take immediate actions. She has another two months in her contract and she has complained about pain on her stomach due to stress, summer is coming and she will be exposed to kids more than ever (we are still sending the kids to 1/2 camp not to overwhelm her) but her days will be longer none the less, with more time spent with them, 5-7 hrs as opposed to 3-5 now.

So today we thought maybe it we could send her home early – end of June – last week she asked us finish early anyway (end of July) which we were amenable to. (see #3 below)
We don’t want to prolong the pain and think it is best to part ways now – also FWIW we have decided to withdraw from the program all together – no incoming AP for us.

In any case we (dh and I) are considering these options:

1- She grows a bakcbone tomorrow and turns the situation around immediately
2- We contact LLC to terminate the contract and give her two weeks for travel arrangements and departs end of June.
3- We do not contact anyone let her stay with us until the end of July – AP asked us to let her stay until then because her sister is coming to town and want to show her around and they can return to their home county together (which brings me back to her request wanting to depart early anyway, she knew sister was coming and wanted to go back with her, but that was not fully disclosed when she first asked)

Her sister is not planning to stay with us by the way, she is coming with a group of friends and staying in a hotel downtown so is not like the sister was counting on a free stay here at our home, so going back to # 3: Let her stay with us for a month without pay (can we do that?) since we will be either sending the kids to full day camp or hiring someone to cover for her, until she goes back end of July with her sister.

Any thoughts, opinions, bring back to reality statements will be truly appreciated.

Image by Sarah Buckley on Flickr


cv harquail June 14, 2016 at 9:00 am

What I wrote in my reply to this host mom:

Just a heads up- I predict you’ll be unhappy with my own response, because I suggest that the problem isn’t solely the au pair. I don’t mean to blame you, personally, but rather to say — this looks like an issue that’s bigger than the au pair’s personality. It becomes an opportunity for your family to reconsider the big picture of how you work together, what you expect of each other, and what your options for change are. As always, situations with an Au Pair are invitations for us to up our game as parents and learn something really new about ourselves.

hOstCDmom June 14, 2016 at 12:23 pm

I don’t disagree that it is likely there is a systemic issue (perhaps just the situation of the boiling frog re family habits, perhaps something more);

however, the one comment that makes me pause is that the OP says the 9yo is fine with everyone else. OP mentions 9yo being fine with adult authority figures – is this really true? Has OP really, truly sussed this out? (many adults, teachers, coaches will not proactively complain to a parent about a kid’s behavior) And, how is 9yo with other kids? IF the only person with whom the 9yo has issues is the AP, I might wonder there is as much a global issue as CV speculates.

Perhaps there is a narrower issue, albeit still serious. It may not be THIS AP per se – could be previous AP, former babysitter, teacher etc. It is possible 9yo may have serious issues with the APs/childcare providers, but possibly not because the 9yo has global issues. Inappropriate behavior, from harsh punishment, ridicule, mocking, to abuse (physical or sexual) from someone – again, I am NOT saying that this is the case with this AP or previous AP – *could* be a background issue that is playing out with the AP, especially if the 9yo has no other issues with other adults or kids. Clearly, 9 years is way too old to be kicking anyone, especially adults. This is a problem no matter its genesis. But I did just want to point out a possibility not addressed in CV’s post or comment.

NBHostMom June 14, 2016 at 1:36 pm

It takes two to tango! Combine children who test limits with an au pair who doesn’t have any = trouble.

Kids will push limits, they’re smart, they’re manipulative, they’re kids.

Au pairs of school age children need to know home to manage the behavior of school age children.

It is very concerning that your child would act out physically at an adult. There may be more going on then he’s simply identified her as a pushover. If this was happening in my house, I’d be spending all lot of time working with my child to ensure there isn’t an bigger underlying issue. They’d be punished for their actions, but I’d invest significant effort with my child understanding motivations and underlying feelings. It sounds like acting out physically is a reoccurring issue, making it even harder to dismiss.

We had a bit of a pushover AP, but our issues were more along the lines as she had trouble saying ‘no’ to cookies before dinner or would let bedtime and homework slide. My kids took advantage and it caused me many headaches.

I simply feel based on the limited intro that you may have something more going on than simply a pushover AP. I’m honestly surprised the AP has stayed, it doesn’t sound like she’s having a stellar year. Imagine being kicked at work. I can only imagine she didn’t go to your dh immediately as she’s already been told she needs to a better job managing the kids’ behavior.

You AP’s year is almost complete. Focus on your kids, perhaps work with a professional in childhood development to determine with your son why he is acting out physically at a caregiver.

Full Circle June 14, 2016 at 9:57 pm

Another thing that comes to mind to me as far as the behavior with this AP is that the more the parents punish the child, the more he associates AP with negative consequences (for him) and dislikes her more AND the more he realizes how little control she has over the situation. That can only lead to more acting out and more problematic as time goes on. This will get worse. Not the way to go imo. I agree that this isn’t ok for anyone involved, it’s not ok for AP to be kicked. I also agree that this is a bigger issue than AP, and that AP is just bringing it out/making it worse by not knowing how to be assertive.

Fortysomething HM June 15, 2016 at 6:12 pm

I agree with this. The issue obviously requires HPs and the AP to address the bad behavior and give consequences, but doing that and that alone does have the potential to make things worse for the exact reasons explained by Full Circle. This is why I think it is important for OP’s family (or any family in this situation) to also come at the situation from another direction at the same time — as has been suggested, by trying to get to the bottom of why the child behaves this way with the AP (but not others). Additionally, it make sense to try to get the AP to be less of a pushover in the meantime.

Of course, the OP’s situation (at least this exact one) is ending soon, so all of this is somewhat academic (but perhaps helpful for others who might need this advice). As to the original question, I agree with the others who have suggested that it may not be in anyone’s best interest to keep this going for another 6-7 weeks. The situation seems to be escalating from the description. The AP’s upset stomach is a big sign she’s feeling the stress; the child may be feeling pretty unhappy too, and no doubt the HFs are stressed about it all. Might be time to call it, and hopefully use it as a learning experience and opportunity to talk to your son about what was causing this.

Fortysomething HM June 14, 2016 at 2:08 pm

I have a preteen daughter who has a very hard time adjusting to a new AP each year. She always gets there, but it takes time, patience and effort on everyone’s part (and we are upfront about this during matching).

Her behavior is excellent in all other settings — school, extra curricular activities, at friends’ houses, etc. (we know this for a fact — she gets the highest marks possible on behavior on her report card every single marking period of every single year and other parents go out of their way to tell us that she is welcome at their homes anytime b/c she has such great manners, etc). She has a ton of friends — is on the student council, and teachers have told us that she goes out of her way to be very kind to other kids, especially new kids.

BUT during the first 2-3 months of each AP’s year, she has a very hard time letting them in. Usually it’s just that — she sort of keeps them at arm’s length for a few months until she is over the adjustment. But this year, it was different. We were stunned to hear some of the things she said to our (amazing) AP at the beginning — things that were clearly designed to make sure the AP knew she wasn’t “blood family” etc. It was almost like a child rejecting or pushing away a step parent. She has never become physical, though – she’s a girl and in typical girl form, she used her words to hurt. She was mainly fine with the AP as long as the AP was not in charge of her. In fact, she often wanted to spend time hanging out with the AP when the AP was off duty. She said she liked AP, and she clearly did — except for this specific rejection issue when AP was on duty.

We spoke to our daughter about it a ton of times, including with both positive and negative consequences as appropriate, and in the end, she admitted through many tears that she knew she was pushing the AP away by saying unkind things, didn’t want to be doing it, but did not know why she was doing it or how to stop. She has a hard time expressing her feelings, so just getting her to open up about it was a challenge, but we pressed on, determined to get to the heart of it. We think that this year was worse, because of things we learned about her lack of bonding with the immediately prior AP (nothing horrible, but it was clearly a bad match, and we learned it too late to do anything about it — live and learn I guess). The prior AP took on much less of a “member of the family role” compared to current AP, which also played a role we think.

Our child has a history of anxiety (which she has largely overcome with the help of a child psychologist). So in about month 3 of our current AP’s year (shortly after our daughter admitted she knew she was being unkind but didn’t know how to stop), we broke out the phone number for the psychologist again, and I went, along with our current AP. I didn’t bring my daughter or even tell her about it b/c I knew she would see it as punishment, which is the last thing the dynamic needed.

The psychologist said that she thought a lot of it stemmed from our daughter’s anxiety and that she may have felt threatened by the AP’s place in our family (as an only child, i think DD has a strong sense of “team” between herself, me and her dad). Also, DD sometimes feels self conscious that a lot of her friends have stay at home moms (or at least she focuses on those friends/moms to the exclusion of the solid number of those with working moms). All of this, plus a less than awesome bond with our prior (much weaker) AP was probably contributing to the situation.

In the end, we stayed persistent and on message that it was not acceptable to say and do unkind things, but we combined our message with a strong dose of patience and understanding (I certainly have no idea what it’s like to let a new AP in every year – sometimes I try to put myself in DD’s shoes in that regard). And with the help and patience of our amazing AP, we turned a corner shortly after that third month. DD and AP get along great (minus the normal, equal opportunity, crotchetiness of a preteen girl that we ALL suffer with! lol). DD let the wall come down and not only stopped being unkind, but let AP in (in DD’s own way). New Ap comes in a few months and I’m dreading it! But our hope is that after a great year this year, we are more “well set up” for a smoother transition.

I’m sharing all of this as a way to suggest that, consistent with another poster’s thoughts above, it may be that OP’s oldest child has something going on that is prompting this behavior and AP or no AP, it may be worth exploring. I am not in any way a psychologist or anything remotely resembling one, but my sense as a mom is that kids deal with feelings by acting out, and it’s not always obvious or linear.

2 kids and a cat June 14, 2016 at 7:31 pm

Part of this is what you maybe want for our children, versus what they (and the family) need in terms of Childcare. In considering your hiring criteria, what are the essential qualities you’re looking for? I agree with other comments on working with your son, but it would also be good to solidly define your job needs and what kind of person can do that.

Try to finish the sentence “our ideal au pair is …”. We ‘re going in to our second year, and we learned a lot. We want some who is creative and caring, but who can also follow directions. Since you’re getting pushovers, maybe you’re hiring for high compliance, but you should look for someone who sets their own direction, too (as in, will more proactively respond to your son).

Taking a Computer Lunch June 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm

Time to have a “reset your attitude” conversation with your AP. If she cannot do the job and is not in control of the situation (and you have alternative childcare options), then there is no reason to allow her to stay until July out of pity. She has a job to do, and if she wants to stay, then she needs to do it.

However, I recommend talking to your 9-year-old’s teacher, coaches, or other adults who have interactions with him. Are you turning a blind eye to inappropriate behavior that will not serve him well as he matures? You need to know! If the stick isn’t working, then try a carrot. What will be his reward for listening to the AP and behaving well all day – is it a special meal with his parents, a movie, a trip to an amusement park? You set the number of days which the reward requires, and keep to it. Speaking as a parent of a teenager, sometimes all you can take away is nutrition – and then you’re nowhere with negative reinforcement! You might as well get the younger ones into the act, too! Sometimes kids want more parent time, and that can be it’s own reward (we’re going to a restaurant for dinner with just you because you’ve been behaving so well with the AP…)

Schnitzelpizza June 15, 2016 at 4:06 am

I have previously hinted / talked about my less than stellar second au pair experience in Scandinavia.

1) I am not a push over. I set limits. I have rules (I am very, very German when it comes to following rules, unfortunately). I have a backbone and I do stand up for myself. I always managed to handle all kids I cared for (between 10 weeks and 15 years of age, some with ADH(!)D).
2) When I started au pairing in Scandinavia I was 25 with 10 years of child care experience, including a year in the US, caring for four children (1 to 13). And I was studying psychology (as a minor), focusing on early childhood developement.
3) I took time at matching and matched with a host family who I really thought was a great match and who I even met before matching.
4) The two older kids (8 & 10) did not cause any problems anywhere, not at school, not at practice, not with their parents, not with their friends (as far as I knw). (10 year old didn’t cause any problems with me either)

5) I was the wrong au pair for the 8 year old boy at that point in time.
6) His parents did nothing to help the situation. Anything they tried made it worse.

Standing up for myself actually made me leave early because the boy’s behaviour towards me was horrible. And I think it’s amazing that your AP is still with you. I would not be. You can kick me once but if you kick me twice (and you are older than 4), you are out.

He didn’t talk to me, he barked at me. I would ask him to please get his bag he’d point at it and bark – I told his parents, they asked him to please stop that. He didn’t. I told his parents, they told him to stop. He didn’t. He showed up at school without his bag because I would not pick it up for him while he was barking at me and well capable to pick it up himself. Guess who got in trouble (hint: it wasn’t him).

While I was with them he was constantly breaking things that didn’t belong to him. First he broke his bike (it ‘accidentally’ fell into a creek), he got his sister’s bike to go to school (no time to buy him a new buy until that weekend), he threw it down a hill because it was red and red was a girlish color and he would not use a red bike (the consequence was to buy him a $1000 bike on Friday). He pushed his baby sister who had just started walking and climbing off the couch, her hitting her head at the table (under their mom’s watch, thank god). He ‘lost’ his gym clothes, he ‘lost’ his book bag, he ‘lost’ his shoes (yes, his shoes, on the way home from school). He was constantly rude to me (I made dinner, we all ate together, mom asked him if he liked it, he said yes, she told him I had made it and to say thank you to me for preparing it, he pushed his plate away and spit the food he still had in his mouth across the table, actually spitting some in my soup, mom told him that was not a nice thing to do).

He hit his baby sister on the head with a hard toy on purpuse, to make her cry (which he thought funny), I took the toy away. Parents came home. Told him toy was gone until the end of the week. He snuck into their room and got it back out. They let him keep it.

He hit me. First when I accidentally beat him at a board game (I had planned to let him win to make him happy but inadvertently won, he had won twice previously). And he hit me hard. He immediately appologized. We talked about not hitting. I mentioned it after dinner because I knew (or well, I thought) it was just a ‘reflex’ because he was so upset. Parents asked him to please not hit and we don’t do that. Second time he hit me because I asked him to please don’t touch my notebook (baby was sleeping, I had my laptop in the living room, he came home, rang the doorbell and started yelling in the hallway – as usual, again something that had been discussed and ‘handled’ multiple times by me and parents – waking the baby, I put the baby back down, when I came into the living room he was walking around with my notebook because he “just had to show something to his friend real quick”). He slapped me in the face, hard. Got him sent to his room and his friend home. I actually quit over this. Why? Because he told his mom that I had slapped him (his bedroom window was directly above where she parked her car, he intercepted her, told her I had hit him and sent him to his room, he had an ice cream in hand before she ever talked to me… and that was after three months of constant ‘intervention’ for bad behaviour). I have never, ever laid hand on a child.

After I had given notice, my host mom’s sister visited. Know what? “Darling baby” treated his aunt just like he treated me. Including running away and hitting her when she tried to put on his shoes to go to an amusement park (he still got to go, which does take us back to ‘consequences’). My host mom had told her that I was the problem obviously because afterwards she came to me and asked me if he was constantly like that. I told her yes, she silently nodded and went away.

Yes, he was frustrated. He didn’t want an au pair. He thought he was old enough to be home alone (of course at 8 he wasn’t but even if he had been, baby sister would not have been). He thought mom should be home instead of me. There were days he was nice and when I tried to reinforce good behaviour with positive reinforcement (praise, thank yous, telling his mom he did great that day while he was around, allowing his favourite snack after school) and the next day we’d be back at where we started. I don’t know what the ‘right’ au pair for him would have been, maybe one who coddled him more, maybe one who had been stricter. I have no idea. All I know was that it wasn’t me.

At 8/9/10+ a child is too old to treat an adult, any adult as he treated me and as your child is treating your au pair. In my case, consequences were too few, too late and totally unrelated to what he had done. It turned into a game for him to see how far he could push his boundaries not only with me but also – and I think mostly – with his parents. With teachers and coaches, there would be consequences for acting out – bad grades, sitting out on the sideline etc. Bad behaviour was dealt with immediately and concequences were directly related to the bad behaviour. He could treat me as a punching bag because there was nothing I could do as anything I did (letting him show up at practice without his sports clothes when he didn’t want to pick up his own bag, walking to school after breaking his sisters bike, going to school without a snack because he’d spit out what I’d prepare and didn’t want to get his own food etc.) was instantly undermined by the parents and in the end I was at fault. He treated me the way he did because he could and I was the only one he could treat like that because he was ‘allowed’ to.

If what you have tried doesn’t work, you need to change your approach. If you don’t know how, you need to look for help. If he doesn’t know how to deal with his anger or frustration or fear or anxiety or whatever and his only outlet is acting out phyiscally, he needs to be taught other ways to handle situations that stress him out. And whatever you come up with, your au pair needs to be taught. She needs the right tools to handle him just as he does. And if she doesn’t use those tools correctly, she needs to be taught just as he does. Even if getting a new au pair solves the issue, he will find other people he can push around eventually, he will find new targets and new victims. Nip it in the bud now. While it seems he is only bullying your au pair.

WarmStateMomma June 21, 2016 at 6:54 am

Just horrible. I can’t understand why anyone would teach their child to treat people so badly.

“If what you have tried doesn’t work, you need to change your approach.” Such simple, but useful words.

AuPair Paris June 15, 2016 at 7:13 am

Wondering about pushover AP. Putting the little boy’s behaviour aside for a moment, being a pushover is a sign of a lack of confidence. It’s understandable that kids will push a pushover, but what is being done to improve AP’s confidence with discipline. It’s great that HM and HD are backing her up. Have they tried telling her what her response should be and standing there while she says it, instead of simply saying it for her. I know it’s a lot of training and support but APs are so young, and if they never had behavioural problems themselves, can sometimes be surprised that it would take more than a gentle ‘please’ to get a kid to do something. Supporting AP to act might be more helpful than acting for her.

I do think, as CV has said, that this behaviour from a child needs to be addressed in a more general way. Ok, maybe AP isn’t doing herself any favours, but as parents it is your job to make sure that your child grows up being able to deal with all kinds of authority figures. What use will it be to a child to grow up knowing how to be polite and kind with people who make it easy/necessary but taking advantage of everyone else! I don’t think anyone wants to raise an adult with that attitude.

Another note – I am a woman with a very gentle voice. I am not a pushover. It didn’t take my HKs very long to figure out the difference. In my current work with learning disabled people and sufferers of mental illness, it seems to take longer. I have one woman who will not follow my treatment plan because ‘I can’t make her, what am I gonna do?!’ She had literally said to me ‘you are too gentle!’ She is slowly learning otherwise, but what I say to her is that she has to learn these things for herself, for her own benefit and not because someone bullies or pushes her into it. (And then I sort of push her into it, but…)
Anyway, this is the attitude to take with this situation. Your child might be an angel with others, but he doesn’t get to pick and choose whether he will treat someone with respect or whether he will treat them with abuse – and as CV says, this is something to address more generally with someone who understands kids – a psychologist or social worker.

Multitasking Host Mom June 15, 2016 at 8:16 am

There are two issues here…another AP who is a “pushover” and a child who is miss behaving.

Issue one…AP. I know the OP says that this is their last AP, but it is still worth reflecting how they ended up with the same type of AP who didn’t work out the last time. I can see how this could happen. Our first AP was sweet, nice and totally overwhelmed by working with kids all day. It taught me alot about what our family truly needs in a child care provider. Personally, I gravitate toward calm, laid back people in my life, so it is natural to feel a connection to someone like that when interviewing for APs. But my kids will walk all over that type of person, so that is not the right person to be my family’s AP. Since this is not my natural way of thinking, whenever we start the matching process, I always write out a list of the characteristics of the ideal AP (for that cycle/stage in our lives) and constantly refer back to it when looking at applications and interviewing.This in a way takes my heart out of it and makes sure I am thinking with my head. (And I do consider the personality profiles provided by the agency to be one the top three things I look at when deciding if I want to interview a potential AP.) When I find someone who meets most of the things I have written down, I know I have our next match. Even thought the OP won’t have an AP soon, this still could apply to other child care searches.

Issue two…the child. I do have empathy for the OP, since I kind of went through something with my own child. I do have a son with anxiety issues. Up until he started kindergarten, he was in an in home day care setting (a women in her house watched four kids) and went to preschool a couple times a week for a couple hours. Honestly, there were a few miss steps, but overall everything was great with my child. When he officially started school, and was in a much more structured setting, his anxiety issues became blatantly obvious, and he really struggled. And yes, I cringe now to admit it, but I was the mom who kept saying, “But he was fine before. It must be the fault of the school, teacher, etc.” Finally, the school social worker set me down, we had a real heart to heart, and I am so thankful now that I look back many years later, that she finally got through to me. Once I thought about it there were times that my child showed some of these symptoms, but I didn’t (or admittedly didn’t want to) see that there was something wrong with my child. Now after alot of therapy and a little medication, my child is doing great…in all settings and with all types of people. Now, my child has a diagnosis illness, and I am not saying that the OP’s child has that, but there is something going on that is causing the child not to act in an appropriate way even if it is only with one person…the AP. What the OP is doing right now is not working, but there is something that this child is not adequately able to communicate. I would see this as an opportunity to explore some sort of therapy for the child and/or parents, to see if they could find ways to better express themselves or possibly determine what is truly causing this problem.

Now for the OP’s original question. The AP is telling you in so many words that she can’t do her job. “pain in her stomach due to stress”. It is probably time to talk to the AP without the kids around, and see if she can truly make it until the end of July. Better to know now if you need to put backup child care into place. If she says she wants to stay, the AP will need to agree to step up and take more control of the situation. Instead of the parents always doling out the punishment, empower the AP to have a plan ready to put into action the next time child misbehaves….of course that plan would be whatever the parent’s feel is appropriate and the AP thinks she can handle. At least then there will be a more immediate consequence for the way the child behaves. Of course, coaching and training the AP to do something they haven’t been able to do for the last 10 months or so will be difficult. I wonder if it might just be better to part ways now.

f_steph June 15, 2016 at 8:45 am

I completely agree that it takes two to tango. If your child hasn’t had this type of behavior with someone else, it’s very possible the au pair’s laissez faire attitude is causing it, but it’s worth some inspection to be sure that it really is just directed at the aupair.

We are an eight time host family, never rematched with 2 boys who enjoy the au pair program and getting to meet new people. Last August, we got a new au pair from Sweden, she came from a large family and had 3 much younger brothers, she was studying to be a teacher, I thought I had hit the aupair jackpot for my 2 growing boys!
Turns out, she was absolutely incapable of doing the job: homesick, emotional, judgmental, no backbone, you name it. She quit after 2 months and tons of discussions and just went home. I bring this up because it was the one and only time my oldest ever had an issue with an au pair, he could “feel” she didn’t want to be here and reacted badly to it. He refused to talk to her, play with her, he simply wanted nothing to do with her. The most telling moment was on her last day when he refused to give her a hug or even say bye and walked out the door.
All that to say, there could be some sense from your child that this person really isn’t into what she’s doing and that makes it hard to want t spend time or respect someone. That doesn’t excuse the hitting and kicking, you need to address that issue.

Eastcoastmom June 15, 2016 at 10:57 am

I’ve been in this situation with an AP who couldn’t handle my kids, mostly my oldest. I talked to her about it many, many times. I provided instructions on what to do, what to say, what tone of voice to use. I role played with her to try to get her to use a stern tone that they would listen to. I gave her a child discipline video to watch and then we talked through that discipline plan, which involves setting expectations and counting until a consequence is implemented. None of these things worked. She wasn’t capable of being a commanding presence. My oldest has ADHD and so he honestly doesn’t even hear you if he’s engaged in an activity so you have to get down to his level and make sure he hears you. She couldn’t do that. Or wouldn’t do that. I think she felt silly or like it was beneath her to play with the kids or get down to their level physically to talk to them. In the end she left after 6 months and, while it was a huge pain for me to juggle child care for the 6 weeks it took to get another AP, I was glad she left. We now have an older and more mature AP who doesn’t put up with nonsense from my kids, while still being a calm and gentle person. I wonder how old your APs have been because I feel that played into my situation. The one who didnt work out was 19 and the new is 21. I also think their home lives played into it. The one was a bit spoiled by her parents and the other has had to work and make her own way. And confidence and self respect definitely played into it. I will be sure to screen for self respect going forward. I agree with other posters that there could be something going on with your 9 YO and you may want to explore that. I also think you may want to really think about your criteria when selecting child care providers. Use screening questions to find those who respect themselves and also will spend time bonding with the kids so they will want to listen. (Former AP never said good night to the kids if I was putting them to bed. Current AP makes a point of it every single night)

chicago123 June 15, 2016 at 6:52 pm

Hi- I am the OP and I am really grateful about the advise and opinions about my family and ds possible reasons to be acting that way.

To clarify a few things: We are aware that there might be something beyond what is in front of us and have reached out to his school teacher who said he has not had any problems at school. The teacher went as far as to discuss the specific issue at hand and reminded about respect and compassion. Teacher has also suggested we speak to our pediatrician which we are later this week, so that part of the equation is being worked on and part of the reason we decided not to continue with AP program, at least for now, until we determine the underlying issue. We had two sitters prior to APs and he was never mean and disrespectful towards them.

Since more than likely our issues won’t be resolved in 5-6 weeks AP has left with us, I would like to go back to my original question: What to do with our AP remaining time with us. As an update on this I talked to our LLC who is digesting all this in and will help us come up with a solution for the remainder of the time. But I would love other perspectives.

@Schnitzelpizza I really feel for you and while my son is not near you describe – I can see it could be him if this situation continues. My ds has told us in the past that he does not need a sitter and wants me home instead.

DH an I agreed that we are partly responsible as we went and chose for high compliance. We had made a conscious this time around to look for someone with a stronger personality and proactively set her own direction. We were near to making an offer when the last incident happened and we realized that might not solve after all.
Thanks again

NoVA Twin Mom June 16, 2016 at 12:54 pm

You might want to look at the previous thread about ‘supplementing’ au pair care – if you can give your au pair and son breaks from one another you might be able to extend the amount of time that you can keep the relationship afloat. Good luck!

Mimi June 21, 2016 at 5:45 pm

I know I’m late to respond here, but I’ve had similar issues with my oldest disrespecting the AP. Although he’s never been physical, he’s incited the younger ones to riot and played some underhanded tricks on new APs in the beginning (Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans are banned in our house), trying to test the waters. He’s fiercely independent and convinced he doesn’t need an AP. He’s also fine with other authority figures, but butts heads with the APs and has since he was about 8 (almost 12 now). We are very upfront about this when interviewing and careful in selecting APs that have the ability to manage 4 willful HKs and in a way that allows everyone to have fun and enjoy each other.

We work very hard during our first month to establish a good relationship with all the children and the AP outside of her supervisory duties to help them bond because I find that it makes all my imps much more invested in cooperating with the AP when they see her as an ally and not an obstacle. BUT for the last three years, we have scheduled time for my oldest 3 of the house during the summer on a rotating basis, whether it’s camps or day trips with friends because we’ve found that everyone is happier taking small breathers from each other and those left at home have a better one on one experience with the AP who can focus on spending time with them instead of refereeing.

Although your son may have been ok with sitters before this, an AP is more than just a sitter and there are so many ways that having an AP can create jealousy and hurt feelings which cause a child to act out. Full Circle makes some excellent points about how he is going to associate her with punishment, too, and that’s important to avoid moving forward with other APs or caregivers.
It’s good you are addressing his behaviors and I also encourage you to think about your other two children and how to lessen the impact his behavior has on their behavior towards the AP. Another thing to consider is ways that you might be undermining the AP as an authority figure in your son’s eyes. (I’m not saying you are, but it’s good to think about all the possible contributing factors.) He is at an age where he may be picking up on your frustration with the situation.

So to your original question: If you can find some supplemental care for him for the next few weeks, let the AP finish out her term if she chooses to stay. Have a conversation with her to reset the situation as TACL suggests and implement a course of action like MultitaskingHM recommends. Good luck and let us know what you decide and how it works out.

A Smith July 27, 2016 at 4:44 pm

We’re having some similar issues to what you describe here – our oldest (of four) is giving our AP a really hard time, not listening, inciting his younger brothers to disobey and misbehave, etc., despite being praised by all his teachers and coaches (and former sitters) for being such a great kid/teammate/classmate.

We’ve been hesitant to step in too forcefully because we don’t want to undermine the AP or make the situation worse by making our oldest feel like AP tattles and then he gets in trouble…but if the AP continues to let things slide and not enforce rules and “no,” then I’m not sure what we can do.

In our case, I’m also not so sure it’s the AP being passive so much as not willing to put in the hard work that it takes to bond with our oldest. Complicating things further, I believe my son’s behavior is partly due to a bad rematch situation and related anxiety/trust issues – so I hate to initiate another transition with even more upheaval. When is “passable” good enough?

Anon for this one June 16, 2016 at 1:43 pm

I agree with most of what the other posters have said above, so I won’t repeat the advice here.

To answer the OPs question about what to do with the au pair for the last 5 weeks: If it were me, I think I would allow the AP to stay with us for those weeks given that the AP has friends and family coming to visit, and it really does sound like the AP has tried her best, even her best wasn’t good enough. In my book, good intentions and trying hard count for a lot. Sending her home and thereby depriving her of the opportunity for this visit feels like punishing her for something that really isn’t entirely her fault.

Technically, if the AP is not working, she cannot stay in the country since working as an AP is a condition for maintaining her visa, but given the “travel month” that APs are permitted (during which they are not paid, but can stay in the country travelling), maybe she could end her year early but then stay to “travel”?

TexasHM June 16, 2016 at 4:28 pm

If she terms early they lose their travel month.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 16, 2016 at 9:08 pm

With APIA, the HF can sign a consent form that terminates the contract early (the AP loses pay, but is released from duty to start her travel month, which begins the moment she leaves the HF as an employee). We did this with a couple of APs for different reasons – AP #8 wanted to leave a week early and I was glad to be rid of her – for AP #9, I realized that AP #10’s first weekend would be the weekend of my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and gave AP #9 the choice of leaving a week early or staying a week longer (I had hoped the latter would happen). She chose to leave a week early because she wanted her travel month to end in time to return home for her birthday.

In this case, I don’t know if it would work – the sister intends to come at the start of the planned travel month, and if the AP exits 5 weeks early, then she’d be risking it if she stayed in the country (probably nothing would happen if she were a European with a plane ticket). I don’t think the agency would book and pay for her ticket if she were to take 2 months to travel.

My advice to the OP is not to worry about the AP. She should be concerned about her child’s behavior. She should warn the AP to step up her game or risk going home early and losing time with her sister. In my 15 years of experience in hosting, it is vary hard to keep APs motivated during their last few weeks. They are saying goodbye to friends for the first time in their lives (unless they moved around a lot, which none of my APs had done) – and they are also separating from their HF (even if they didn’t seem that bonded – the anxiety over the end of their year will shock them and you). It’s good practice for sending a child to college – you’re both done with each other and are just ready to move on.

TexasHM June 16, 2016 at 10:15 pm

TACL how long ago was that? We were with APIA and explored this all the way up the chain and were told they could term early but that they forfeit their travel month because they edit their end date in SEVIS to the date they leave which triggers an incomplete (requiring immediate departure within 48 hours if I recall). This was Feb 2014. I got the same information from CCAP when I asked them out of curiosity last year.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 18, 2016 at 9:26 pm

I did it in 2013 and 2014. The early release with APIA requires a form to which both AP and HF agree.

TexasHM June 16, 2016 at 10:17 pm

I just reread your post and I bet since it was only one week early APIA ate the fees and didn’t report it to the DOS…we were trying for a month early.

WarmStateMomma June 21, 2016 at 6:43 am

Dear OP:

It sounds like your son has been unkind to the AP all year and she has stuck by your family all year. She has very little time left before her sister comes and I’d let her finish.

Can you imagine how low your self-esteem would be that you’d rather let someone get away with kicking you and insulting you in public than addressing it? That didn’t happen overnight and it probably has been eroding all year. If at all possible, I’d extend her the kindness of letting her finish the last few weeks until the sister’s visit so she can keep her plans with her sister. Having to tell the world her HF pulled the plug with just a few weeks left seems harsh.

FWIW – I have an adorable, funny, intelligent nephew who is cooperative and cheerful with very strict authoritarian caregivers. He’s also a disrespectful brat around his parents, younger kids, and any adult who gives him any leeway. I’d never leave my kids with someone who demanded strict obedience but some kids are more interested in respecting an authority figure than having one respect them. It sounds like you need more information about what makes your son tick. Speaking to your son’s physician sounds like a solid start down that path.

Good luck to you and your family!

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