Classic Case: Child Hits Au Pair, Cries a Lot, Parents Don’t Care

by cv harquail on September 8, 2015

Here’s a situation that’s hard to write a headline for, and perhaps even harder to solve.

We’ve often heard from Au Pairs who have host kids who hit, scream, cry, and throw tantrums.

We’ve also often heard from Au Pairs whose Host Parents don’t seem to mind when kids behave badly.

When these two situations are combined, it’s really tough.

277123912_245c0f5117_mI turn this over to you:

Dear AuPairMoms, I am hoping you can help me find a way to resolve this difficult situation.

This is my very first time as an au pair. I have been here (Spain) 5 days and although I know it is very early, I have already noticed that one of my two children is VERY misbehaved.

Examples: hitting me, laughing and after I firmly say: “NO! Do not do that.” he laughs and says yes over and over and proceeds to hit me and his little brother.

He also cries CONSTANTLY. For attention mostly but also when someone tells him no or someone asks him to do something he does not want to do.

I have been here 5 days, and do you know how many times this child has cried in those 5 days? 97 times. I’m keeping count.

I am never alone with the children. The mother is always with me. This child hits her and disobeys her.

The father says “Boys will be boys” and continuously makes excuses for the boy. The child listens to no one and does as he pleases. The other child is a perfect angel…

When I try to speak with the parents about my concerns…they give excuses and almost in a way make me feel stupid for bringing it up. They make me feel like because it’s my first time as an au pair, that I do not have a valid point to make.

I am starting to think I have made a mistake by traveling 5,000 miles away from home. I love this family, but I do not enjoy this child in particular… What should I do??

See also: Share with your Au Pair your system for ‘disciplining’ your kids

Image by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.  These kids aren’t naughty, but they sure look mischievous, no?


Anonymous in CA September 9, 2015 at 3:51 am

At the risk of putting way too much out there…(this obviously struck a nerve in me…)

First, I want to acknowledge that you’re in a tough spot and it shows maturity and commitment that you are reaching out for some help and support. Second, as you already pointed out, you’re brand new to the home and the children and you’re far far away from your safety / comfort zone. Give yourself some time, give the children some time. Keep looking for ways to bond with them. Be patient with yourself and with the children.

Next, I suggest you stop keeping count. It’s not serving you well and each time it happens I imagine you’re thinking “here we go again.” That won’t help. Children cry. Even children whom you think are too old to cry. And they usually cry when they have an unmet need. So try to remove your emotions from the situation, take a mental step back, assess the situation, and try to sort out what it is that the child is trying to tell you with his tears. Maybe it’s nothing, though I would sort of be surprised if that’s the case.

Some specific ideas, some you’ve no doubt already tried, so just sift through those:
1. when the child is crying, run through the list. Is he tired (did he get enough sleep the night before); is he hungry; does he need to pee; has he been inside all day and needs some time outside; does he need closeness (I know it might seem like a “reward’ to go snuggle in a corner with him and read a book when he’s crying, but if you think of the crying as a foreign language and the translation is “I need a person to be with me,” then it’s easy to see how creating an opportunity for closeness is actually the most beneficial thing); does the chid trust you….are you really tuning in to the child’s needs so that he understands that you’re there for him and you hear / see him..this really takes creating opportunities to demonstrate to the child that you’ve got him and he’s ok. (I realize it probably sounds dorky, but what you’re describing sounds more like a scared and unsure child than one who really wants to misbehave…there aren’t too many actual sociopathic children out there, I don’t think!).

2. Are there certain triggers? Does the crying / hitting happen at the same time each day? In the same way? Right before or right after something in particular? Keep a journal of those circumstances rather than counting the number of times he cries to see if you can find a pattern. Does it happen right after the child eats a particular food? (that’s a big one in the U.S. – gluten and dairy intolerances that really make some kids act out).

3. You mentioned the host mom is home with you guys; can you take one or both children to the park without the mom? I seriously find that getting outside ALWAYS helps. It changes the mood, gives children freedom to move their bodies, fresh air…

4. About the hitting. First – does the child think he’s hitting you? I know that sounds like a weird question to ask, but I recently had the experience where a babysitter got very upset because the child did something indirectly that, to the babysitter, felt like the child had kicked her….only the child had no idea that the babysitter thought that…child was kicking something else and the babysitter happened to feel the kick from the other side (back seat / front seat issue). I think it’s really important to be absolutely sure that the child understands – and not all children have the full understanding of how their actions affect others…this is something we learn over many years. Assume good intentions before making conclusions.

5. I read an amazing article here:
It turns discipline upside down and when the child is hitting, the teacher takes him to a safe place where he can’t hurt anyone or himself, let’s him work it out, then when he’s calm, they can have a discussion about it and strategize alternatives to misbehaving. It’s compassionate and apparently very effective, at least according to the article.

5.1 Redirect! Have you tried humor? Just a thought. Sometimes it breaks the mood just long enough for everyone to regain composure and adds levity to the situation. Ignore the crying and instead say, “shhhh, did you hear that? that noise.” You’ll get their attention and they’ll probably focus for a moment. Lead them on a hunt to find the noise. “I think it’s coming from over there, shhhh, do you hear it?” This goes in the category of “weirdest stuff can work sometimes!” Sometimes I simply announce that something is broken and I’m looking for a [plumber / carpenter / roofer / baker / electrician, etc.] to help me. We make the hands busy with other things…like making a hammer out of cardboard, so there is no time for hitting. Then we go around and “fix” things with the cardboard hammer. Or another one I’ve used is, “I’ve lost 1 dollar, can you help me find it?” and we go off looking…sometimes I hide weird things in funny places that he finds when he least expects it.

6. The parents…that’s probably the hardest. As with the child, assume they have good intentions and help them to understand that at a minimum, you need them to back you in front of the children…if it’s your shift and the children are misbehaving and you try to discipline, the parents should support you in front of the children. If they disagree with the method, then you and the parents should talk after, away from the children. But first and foremost, the children need to see that the adults are all on the same page. And if the parents can’t be on the same page with you…gosh, I don’t know. Hopefully some APs will chime in on that one for tips.

And, again, do give it some time and be proactive at developing trust, but also don’t force it. Sometimes the best thing to do is observe.

Good luck!

Rural Host mom September 9, 2015 at 7:52 am

On #6, the parents: there are times when I ignore misbehavior and strangers/observers probably judge. If I feel like my kids are fishing for negative attention, they won’t get it – but the kid who’s doing something good will. If we start a cycle of negative attention, they’ve actually won because now they know the behavior has power.

FirstTimeHM September 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm

On #5 Ross Green, I’ve used his techniques on my really temperamental 3 year old and it helped him develop strategies so he didn’t need to cry so horribly that he got blue, frightened because he didn’t get enough air and passed out a few times.

BAHM September 9, 2015 at 4:39 pm

a lot of what you suggest, while ok, serve to undermine and question the AP’s position. she’s frustrated that she’s being hit by a child and more upset that the HP have such a cavalier attitude. #4 is insulting to the AP. #6, while it’s good advice to assume that parents have good intentions, they’ve clearly shown that they are not vested in “protecting” their AP by listening and understanding. they are dismissive. there’s a great divide between what HP ‘should’ do to support their AP as it relates to bonding and what HP actually do.

i’m a HM and former nanny. i wouldn’t judge AP one bit if she wanted to pack her bags. too many red flags (and i’m referring to the parents’ attitude, not the kid’s) too soon is not a good thing.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 9, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I think your suggestions for her are good but your interpretation of crying in older children seems odd to me. We can ultimately say that any complaint by a child is because their needs are not being met. Crying is an inappropriate way for a child to get their needs met. It is not always “I need someone to be with me” it is often “pay me more attention NOW!”. It is true that it is a sign that a child needs/wants attention but if a child cries and you instantly scoop him up in your arms and run through your list then you are teaching him that it is the most appropriate way to get his needs met. WAY more effective than merely asking for their needs to be met. There are much better ways for a child to communicate their needs other than screaming. Maybe it sounds cruel to you but to me there is nothing wrong in ignoring a crying older child until they are ready to talk about what they need. It is just a calm normal thing to accept. No trauma involved. I find it hard to believe that in practice you would accept a, let’s say, 7 year old, wordlessly crying at you because they are hungry rather than expecting them to ask for food.

I have to say too that I hope if your au pair tells your that your child has misbehaved and hit her that you don’t suggest that they had good intentions in doing so!! The car seat issue is a different thing altogether.

UKAu Pair September 9, 2015 at 4:03 am

Where are you from AP?

I ask because some of this sounds like culture shock- for both of you!

Are you their first au pair? If so, it could be that the child is scared/insecure/not sure how to respond to a new person in his home.

Raising children is also very, very different in places like Spain to what you might be used to where you grow up. Spanish children are usually treated like little princes and princesses in their own homes, and a lot of things that you might find unacceptable are considered normal. I remember how shocked I was that my toddler (who was almost 4 at the time) went to bed well after I did- often at half 10/11pm, meaning that he was often tired and grumpy (and, yes, crying for no reason) in the evening.

You haven’t been there for very long, and I’d suggest giving it at least a month before you make any decisions about whether this is an environment you want to stay in. Chances are that after a week or so you’ll both be used to each other and this will be less of an issue.

American Host Mom in Europe September 9, 2015 at 6:02 am

There was a really useful (in my opinion!) article in today’s Aha Parenting newsletter that might help the au pair in Spain to some extent —

NJSAHHM October 1, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I love! Thank you for sharing this.

Rural Host mom September 9, 2015 at 7:46 am

From the kid’s perspective, 5 days ago a new caregiver arrived. It turned his world upside down, and it’s totally normal to see acting out behavior – kids will be kids, but it’s our job (and yours) to help them DEVELOP better coping strategies. It takes weeks (2-4) to establish new routines, and consistency is key.

Your letter reminds me a bit of the “I was a better parent before I had kids” motif – take a step back to understand the family and why things are working they way they do. Keep in mind they hired you because they need childcare help. Find places where you can be the most helpful, even if a parent is always there.
Some strategies: find the triggers; change the situation; praise positive; be consistent. Why are the kids crying/hitting? Are they tired, angry, hungry, frustrated, bored? Once you figure that out, you can anticipate when they’re going to hit the wall and change things up before then. Don’t wait until they’re throwing blocks everywhere after 20 minutes – clean up and go outside after just 12 or 15 minutes. Always focus on what you want them to do and praise the positive behavior. Make the negative attention minimal. Once again, it will take weeks to get in to a new pattern with these kids, so give it some time.

Schnitzelpizza September 9, 2015 at 8:24 am

“We’ve often heard from Au Pairs who have host kids who hit, scream, cry, and throw tantrums.

We’ve also often heard from Au Pairs whose Host Parents don’t seem to mind when kids behave badly.”

Been there, done that.
I left. I couldn’t do it.

I was a very happy and content (and I think good) au pair in the USA. My family and I were a great match when it came to “how to raise a child.” I just fit in. It was way before Skype, we talked on the phone twice before my arrival and the question of how they raise the kids or how the discipline the kids somehow never came up (though we talked on the phone for 3+ hours during the first call). It was a really successful match and I wish that back then I could have extended.

When I was in Scandinavia I matched with much more care. I asked more questions. I wanted to know more about how they dealt with their kids, what the kids were like, behavioural issues, allergies, anything I should be aware of… because I promise, I have seen in all (including a friend that had to get inbetween her teenage host children because the older brother tried to beat his sister with a belt). Anything that was conveyed during multiple calls, emails and meeting in person (!) was wonderful. The kids were in age groups I was most comfortable with (school-aged and a toddler), the parents were nice, the schedule was great. My expectations were too high.

The girls (11 and 1) were great. Amazing kids, both of them. The middle son (8)? Ha! Oh my. He was a hand full, as granny would have said. He was so not ready and not prepared for an au pair. He hated me from the bottom of his heart. He was so frustrated by the whole situation (suddenly being a middle child, mom going back to work after having been at home for a year, having a stranger living with them who was barely proficient in their native language), it was all my fault, I couldn’t do anything right and I promise I did my best but I just could handle how his parents were dealing with his anger, his agression, his temper outbursts and his general behaviour. Which is – they didn’t.

Nothing he did had consequences.
He “accidentally” broke his bike (it magically flew down a mountain on the weekend) and then deliberately broke his sister’s bike which he was supposed to use until they could get around to buying him a new bike. Because it was red. And red is a color for girls. He threw it into a creek. Same night they bought him a new mountain bike.
He’d push his baby sister off the couch because “she was in his spot”. And I mean push with force. It was ignored.
He’d tear up his older sister’s homework. No consequences. He’d intentionally spill his soup onto the table after having been told that I had prepared it even if he’d just said it was good. The only consequence was that mom would prepare him a sandwich and give him ice cream. We were ready to leave (to the amusement park) and his aunt had to chase him all through the house and physically restrain him to put on his shoes. He still got to go and got treats at the park.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when he slapped me in the face and told his mom I had hit him. He was showing off in front of a friend, plase don’t didn’t work, a firm no didn’t work, taking my private laptop (that he had gotten out of my room without permission) away from him resulted in him hitting me and me quitting.

I can deal with misbehaving children but I cannot deal with parents who don’t mind bad (and dangerous) behaviour because “the other two are just so much easier to handle.” I knew that what he did was not how they wanted their child to behave. It was nothing cultural. If anything, the cultural norm there was to be ever better adapted to social standards and more reserved than I was used to from Germany (and I am from the north, we are cold hearted introverts all of us). They were upper class, wealthy even for local standards, they wanted their children to excell. At that point they just had no idea how to handle him and me being there was the worst thing that could happen to him.

I know they successfully had au pairs again after I had left. And at a different point in their and in his life it probably has been a good idea. Then? Nope. Not the right time and not the right person. After five days they might still be trying to find out how far they can take it with you, after five months I knew that wasn’t it. And in reality I knew after five weeks but I don’t generally give up like that.

With only having been there five days… I’d suggest to wait and see how it goes. Give him some time to get to know you.

Ask the parents what you may do if you don’t want to be hit. Is it okay if you firmly tell him know and restrain his hands? Or do they want you to redirect his behaviour? Carefully and mildly hit him back to show him being hit is not nice (that’s how my aunt stopped my cousin to bite people when she was that age, she bit back… I don’t know if there are many child rearing experts out there who’d suggest that but it did actually work)? Is he tired and needs a nap? Is there anything that sets off bad behaviour that can be avoided easily? Asking not to be hit by the child you are caring for is okay. Even if mom doesn’t mind or if it’s culturally acceptable for a child to hit an adult it’s okay if you don’t want him to hit you. You just need to talk to them about what they want you to do to make him stop so that you don’t get in trouble with them.

Can you ignore his constant crying? If it’s really just for attention or to get what he wants… can you have him cry it out? Can you stop counting and can you stop caring? Children can learn (and do learn quickly) that different care givers behave and react differently. As long as you don’t get into trouble with the parents if you just ignore his crying and whining (and as long as he is safe while throwing a tantrum) there is no reason why your no should change into a yes just because he wants it to. Would his parents mind if you did not give in to his whining?

If after five weeks you still think you can’t do it… find a new family (if your visa allows it). You are not failing just because you don’t stick it out. You do not have to suffer through something that is supposed to be a great experience for you. Not every au pair – family constellation is a great success. Just because it doesn’t work out between a family and an au pair doesn’t mean that either side is “bad.” It’s just a bad match. But do give it some time and see if you can work through it.

Michelle September 9, 2015 at 4:43 pm

I totally understand you, I hear from all my au pair friends the same situation. No consequences for bad behavior, only rewards. Who can understand that? For sure, not us, foreigners from all over the world. Well, thank God my host family is great and I don’t have to deal with these problems.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 9, 2015 at 8:49 pm

We tried to sponsor AP #1 as an employer (she had skills we desperately needed and she wanted to stay in the U.S. at a time when APs could only stay one year legally). After 3 1/2 years with us she was done – and, quite frankly, while she was perfect with The Camel, as well as child #2 when he was an infant and toddler, by the time child #2 was a preschooler, she was holding him back “because it was easier.” AP #2 arrived after a 3-week hiatus, and child #2 was angry because in his mind if she went away, then AP #1 whom he called his “Spanish mommy” would return. AP #2 was young, a bit tearful at her first real experience outside her country, but she soldiered on. Within 3 months she was begging us to let her take child #2 to the latest animated movie at the weekend (because she wanted an excuse to go). They bonded so thoroughly, that when she left our family after 18 months, everyone was sad to see her go (and child #2 thoroughly benefited from her pushing him in all the ways that AP #1 would not!).

OP – I’m sorry your HF was unable or unwilling to give you a second chance, but sometimes little kids are little kids – they’re not necessarily mean or impossible, but merely trying to figure out where the boundaries and consequences lie. (However, by the time they’re 8, their reactions to new APs should be more measured – unlike Schnitzelpizza’s experience.)

By the way, when child #2 had a meltdown, 9 times out of 10 a hug cured it. He just needed to know that he was loved, even when all of his emotions made him go awry. Today, as a high schooler, he still comes to me and says, “I need a hug.”

Schnitzelpizza September 14, 2015 at 10:15 am

In the US my 13 year old would sometime initiate a hug after having an especially difficult time. Just to make sure that he was still loved eventhough he had been difficult. Gosh those kids were amazing.

My 8 year old in the US also had a very difficult time after my arrival. She had been daddy’s little princess for 7 years. And now she was on her way to being a middle child. She had also been amazingly close with their first au pair (I was only the second) who had spent much of her free time with her (taking her to the movies, going shopping just the two of them) because she was having such a difficult time with no longer being the youngest. Saying that she didn’t very much appreciate me for the first two months might be playing it down. But… in my host family behaviour, good or bad, had consequences. She had to come to terms with me being there and she did. When I came back to visit a year later we noticed we even really liked each other ;)

AuPair Paris September 9, 2015 at 11:00 am

Nope. Just nope. Can take any behaviour at all from kids if the parents take appropriate steps about it. My whole deal as a caregiver is to try and find out what’s going on with a child. *Why* they’re misbehaving. And then to try to help them solve it. For me, a necessary step is acknowledgement that the behaviour is not acceptable.

This is why, though advice from my HPs about how to get through to their kids is helpful and welcomed with open arms, it needs to be in addition to an acknowledgement that the kids’ behaviour is not ok. To the AP and to the kids. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. I’ll talk to him. Have you tried X?’ Is extremely different from ‘well boys will be boys. He always does that anyway if you give him the wrong plate. You really need to memorise his favourites so this doesn’t happen.’

In my opinion, kids who hit and scream can be worked with. Parents who don’t care can’t.

WarmStateMomma September 9, 2015 at 11:06 am

I couldn’t agree with you more, AP Paris.

WarmStateMomma September 9, 2015 at 11:02 am

How old is the boy? My 8 month old baby hits because she’s learning to use her limbs and doesn’t know any better – so we just ignore it. On the other hand, my 2 year old hits on rare occasions (I can count on one hand how many times in the last year) and she gets a stern “No! We don’t hit!” and then swiftly carted off to her room for “quiet time.” I’m having trouble finding the words to describe “disrespectful” in a way she can understand, though.

My nephew lives in a “boys will be boys” environment and he just gets more intolerable as he gets older and stronger. If he is just around me and not his parents, he behaves a lot better because I won’t tolerate his crap.

If the host parents aren’t willing to admit there’s a problem, I really don’t think there’s anything an AP can do. If the AP were my daughter, I’d tell her to ask the host parents for advice (and maybe share some suggestions others posted here) and give it another week or two. If the parents aren’t going to make an effort, it may be time to move on. Neither the AP nor the boy benefit from spending that much time with someone they don’t like.

NoVA Twin Mom September 9, 2015 at 3:39 pm

I was wondering how old the “hitting” child was too, but just re-read that the child hits the au pair AND his little brother. So I’m thinking the child doing the hitting is at least 2.5 for the parents to be tolerating him hitting the little brother (though I agree they should be trying to stop it altogether) and for the little brother to be moving around enough to be getting in his way.

Original poster: September 9, 2015 at 11:31 am

I talked with the family. And he and I both agree that the child is upset because he does not user stand what my purpose is. He does not understand that I am here to help him. So, we are looking for other options for me. I am worried that we are acting too soon. I love this family but I agree that they boy is acting out because I am here. Maybe it’s not the right time for him to have an au pair.
So now, I am thinking “what if” about everyhing. What if my new host family is worse. What if I’m better off staying here with the misbehaved child. What if something terrible happens and I’m even more unhappy somewhere else.
I’m very worried for myself. But we shall see…
Anymore advice?

Mimi September 9, 2015 at 9:43 pm

Sometimes in life the best decisions are not the easy ones. I applaud your willingness to stick this out and to find advice here for how to improve a difficult situation, but there are a lot of reasons why you leaving this family and situation are going to be a good thing for you but you might not fully realize it until there’s some time and distance between you.

It’s often easier to want to stay with the “devil you know,” but don’t be afraid to take a chance with another family. Do your best in the time you have left and be open to new situations. Don’t be defined by what’s already happened here, focus instead on what comes next. We’ve seen here countless times that there really is ‘a lid to every pot.’ Try to think beyond today’s disappointment…you now have experience in screening for HP approaches to behavior and discipline. :) Take this as a learning opportunity and think about how you can apply it to future situations in life. You don’t experience success in life without some missteps and both together shape your life journey.

WorkingMomX September 9, 2015 at 12:04 pm

I do understand that working parents need childcare, but if your child is at a point where physically striking the childcare provider is a regular occurrence, you may need to consider another option (not an au pair). The worst thing a parent can do (both as a parent to the child and as a host parent to the au pair) is ignore the behavior or try to normalize it (boys will be boys, kids will be kids, it’s just a phase, etc.). NO. If it’s happening more than once in a blue moon – it’s not typical. Working with a family’s kids is the au pair’s job – how many of us would stay in a job where we were hit and kicked, bitten, screamed at, etc.? Why would parents expect anything other than a resignation from their childcare provider in this situation? There are lots of options in terms of helping to alter the behavior – therapy, love and logic, etc. But ignoring it or expecting the au pair to just suck it up and deal is NOT a viable option.

Dorsi September 9, 2015 at 6:02 pm

I’m curious about what age this applies to. I have a 2 year old who hits – a lot – me, the AP, siblings. Some of it is temperment, some of it is situational (two older sibs who take things away, less supervision as the youngest of 3). We do 1-2-3 magic, we remove the child from the situation, some love and logic. The behavior is slowly improving. My AP and I work together on this, and I suspect she gets hit less than I do – she is much less likely to do things that make him angry. I think some typical toddlers hit more than “once in a blue moon.”

Seattle Mom September 9, 2015 at 6:30 pm

Yep, my younger daughter hit A LOT from around 12 months up to around 2 1/2 years old. She hit her big sister, she hit me and her dad, and she hit her au pair.

She hit angrily, she hit gleefully, she hit when she was bored. She also was a screamer (anger & glee, both were eardrum shattering high pitched shrieks).

But when she wasn’t hitting or screaming she was a joyful, funny and smart girl who was clearly not missing in the empathy department- she really was a sweetheart (and still is). She just had a lot of trouble dealing with her emotions. The fact that she was such a joy made it possible for us to withstand her violence when it came- even her big sister (2 years older) would wait impatiently for her to wake up from a nap so they could play. Also, she never hurt anyone outside of our immediate family- she was in part time preschool starting from 2 years old and when I brought it up with teachers they were surprised that she would ever hit or bite. They kept asking about the older sister (who was a bit grabby at school- because of impatience, she never intended harm).

I worked with APs on strategies for her hitting (and biting), but I also tried to help them understand the root causes, and I hoped that it would eventually stop and it wasn’t a sign that she was going to be a violent person.

Fast forward to 4 1/2 years old, and this kid is still rather intense and fights for what she wants, but it’s all verbal now and I can’t remember the last time she hit anyone, including her sister. And she’s still joyful, spontaneous, spirited, brilliant, precocious, self confident, independent, etc etc etc.

So don’t worry, there’s hope for your 2 year olds who hit!

(FWIW my older daughter almost never hit anyone ever at any age- I thought I was such a great parent but now I know how important temperament is)

FirstTimeHM September 9, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Have you met a few other au pairs in from your neighbourhood already? You could ask them how their hostkids behave and what is acceptable to their host parents and what not. That would give you a general idea about what’s cultural about this behaviour and what not.
You can’t do anything if the parents aren’t on your side.
You mentioned that the boy also hits his mother and disobeys her but that the parents make excuses for his behaviour when you bring it up. Could it be that they don’t know you well enough yet, and perhaps feel attacked by you? It’s quite hard for parents to take criticism from a much younger person from another culture, whom they barely know and who isn’t a parent herself. Please build a relationship with them first and be really careful about how to bring it up. Parents tend to feel really ashamed and guilty when their kids misbehave. I can’t imagine the mother being ok with her son’s behaviour, but I can imagine her feeling attacked by someone who’s just arrived, much younger and doesn’t have kids of her own.

Susan September 9, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Our son has ADHD and started hitting our Au pair within days of her arrival. He wanted me around all the time but I work 2 days a week and I think he was thinking if he could get rid of the Au pair, he could have Mom.

We used the book: The Nurtured Heart Approach and had to get back to the basics of catching him doing good things. You need to comment on every good thing such as: he hits his sister all the time and normally you’re telling him not to. Put less energy into that, but when he’s just sitting next to his sister, make a big deal saying ” wow, it’s so nice to see you sitting quietly for a moment next to your sister (or even better playing with her)”. Point out all the good things and you start getting more good behavior.

Also create “special time” where you get to be with him alone 15 minutes daily without other kids. Tell him it’s special time and he gets to pick what to do (anything except videos). Then you make a running commentary on what he’s doing but no directions or criticism. Good activities for us were coloring or building with Legos. This time helps build a bond with the kid so he will like you and want to please you. Hopefully it will let you find a way to like him or at least admire his talents because every kid just wants love and attention.

For the hitting part, go along with whatever system the parents have in place – usually time outs. We ended up doing, “you hit, you sit” and calmly yet firmly said that while pushing our son to the ground. It worked well for about ages 4-7. Then they start getting big. We’ve now moved on to iRewards which allows us to give him points/stars for desired behavior and then he has to spend them on what he wants to do – screen time, dessert, trip to zoo/pool etc. We try to have him spend half his points a day so he can try hard to do positive behaviors since they are directly linked with how much fun he has (and control he gets over his own life). If you do points, make sure he does well in the first few weeks so he buys into it, then you can decrease how quickly he earns. Of course, it helps if you and the parents are all on the same page with parenting. Hopefully they’re just exasperated with their kids and open to suggestions.

Our son now loves our Au pair and we’re all considering extending for a second year. Things can turn around but it takes a lot of work and you can’t do it alone. You and the parents are a team. Go talk with them and see what ideas can help turn things around. Good luck!

NoVA Twin Mom September 9, 2015 at 1:07 pm

My kids aren’t perfect, and we’re honest with au pairs during interviews that our kids are wonderful,hilarious, spirited preschoolers with personality – that aren’t going to sit still and do exactly as they’re told.

That being said, we absolutely back up our au pairs in every way if they have a problem with our girls. If I heard that one of my girls hit an au pair on purpose? There would be (age appropriate) consequences.

OP, you’ve only been there five days. My first question is, is your HM always going to be home with you? I can tell you from experience that my kids act vastly different when I’m home than when I’m not home. Not necessarily in a good way. They listen to our au pair much better when I’m NOT home. If your HM is staying home to “help with the transition,” I’d encourage you to try a few days without her around before making any changes. I know it sounds odd, but give it a try. If HM is always going to be home with you, then move straight to the next step.

Talk to your LCC. Are you this family’s first au pair? If not, she may be aware that this has been a problem in the past. Even if it doesn’t seem like she’s aware of the problem, talking to her helps “establish a track record.” If you do eventually decide to rematch, you don’t want it to look like you suddenly had one bad day and decided to leave. You want your LCC to see a record of complaints that you’ve made to her about this same issue. If your LCC (or the parents) make any suggestions about what you can do to make changes, you want to show what you did to make those changes. Having that “track record” with your LCC will set you up for a successful rematch, where your LCC can serve as a good reference for a host family that’s looking for a good au pair.

I don’t think you should ask for rematch within the first four weeks unless your health or safety is at risk – it seems like a reasonable amount of time to really try out a situation, but will still have more than enough time on your contract to be attractive to host families looking for rematch candidates. Start talking to your LCC, ask her for suggestions. If you just can’t take it anymore, ask for rematch.

Original poster: September 9, 2015 at 1:51 pm

NoVA twin mom:

I keep saying that maybe we didn’t give it enough time. Maybe we all need more time to adjust. And my host family seems uninterested. I feel as if I am a hand me down that’s getting passed around and around. I have cried all day. I feel as if this entire situation is my fault even though they tell me that children are just children and sometimes it doesn’t work out, it’s no ones fault. But even though they are nice they are still seemingly uninterested in me trying it out for longer. My host father is now looking for another family for me. I feel crushed.

BrainFreezHM September 9, 2015 at 3:20 pm

I think you’ve gotten some great advice here. I just want to chime in as a host parent with a son who has hit a few of our APs. It’s always happened in the beginning as he adjusts and tests their limits. I absolutely do not think it’s ok, but if I’m not home I can’t control what happens.

I am sure to always let our new APs know that he is going to be difficult at the beginning and I give them pointers on ways to bond with him – sit down with him and your laptop and go through pictures of your family and home. Talk about your favorite things. Play his favorite video game with him so he can talk to you about it without you getting completely bored (our last AP used to roll her eyes when he went on about it – not the best way to bond).

I’d try spending some alone time with him and see if you can’t find some common ground so he thinks of you more as a friend and someone he doesn’t want to hurt. And find a good time to sit down with one or both host parents to talk about the things that have happened, how upset you are by them and what they think you should try to make things better. If they’re dismissive my next call would be to the LCC. I’d have the same conversation with her – what happened, your concerns and what she thinks. Good luck to you.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm

I think everyone else is right that there is an adjustment period and you just need to tough it out and see how it goes. Continue talking to the parents the best you can about how you feel.

Someone said it before that the culture in Spain is different. I live there at the moment and have been here for 3 years. Parents are a lot more relaxed about discipline than in in my own country (UK) and children are often more immature here. The plus side to the culture though is that children are generally more confident, more affectionate and more open to new people and experiences.

It is a shame that the mum is in the house the whole time. It is amazing how different kids can behave when their parents are there. Maybe try taking them out by yourself? A trick that I have used with my current family (the parents are very relaxed with discipline too) is that I found my own ways to reward them. For example, my tablet and computer has lots of games they like and they can play for a period of time based on how well they have behaved during the day. I made a chart with each star representing 5 minutes for computer time to be used when the parents would allow them to watch tv.

Also, I have to tell you…. if it doesn’t work out in the end then leaving is a very easy option for you. Spain is full of families that would love you to be with them. Au pairs do not work in Spain like that they do in the USA. I would never expect to work more than 25 hours per week and the purpose of me being there first and foremost is for the children to learn English through play and fun activities. Try a site like Au Pair World to find another family. In fact, if you contacted me perhaps I would be able to help you out… there is a huge demand. Another thing you could do is work in a bilingual program in schools. In some areas (Madrid, for example) they pay 15 euros per hour, 16 hour week, for you to go into state schools and talk to the kids in English in small groups. This could also be an option if you like working with kids but it doesn’t work out with the family. Saying all that though, I hope you stick with it a least a few more months. Maybe give it until Christmas?

Good luck.

Original poster: September 9, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Thank you to everyone for the good advice, however, my host father bought me a plane ticket home…he thinks I don’t have enough experience to watch his children (even though he knew that this was my first time before I arrived…) so there you haw it.
I’m really disappointed. This was the one of the best yet worst experiences in my life. I’m upset I only got a week to try. But he is making me go home. So, I’ll be in the states my 5 pm tomorrow. What a shame. I wasted all of this time effort and money planning to stay here for a year to only leave 6 days later…

NoVA Twin Mom September 9, 2015 at 11:01 pm

I’m so sorry, Somehow I thought you were a Spanish au pair in the US.

Keep looking, see if you can find another, similar opportunity. CV just posted about a Dutch agency that places au pairs – maybe try applying through them and see what happens. It sounds like there’s some opportunities in other countries as well.

We often say (and someone even said upthread) that there’s a lid for every pot – there’s a family for every au pair/au pair for every family. You didn’t find the right one. If it’s not a good match, it wouldn’t have improved with time.

Good luck – and if there’s a bright side chances are your mom is going to be really happy to see you!

FirstTimeHM September 10, 2015 at 3:35 am

I’m so sorry for you.
It seems like the family decided you weren’t a good fit for their family, but you also weren’t a good au pair with another family, otherwise they would have let you find another family like he promised at first.
I don’t know if you’re up to it but please ask feedback from your host family. What made them decide you weren’t the right au pair for their family and especially what made them decide you weren’t cut out to be an au pair at all. This family doesn’t come across as uncaring or unloving, just as a mismatch, and they can give you really valuable feedback from the host family’s point of view, although it can hurt you if they’re really honest.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 10, 2015 at 6:33 am

That is a real shame. They sound like jerks. The problem is that some families in Spain are used to people coming over from South America who are prepared to work 50 hour weeks for minimum pay so expect they can treat an au pair like this too. It is not the case. Native English speakers are in huge demand here and you should expect to be treated well and be respected for the great advantage you can give the kids in teaching them English.

I don’t know how old and independent you are but maybe consider not going back but instead moving to a holiday let. You could find another family within a week in Spain. Many do not require previous experience.

UKAu Pair September 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

I wouldn’t necessarily encourage that. I think, after this experience, the best thing to do might be to go back to America and get some experience before trying again.

Children are hard. Really hard. I’ve been an au pair three times and am still having problems now with twin 14-year olds who really didn’t want an au pair and really don’t want to engage. It’s hard even if you speak their language and understand their culture.

Au pairing is NOT the time you want to be learning how to put on a nappy/deal with flu/reognise chickenpox/stop children fighting. Ideally you’d already know how to do all of that, plus more, and you’d be able to adapt your experience to each new situation.

I’d ask for feedback, if you’re up for it (be prepared to be hurt!) and then I’d try to get some babysitting experience in America. Spain, and the rest of Europe, will still be here in a year or so, and you’ll have a much better year and be a much better au pair when you’ve got some experience under your belt.

I’m sorry this happened to you. I hope that next time around you find a better fit and a family you click with.

Mimi September 10, 2015 at 10:36 am

Just because this was her first expereiance as an AP, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have experience and shouldn’t try again. This would have been a difficult situation for even an experienced AP even without the cultural element of discipline and expected behaviors.

UKAu Pair September 10, 2015 at 11:49 am

I interpreted the OP’s comment (‘he thinks I don’t have enough experience to watch his children [even though he knew that this was my first time before I arrived…]’) to mean that it was her ‘first time’ spending extended periods of time with children.

If I’ve misunderstood and it was her first time au pairing having had lots of experience already back in America then she should absolutely try again- there are lots of lovely families out there desperate for an English-speaker who would be fantastic for her.

Boy Au Pair Europe September 11, 2015 at 1:21 pm

Not sure. There are some positions that are easier than others. For example, if she chose a family with just one child over the age of 6 and it was just after school, I suppose she could cope without much previous experience. When I started au pairing I had already worked in a nursery for a year but I have had friends that are au pairs that hadn’t done anything like that previously and it was alright. There are of course some families they should avoid – those with multiple children, babies etc.

WarmStateMomma September 10, 2015 at 10:12 am

I’m so sorry! It doesn’t sound like this family would have been a good fit for you but I’d be feeling pretty dejected in your shoes as well. Sending warm thoughts your way!

Schnitzelpizza September 14, 2015 at 10:23 am

I am so so sorry.

You will be home by now and I hope you are okay. A week is really not enough to work anything out but it’s impossible to work with a host family who is unwilling to work with you.

Daisy September 11, 2015 at 8:14 am

I empathize with this au pair.

** I have left a lot out incl. conversations so as to prevent identification. If it happens, oh well…**

I too traveled more than 10000 miles and I feel regret. I have been reading au pair mom from December last year when I first wanted to au pair, such a lovely resource this site has been. I placed with a family who are amazing as long as you have not met. Were so sweet, caring and wrote before I arrived, now that I am here, I feel unwanted, anxious and depressed. Rarely have I had a clash such as I feel here. This is based on my own impressions and feelings: The children, myself, all of us are angst ridden when one of the parents is around. I cannot say they give instructions, no. I am shocked at how curtly they command their family to fulfil whatever whim has currently overcome them. The kids are only kind-ish or nice-ish when they want something from me, or we are stuck together. I do not feed this and only make eye contact when they look at me and call my name, it is soooo difficult having to have boundaries that their parents do not employ with them. My agency called me yesterday and it is a good thing because I at least felt human again. My defenses were super high, my chest tight and felt all round bad about being in a family where there is zero positive feeling towards one another. The kind that counts anyway. The dad, he really tries to talk to me or be kind. I am not at all a ‘hot au pair’ lol and mom is hostile when her husband tries to include me. Will hug him and ‘own’ him not in a typical marriage way but like she is trying to ‘show’ me whatever she thinks I need to see. I do not, I repeat, I do not want anyone’s husband!!! Treats me like I am a jezebel when it is not so. I mean, I am a darn virgin and would prefer a NOTsomeone’sHusband to do the honors. Ewww. She only talks to me when she is telling me what will, has and is going wrong with ‘the schedule’ or my interaction with the pet. She is NEVER, I mean NEVER ever satisfied. When chatting with someone back home last week, they said to me ‘sounds like a bottomless abyss’. It clicked, that is exactly what this feels like. No matter what you do, the manner you do it, how well you do it, the effort, my speech patterns…it is all not enough.Or an accusation against her methods. Not with her kids, her husband, her neighbours, her emotions. Nothing. I am compliant and uphold the family standard and expectations or needs when it comes to what I am here to do, she has never had to go over something with me for the second time, only in making sure or asking questions. When I make a mistake, I own up to it immediately and ensure the kids know they can only expect to do what mom and dad allow. They get it now although they try it sometimes. Lol. She has said damning things about the previous au pair and this bothers me. How do you say something hinting on your au pair being abusive when she tried to do right when you added more responsibility to her. That is what triggered me to finally write. I only arrived last week but was googling rematch already. No one makes any effort to get to know me, only the dad will ask me questions, everyone else is only concerned about what will stroke their emotions next.The children are growing and have their meltdown moments but they are fine. I feel like the parents are overwhelmed with them and the kids know this and manipulate the folks with tantrums and sulking. I do not address a tantrum, I ignore, carry on with something else and until I am addressed by name, then jump in. The kid’s ages allow for this to happen, were they younger, of course the approch would be a little different. I allow (unspoken requirement) them to clean and pick up their messes and you can see the utter disbelief that they are now ‘forced’ to wipe a spill on the table or put their shoes away even when they ignored the request the 32 times before. Lol. We have so many children in my fam and I wanted to be friends with my host kids. This is not happening at all, only one child will have pricks of kindness and reach out or make an effort to reciprocate in whatever little way a child can. My nutrition has gone down since being here and have taken to buying my own few fruit because our diets just do not mesh. I keep the fruit in my room and do not eat anything that belongs to the family or the children outside of tea and set meals. They keep asking me to add what I need but I do not feel comfortable no matter how many times I am informed ‘feel free’ or ‘you are part of the family’…uhm. No. There have been hints that I finished food etc and I have only had 2 fruits that the family has and bought myself something which the mom complained that we do not need. I had a bit of leftover fruit last week that I made the kids and she looked at me as if I had boiled the bunny and of course I felt horrible. It was less than a quarter of an apple. I never in my life dreamed I would have anyone acting like this towards me about food!! We have a huge garden plot back home, my dad grows sugar cane and what I would do to have a mouthful of sweet succulent burnt sugar cane right now. Or some spinach, beets, cabbage, corn and sweet potatoes from my mom’s hobby garden. It is degrading to be treated like I am here to finish food when I never accept any ‘seconds’. Food rots in the fridge and I will never have leftovers the next say after the ‘hints’. Oh, there have been plenty. Stinginess when I come from a generous bunch of people (generosity of spirit, of resources, of kindness you get it…), rations out food that does not nourish or fill me and I am feeling faint.I cannot eat the processed food. At the same time, it will be taken as being undermined in their dietary choices to buy my own stuff although I do not eat what belongs to the family. I am also trying to become healthier as I fell off the wagon 2 years back. I can bear growing or transitioning pains…those are normal. Children need structure and boundaries and have disagreements and meltdowns. Life sucks sometimes. Perfectly normal. It is the need for absolute control, the being cooped up here all day and still someone I live in such close proximity with feeling the need to go on tirades about how wrong I am interacting or dealing with the pets, the lack of warmth and the insinuations made about ex au pairs. Normal, imperfect people all have a favorite or least favorite something. She never talks to me about what pertains to me. She only issues instructions, literally budges into conversations their friends may want to initiate with me and cuts them off or she turns her back to me and ices me out so they do not talk to me. Or she broods and looks in the other direction if a friend talks to me. So I understand that I am to be invisible except when it is time to do the schedule. I feel so lost right now. I had a family in Finland with whom we hit it off and the mom ‘got me’. You know, that rare, precious kindred spirit spark Their au pair schedule-needs and my possible departure time just failed to converge. Isn’t life that way though, will take you where it wants you in spite of your perfect plants *smile*

Here, everything ‘seen’ is perfect. The schedule, the movement are all au pairing. It is the unseen, dynamic that is messing with my peace and leaves me feeling like this is not worth it. There is so much good and potential good withing this family, it is just not easy to enjoy life with a sour, stingy, overwhelmed, emotional person whose bouts of normalcy/stability are sparse. And always always on her terms, everyone else be damned. Everyone enables her behaviour or is afraid of her and I am compliant, helpful but have boundaries, sturdy ones.I think she takes that as an indictment against her and because she dominates EVERYONE or is used to others engaging in manipulative hinting, sulking or silent treatment, she is at a complete loss with me. I just want to co-exist, thrive, learn, help and make the most of my year abroad. Seems like everyone attached to the family are trying to be kind and friendly to me. No matter how we try to approach our living together, there so much going on preventing ever getting close. Wow, that feels better. Sorry dear people for off-loading this much. Thank you for the blog and advice, have learned so much.


Elisabeth September 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm

#4 on the first comment on this thread really struck a nerve with me. “Assume good intentions before consequences.” The AP who this situation is about has made it very clear that the child is in fact hitting her or him, AND the younger brother. It also seems like this has happened multiple times. One time would be an accident, and nobody would complain if it were just one time. It is extremely clear that the parents just do NOT care, and that the child gets treated as if he’s the most important person in the world. I agree that counting the number of times he cries does not help in the slightest, because it will just wear the AP down, the more he does cry. But it is so clear that these parents frankly have no idea whatsoever of HOW to parent, or treat another adult with respect or support. No child is perfect, and making an excuse for every thing that they do is going to ruin them further in life.

The first HF I worked for had two boys. 10 and 11. 11 was fine. He listened to what I asked him to do, was respectful, the works. 10, however, was SO disrespectful. He never, ever did anything I asked of him (I wasn’t making him clean the entire house, it would simply be ‘can you put this back in the fridge? Can you put the dog in the other room.’) Every single thing I said to him, he would repeat it back in a sarcastic tone. He was generally destructive, as well. And the 11 year old would say multiple times a day “XXX is going to end up in jail when he’s older.” I didn’t agree with him expressing that out loud, or at least in front of his brother and other people, and I did reprimand him when he would say that. However, I completely agree with that 11 year old. His brother was out of control. His behavior didn’t upset me, it angered me that his mother let him become so disrespectful towards others. After two weeks, I spoke to her about this. She said she would talk to him, but she also said, and reiterated, to just ignore the child when he acted this way. Which would essentially mean ignoring him 100% of the time. We agreed to trying for another week to see of any improvements, but the next day, I didn’t feel any better about it. It didn’t sit right with me that her solution was to ignore the child. That would only make the situation worse. I went to her that night and told her that I was sorry, but I couldn’t stay the entire year and ignore the child, and I would be re matching. She agreed, and said she was sad we couldn’t continue, but she accepted it. One day close to my departure, I spoke to the cleaning lady who was a friend of the mother and has worked for her for many years, and was told by the cleaning lady, that the old AP had admitted to CL, that CL was the reason AP stayed there for the entire year. CL expressed her view to me, and told me that she couldn’t understand the “ignore it” mentality, either. I did successfully re match with another family, but I am sad it didn’t work out because the HM was really lovely, and in those two weeks, we met often on her lunch break to have lunch together. It was just her parenting skills that didn’t work. In general, I respect a parents parenting choice, even if I don’t agree with it, but I draw the line at a parent thinking that it is okay to ignore a childs bad behavior.

Comments on this entry are closed.