Classic Case: We’re in rematch… Now what?

by cv harquail on January 15, 2011

Sometimes the questions we get are so big and so overwhelming to imagine answering, that the email ends up sitting in my box for days and days, waiting for me to get up the energy to tackle it.

And so it was with this email, below. A first time host mom asks — We’re in rematch. What do I do now?

Oh, HostMom J, where to begin…

We are new to the au pair world and have found ourselves in rematch after not even one month (initiated by the au pair who said she wants to work with older kids)! I would appreciate the advice from those who have been there regarding questions to ask the agency, questions to ask the new prospective au pair, and just general advice to make the transition work.

Thanks!

How about we try something very Two point Oh, and crowd-source this answer?2261822993_fcc5489697_m.jpg

Let’s list, one by one, the general bits of advice we have for rematch. Put just one tip/idea/concern in each comment (but comment as often as you want). This way, I’ll have a bunch of discrete answers, and I can cut, paste, organize and repost them into a massive post that answers the question:

We’re in rematch. Now what?

I’ll start off…

In the meantime, HostMomJ, check out these posts:

Explaining a Rematch to Host Children
Advice wanted: How to navigate the Au Pair rematch process?

It’s not you, it’s her. Let her go, move on.

Saying Farewell After a Quick Rematch: What to do?
3 Questions to Ask Yourself as Rematch Approaches
Choosing Your Next Au Pair: Beware of the Contrast Effect
When Your Au Pair Breaks Your Psychological Contract
Settling Accounts — *Before* she departs
Checkout Task List: Back by popular demand

Image: Tipsigigaa from AlaskaTeacher

{ 42 comments }

cv harquail January 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm

1. Focus on what’s best for you and your family. Be nice to your departing au pair, but don’t give away the farm because you feel guilty or sad or want her to like you.

cv harquail January 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm

2. Find a nice way to explain her departure to your kids. Make sure it’s all about her and her adventure, not about something related to the kids themselves. Lie if you have to (depending on kids’ ages).

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

3. When interviewing au pairs in transition, talk to the LCC and get as much detail as you can about the AP. Concrete details and general feelings are all important. What are the LCC’s impressions? Would SHE hire the AP in your shoes? Also ask the LCC how long she has been an LCC and how many transition APs she deals with each month/year, so you know how to gauge her responses. If the AP is staying with the LCC, and no longer with the host family, this is a golden chance to talk to a neutral party about what the AP is like. If for any reason the AP knows another LCC or has stayed with another family, talk to those people as well–again, fairly neutral parties who can give you their impressions.

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 4:53 pm

4. When interviewing au pairs in transition, talk to the previous host family/ies if at all possible. I’ll follow this with separate posts regarding areas of questioning that rematchers should cover with previous host families:

Ask how many APs they have had before and how many transitions. If they have had lots of APs and no or few transitions, I would give their perspective more weight than if they had had few or no APs and/or many transitions. Ask them to compare this AP to others they have had and the kinds of problems they had in other cases. Interviewing transition AP’s host families is like LIVING this blog, there are lots of anecdotes, people are usually eager to share their experiences, and you get educated very quickly about many aspects of the AP program.

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 4:59 pm

5. Interviewing previous host families whenever possible, more advice:

Try to talk to both HM and HD, if there are both, and go through all the questions with each, just to get the shadings and perspectives on the story. Probe as much as you can. If the HF says, “She broke the rules,” ask them what rules, how often, how ‘badly’ broken (10 min late for curfew or 2 hrs), whether the HF had a handbook, whether it was a one-time infraction or frequent, and perhaps most important, how did the AP react when the family brought up the problem. If the family is firing her after 1 infraction only for a non-safety related issue, without giving her another chance, then that’s another important point of comparison to your own HF style. It is important, in other words, to compare your own situation to that of the previous HF, including the kinds of rules you have, the way you communicate and what you care about. Do not assume that the previous HF has at all the same expectations as you do.

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm

6. Continuing the last few posts on interviewing previous host families:

Listen carefully to HOW the HPs tell their story as well as what they say. In my experience, most previous host families in rematch have been bitter and extremely critical of their outgoing AP. But we got a good transition au pair where I sensed that the HM was vindictive, unreasonable and cared a lot about things that didn’t matter to me (and in my view a 10pm curfew for the AP during the week, and 11pm on weekends, is unreasonable–along with not allowing the HF children to talk during dinner!). If you are very lucky, you will find a good au pair who got stuck with an unreasonable HF. The problem is that many rematch APs will try to paint their story that way, but you have to figure out where that is truly the case. Is the bitterness or frustration truly justified by the story that is told?

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 5:09 pm

7. Interviewing the transition AP: As with interviewing HFs, listen to how she tells the story as much as what she says. In my experience, you end up in a he said/she said position. Ask the AP if s/he thinks s/he contributed to the ‘breakup’ in some way. Tell the AP point blank where your situation sounds like that of the previous HF, and listen for her reaction. After the AP gives you her ‘reasons’ why things didn’t work out, ask her if there are any other things that the HF would say about it, since (you tell her this) you will talk to them anyway and you do want to hear her side of the story. Our good transition AP answered slowly, when I asked her this, “Yes, I think they probably will tell you that once things were not going well I did not fulfill my au pair duties as well. And that is sort of true . . . ” and went on to tell me more.

Should be working January 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

8. Just because an AP is in rematch for a reason that does not pertain to your situation (e.g. someone lost a job, or AP couldn’t handle kids of a certain age group that is not your kids’ age groups), does NOT mean she is a good match for you. We once took a rematch AP who had a quite GOOD recommendation from her HF (HD lost his job), and it was a bad fit for us and we ended up in rematch. I let my guard down because the HM was so positive, and I should have paid more attention when interviewing the AP.

PA AP mom January 15, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I agree with all the posts by “should be working”.

On the other side of the coin, give your outgoing AP a fair reference if host families call. Tell the truth about what happened. Let them know how she interacted with the kids, with you and host dad and with other members of your family.

Answer their questions as honestly as possible.

This helps the next potential family make an informed decision before choosing the AP.

JJ host mom January 15, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Timeline:
First, spend an hour looking through the pool of transition of au pairs, and looking at overseas arrival dates, to get an estimate of how long it might take to get a new au pair in your home. Don’t try to narrow the pool or choose an au pair at this point, just figure out how long you’ll need backup care.

Next, concentrate all your efforts on finding a backup care solution.

Finally, once you have a backup care solution in place, start your search for a new au pair.

JJ host mom January 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Backup care ideas:
Take vacation time.
Getting a relative to stay for a while, even if you have to fly one in.
Backup daycare solutions offered by employer.
Regular daycare that is looking to fill a slot short-term
Hiring a part-time nanny or babysitter from word of mouth, employer email lists, care.com, neighborhood mailing lists, craigslist, nanny agency

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Don’t take it personally! Be glad it happened (relatively) quickly, even though it feels like you’ve had a huge door slammed in your face. This is a gift.

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm

I have heard it’s slim picking for rematch candidates who are in-country, but I have found rematches in the winter before, and there were a couple in my local area recently, so just evaluate each one as they arise and remember to keep breathing. You WILL find someone, and chances are extremely high that they will fit.

Interviewing girls in the rematch pool tip: Don’t start the conversations by selling your family to them, even though you may be frantic with worry that you will never find anyone in January. Do all you can do get the AP to do most of the talking at first.

If the first questions she asks you are about her room, car, and other lifestyle questions, DO NOT pass go or collect $200. Those are princesses who are shopping for a “better” gig and they are not here because they love kids. You’ve already seen this with the AP who wanted an easier schedule by having older kids. (Console yourself that she has no idea what she will face in AP’ing pre-teens! heh heh heh!) To APs who ask questions about “benefits” before the job itself–that is, what your kids are like, how you do things–you will say “Next!” and not give another thought.

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

SKYPE! If the best rematch candidates are outside your metro area, skype with them. If my father-in-law can figure it out, you can too. It can feel awkward, but you will get a better sense of who they are than you can over the phone. Trust me. I got burned with one rematch candidate who said the right things on email and on the phone. If we had skyped I would never have matched with her. Total sourpuss. (Bonus tip: Don’t take someone on their 3rd rematch! 2nd….maybe. If they had a bulletproof story and counselor verification that it wasn’t a personality problem.) (Our two favorite APs ever were both from rematches. Keep hope alive!)

Calif Mom January 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm

I’ve said this a million times, but if you are looking at local candidates, by all means stand on your head if you have to and find a way to meet them in person. Interview them, have them meet the kids (if age-appropriate) and spend 15 minutes with them someplace casual. If it’s too cold for the playground, find a big box bookstore that has a generous kids section so they can interact a bit. You will know quickly if it’s a good fit. Then you can have them drive you to your house (if you’re really confident) or just take them to your house so they can see your home and you can talk more. Then do a little driving test. Just throw it at them–but be ready to grab the steering wheel if needed! Sink or swim.

My two favorite APs came to us through local rematches, and I interviewed them in person. And coincidentally, they both were leaving host families that had unreasonable expectations for an au pair–and both host families emotionally isolated them. One had lousy English to start with but amazing energy, and it was clear that that was the real reason for the rematch. But they both clicked with our kids and bloomed–and extended with us.

DarthaStewart January 15, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Don’t hurry into the next match. Take your time to find the right candidate, then figure out backup care until the right one can get here. (Last year that was 5 months for me, but the wait was the right thing to do, and I do not regret it a bit)

JJ host mom January 16, 2011 at 12:54 am

Really, 5 months? May I ask what you did for backup care? I’m 6 weeks into a 2 month gap and I’m about to pull my hair out. It’ll be worth it in the long run – I could never have made it a year with the old au pair, and the new one seems great. But meanwhile it is so tough juggling 2 careers and a temporary, bubble-gum-and-twist-tie childcare solution.

Darthastewart January 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I had a friend who agreed to nanny part of the time, I had some other people step in to help, and I did some juggling of work schedules- working 6-3 or 6-4 every day. I would have put my little guy in daycare had it been necessary. The au-pair who was here was in a depression, and was not doing her job. (to put it nicely) So, we did what we had to do, but it also got us into the summer match schedule, instead of matching for a February arrival.
I have a list of backup plans for childcare if I ever need them, so I don’t feel like I’m over a barrel. Never again will I worry about that!

JJ host mom January 16, 2011 at 6:11 pm

OK, so you juggled too. 5 months is a long time to do that! Thanks for responding – if you can get through 5 months, I can get through two.

Eurogirl January 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

As a previous au pair who once stepped in to care for a family whose au pair had left them unexpectedly – I would like to add just one thought to what has been said before: it is important to be very very honest with prospective “next au pair”. Most au pairs will be a little wary coming into a family where the previous au pair did not leave on a happy note – it can be a red flag to say maybe this family are not what I am looking for, or sadly, an excuse to give up if things aren’t easy on arrival, because the last au pair left quickly too. But if you are very open and brutally honest with the could-be-next-au-pair…it’s easier for us not to judge against you in a choice between families to “match” with than if there is the idea that any thing is being hidden about the sudden departure of the predecessor… It’s just a thought that if you want a stronger candidate next time, be up front about what happened :-)

Should be working January 17, 2011 at 6:11 am

I agree that you should not rematch too quickly, and only if you are feeling very confident about the new candidate. Also you are new to hosting, so you shouldn’t move too hastily. But if you are with a big agency, and especially if you are open to different nationalities and time frames, there are a lot of in-country au pairs out there to choose from, many of whom can fly to your house in less than 3 days.

If you can devote 2 hrs/day (after work hours) reviewing applications and phoning LCCs and previous families, you can go through 1 candidate per day or more (some can be discarded even without the phone calls). It’s an intense way to do it, but you can then move on more quickly and get out of transition and into ‘normal life’. I basically told myself I had a new, short-term, part-time job, and had a good rematch in about 8 days, considering about 12 candidates over that time. And, as I wrote above, it was like a speed-dating version of this blog, in that I heard many different perspectives, anecdotes and pieces of advice about hosting. It sucks to be in rematch, but at the end you will know more about AP selection than a lot of repeat HPs.

This might be different with different agencies, but CCAP could keep up just fine with my fast and focused approach to going through, and discarding, rematch candidates. They shot over new applications as soon as I told them I was done with one, which was almost every day. It would be worth calling your placement director and telling her that you are going to be moving as quickly as you can, to please check your file often to see if you’ve got rejects to let go and new candidates to hand over, and please can you have a phone number for someone to contact on weekends or holidays so that you can quickly move through candidates. The agency is happy to help a go-getter who is willing to do a lot of fast legwork.

YMMV, and obviously I am not advocating anything less than due diligence. But in my experience many rematch candidates can be speedily discarded, and then with a few it bears slowing down and really probing for the back story.

Aupairgal January 26, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Ok, I tried to pick an older post cause I have to complain somewhere. I recently talked to my old host mom just to see how things where going and found out that the aupair that came after me got sent home. She was supposed to babysit on a Friday evening (which is sooooo rare with this family, not to mention pretty much having every weekend free) and after the 2.5 and 5 year old where in bed, she decided she would go out with some friends. Well, I suppose she thought she could get home before the parents, but of course the parents came home and found out she wasn’t there and their children where home alone. HOW STUPID CAN YOU BE!!!! Who would ever think that it is ok to leave young children home alone. It soured the mom so much on aupairs that she left the program and decided she will just make do with friends and family taking care of the kids. I was so angry when I found that out…….sorry, I just had to vent.

Darthastewart January 26, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Ugh. That is pretty terrifying.

PA AP mom January 26, 2011 at 8:20 pm

I would have called the police!!!!

AP25 February 27, 2011 at 10:27 pm

hello everyone.. i’m an AP … and i’m 25 years old.. i really like my family.. I’ve been with them 2 months… I take care of 4 children…. 3,4,7 and 10 years old… but since the very first moment my youngest boy (3 year old) has given me a really hard time.. eg.. kicks me, scream at me… cries with me most of the time.. says i hurt him (when i’m not even touching him) scratches me.. etc.etc. my HM answers to this.. is that he is just a 3 year old.. and some attitudes are normal in his age.. (some of them.. i get them..but the rest…ufff) (i just live with my HM cause they are getting divorced) i’ve done everything to make things work between him an me (even she doesnt think that way) name it.. and i’ve done it.. but now.. 2 months later.. i just cant do it anymore… i’ve been crying for a entire week.. when i’m not working.. and i’m not homesick cause i already went trough it and got over it.. but this situation with the little boy is breaking me down.. is really killing me… My host mom talked to me last thursday giving me advices and told me she would talk to him.. again. i will talk to to my LCC (i’m with au pair in america) about rematching… I really dont want to leave my other kids.. but i really feel i need to… I didn’t came to the US to be hurt emotional and physically … I just dont know how to tell my HM i want to go on rematch.. can you help me out here? please…

Taking a Computer Lunch February 28, 2011 at 8:18 am

A few questions: Is the 3-year-old typically developing, or does he have an underlying social/medical condition? (Personally 3 was very hard for me with my typically developing child. One night I turned to DH and said, “This must get better because the human race has night died off.” Did the family’s previous AP extend? If so, then she was the only caregiver he knew and he’s taking that loss out on you. Finally, he’s going through a tough time if his parents are getting divorced.

Does the mother put limits on his behavior, or is she too exhausted to discipline him? 3-year-olds need boundaries – don’t try to be his friend, like you might with the older children, but give him limits (perhaps a time-out chair for kicking, biting, scratching and screaming). I used to tell my son “You may come off when you are ready to calm down.” Give him rewards for behaving well – an activity that he likes to do.

When my son was 4, we got our second AP (we had tried to sponsor our first AP – who had arrived when he was 5 months old – as an employer). He was very angry with our 2nd AP because he thought she made the first one go away. She maturely worked with him to get him through it and then ended up being great friends.

And do call your LCC for support. If she’s good at her job, she’ll give you some tips, and she’ll also tell you when it’s time to walk away.

AnonMom this time February 28, 2011 at 10:05 am

You sound Brazilian. “I didn’t come to US to be… that” is the exact same words.
In my case it was “I didn’t come to US to be so sad and tired”. Yes, the job is hard. She knew it beforehand. Yes, sometimes you have to admit you cannot do it and cut your losses before it gets even worse.

But sometimes, maybe you can listen to your host mom and systematically try what she asked you to do, and give it some time, and write down the changes. If you see a way of improvement hope is not lost.
If the three year old can be controlled by the mom, he is not uncontrollable – it means you didn’t find your way with him yet.

I appreciate that your job is hard, with four kids of so many different ages. But, you knew it coming here.

And even if you have to leave, it is not the three year old that did it. It is you that failed. Yes, you cannot completely be blamed because nobody can see ahead and see how the whole situation will play out, but you were not strong enough or persistent enough or willing enough to do the job and stick with the job you signed for for a year.

Sorry, yes, I am bitter after two au pairs in one year quit on me before the term they committed to has ended.

Yes, the year is about you. “I didn’t come to US to…” says it is about you. BUT it is a year of COMMITMENT, you should try everything and more to make it work with the family who enabled you to come here in the first place.
You say you tried everything… Well, try what host mom told you.

DarthaStewart February 28, 2011 at 10:55 am

I don’t know. It can be very hard, and I think a LOT of au-pairs don’t fully appreciate how hard it will be. If you have a child who is giving the au-pair a hard time, it can be nearly unbearable.
What is the HM doing to help work it out between the child and au-pair?

AP25 February 28, 2011 at 11:23 am

hmm.. I’m not brazilian… i committed to do something.. and i’ve worked really hard every single day i’ve been in this house.. my host mom told me i am the best au pair she has ever had in 10 years… do i’m pretty sure i’ve done my part… and i have tried everything and way more.. trust me.. i have… i understand you are not in my place. and u r thinking as a host mom that had bad experiences with another au pairs.. as I’m having with the youngest kid… but that doesnt make think all 3 year old boys or kids i’m going to meet are going to be the same… anyhow… we’ve done the time out, the talk, try to be his friend, try to be the other adult (which his mom asked me to), anything… and everything.. he just doesnt want to do it.. even if he says to his mom he will do it.. he doesnt. and if he does it, is complaining about doing it.. and they just moved back from another country.. he doesnt miss any other au pair.. everything i have to do with him.. he just says.. (crying and more) ” I dont want you..!!! I want mommy”

Should be working February 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

I’m with Dartha. This AP needs a lot of support, some clearly laid out and approved strategies for handling the child’s physicality (is holding kid tightly on her lap ok with parents? what kind of physical responses are ok?), role-playing, practice and lots of appreciation. A kid with newly divorced parents and a new AP is going might do her/his best to show how mad s/he is about things, and a new caregiver is going to have it rough. Three is a hard age anyway, harder than two, and if I hadn’t been the mom of my kids I might have bailed out as well. And, once again, I don’t know if the agencies do a good enough job of communicating how hard the job might be.

If the HM is telling the AP she will ‘talk to’ the 3-yr-old again, I can see why the AP might not feel supported. 3-yr-olds cannot be expected to follow through on what they agree to in words, or at least not very much. Points systems, time-outs, lots of praise, the strategies need to come from the HM and AP. I don’t have much hope for the success of a talking-to.

AP25 February 28, 2011 at 11:39 am

she talked to him.. and frightened (dont know if its right the spelling) him… if didnt listen to me and do what i say he was going to be in trouble… i just feel that is only going to make him hate me even more and not to like me… I dont want to tell her i dont like this.. cause on the 3rd week i was here.. she told me to do something to try to solve this problem.. (which i did…)but i didnt like it… she told… “do you have a problem of the way i raise my children?” and it was really awkward for me..

My 2 cents February 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Your post really struck a chord with me because I happen to have kids who have hit the au pairs at this age (and older).

Your HM absolutely needs to be supportive of you and discipline him. I suspect she does and has. I mean the other kids aren’t running around hitting you, are they? This tells me a lot about her.

3 is a hard, hard age. My “normally developing child” hit at 3. Not hard and not often. And she bit on occasion. Was she “right?” Of course not. Did she get disciplined? You betcha. But it is “normal,” and yes, you do need to see that he is 3. Three is really, really young. And some kids do hit and bite and all the rest of it more than others because they all have different ways of expressing anger and frustration.

Now my other one that still is exhibiting this behavior is not “normally developing.” He cannot speak. He drools because of a lack of oral motor control. He has learning disabilities. He tantrums like crazy. He pushes our au pair away and wants us to do everything. It drives EVERYONE crazy. Frankly, our au pair handles it better than me! But this is his “normal” for now. I’m proud to say that because of our hard discipline, including the au pair’s, there is far, far less hitting and other physical slights happening, but he’s still a “brat” if you want to be honest and if you didn’t know him and his struggles. But he also has barriers in his life right now that make his life impossibly frustrating. I would hate to be him, frankly, and it makes me upset all the time for him.

Bottom line — I think your homesickness and idea of what toddlers “should be” is interfering with your emotions. You also have 4 kids. That’s a lot. Yes, the child needs disciplining and yes, your HM should be helping with this and setting the example. But yes, you need a reality check and know that this is kind-of normal too. He will change. But it maybe a while. Tough road ahead for all.

Mom23 February 28, 2011 at 11:48 am

I think you need to start over with the little boy. If all else is going well with the family and the other kids, you do not want to have all that undone by a three year old who has gotten the upper hand. He has found a way to push your buttons and knows how to make you upset. You need to step back and get the control. One thing that might work is to calmly sit down with him and go over rules, let him tell you what the rules are while you write them down. He probably knows what the rules are. Then create a rewards chart on a piece of posterboard for when he is able to follow the rules. You might want to include the 4 year old so that he/she doesn’t feel left out. Maybe there is something he really loves that he can earn by following rules for a week ? Maybe a trip to someplace special? For the first week, I might come up with daily rewards. Hopefully, this will allow both of you to gain respect and trust from one another. Good luck.

AP25 February 28, 2011 at 11:53 am

hehe thanks.. but guess what? done it… we have that.. he earns crystals for everytime he does something nice… and get the chance to something really special when he or the other get the certain amount of crystals… I even sometimes take him and 4 year old to mc donals or to the playground for being good boys.. when they do really good.. but it seems not to be enough… i know it would sound that i’m just complaining… but.. is just have tried really hard to have a good relationship with him.. with respect and love.. but he just doesnt want to

Anon-former-aupair February 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Hi,
I really feel with and for you :) I had exactly the same problem. I was the first AuPair after the kid’s had had the same nanny all their live… I arrived at the family’s house in the beginning of July and the behaviour of one of the kids got better shortly before christmas. Of course, we had good moments before that, but in total, it was a steady struggle with her freaking out, yelling, crying and even hitting me. Mind you, she was already 5! What I tried to do is to show her that I love her nevertheless and want to have a good relationship with her. And other than that, just stick it out and wait. 2 months is not a long time to get used to having a new AuPair and his parents’ divorce. Try not to take his behavior personally. And don’t let him spoil your time in the US! Try to focus on the positive aspects of your job and explore the US and meet friends in order to calm down :) Good luck!

DarthaStewart February 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Have you tried the carrot and stick approach- doing good stuff is the carrot. The stick part would be things like time-out, sitting in a corner, having to say sorry, having to tell his mommy what he did, etc.
I think you should start out like this: When he does anything even remotely what you’re trying to get- give him a crystal. You’re just trying to get the behavior. – Any good behavior should count. And lots of praise. Any time you catch him being good, praise, praise, praise.
When he’s really bad- say he hits, or bites, put him into time- out, or have him sit in the corner. Reinforce it with “We do not bite” (or whatever).
Over time, you will have to praise less, and can move up the scale on what your expectations are. Keep asking for more and more, until you get consistent results.

I also think that you need to sit down and talk to the host mom and agree on consequences and rewards. If you and host mom can stand united, then it will get easier, but if he thinks he can get away with anything- anything at all- he will.

Steff February 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

The one thing I can think of say is pretty much echo some things that have been said before; he’s only three years old!!!!! You can’t expect maturity and an “easy” job with a kid that age. Plus, from what you are telling, he hasn’t had it easier either; they just moved from another country, parents going through a divorce, of course he’s taking all his frustration out on you – NOT saying by that that what he’s done is right, but one more time, he’s only 3!!!!!
Personally, though not as an AP yet, I have dealt with kids like the lil boy you described; ofc I have, completely out of hands, the screaming, the kicking, the whining, and even, if I could say so, sometimes “mine” didn’t even listen his mom, let alone me, but all in all, it all took TIME, and really, wherever you go you are gonna find setbacks (sometimes some greater than others, yes, I give you that) but in my opinion, someone currently not in your shoes of course, you shouldn’t “give up” just yet. Like I’d said, he’s only 3 years old, YOU are the adult, you are the one that SHOULD be in charge. Don’t try to be his friend (but of course treat him rightly and w/ love); he’s gotta do what you tell him to do and that should be it. Be firm, and don’t show him he’s getting to you as it is kinda obvious now he is given your post here. Remind yourself (over and over again if it’s necessary) that he is ONLY 3!! I’m don’t defending him, but if you are 25 and still don’t have complete control over your emotions and what you feel, how much can you genuinely expect of a three year old?? Working with children’s NOT easy; much more at that age, but in the end, you DID commit yourself with that family and “quitting” after just two months doesn’t sit right with me either. Be patient and do more; if you think you’ve done all you can, you surely have NOT!

Calif Mom March 1, 2011 at 6:46 pm

He’s only 3, he’s dealing with two very big disruptions in what is “normal”, and it has been only 3 weeks.

I am not clear if the AP really *does* have a good relatinoship with the host mom. She said there was an awkward interaction — do you not like how I am raising my kid, and then also the frightening of the child.

Sounds like the mom could use a little family therapy during this rough transition. Very tough thing for an au pair to suggest, though.

Original poster, you need to decide deep down whether you really DO have a good relationship with this mom and truly respect her and can live with her style for a year. And then you have to decide to be unbelievably consistent with this 3 year old, and patient, and not feed his emotional instability with more emotional instability from you. LIttle kids are perceptive about emotions of those around them, but they don’t have the ability to THINK about those emotions or understand them, or make better decisions on their own.

Praise, praise, praise him when things are going well, and describe what you like about what he’s doing.

“I love how you came and sat down next to me. That was really nice. Thank you.” smile, maybe hug if he likes hugs, or high five.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. Find things to praise. Give him small jobs that you know he will be successful at. Easy, simple, fun things that he is already doing and that he loves.

And don’t expect things to change overnight. This will take time.

If you aren’t ready for that, then rematch NOW. Don’t linger. It makes everything worse for everyone.

Good luck!

AP25 March 1, 2011 at 10:38 pm

well.. it’s been 2 months not 3 weeks… but yes.. i think i have good relationship with my HM… the thing is she works from home.. and she says she has too much work now. cause she used to work part time.. and now she’s doing it full time… apparently the frightening thing she did with the boy is working… this morning was awful.. coming back from a playdate he and the 4year old were… so.. I told her what he did (ass she asked me to) (so did my LCC) so i did… and she put him in his room by himself almost for 5 min.. and he cried and cried.. at the end she asked him to tell me he was sorry … he did (not wanting it.. but he did) and in the afternoon he was really good compare as he always does.. so i thanked him and told him how happy i was for him to listen to me when i talked to him and being a good boy… that i really appreciated that… but at night he was bad again (i want to think he just tired…) so i told him.. to remember he was such a good boy earlier.. and i knew he could do it.. and i didnt want his mom to be mad at him for not being good… I decided i want to give him another chance.. cause he tried.. i dont want to leave and make him think that i left even if he tried to behave…

HM Pippa March 2, 2011 at 2:09 pm

AP25, Your post raised a field of red flags for me. It is probably a questions of my parenting philosophy, but the way you talk about the child being good or bad makes me incredibly uncomfortable. If I were the host mom, such language would worry me in the extreme. It seems you are equating compliance with being good, and resistance with being bad, and are using threats to force compliance. First, IMHO, no 3 year old is “bad”, although it may use entirely unacceptable behavior. Keep in mind that anger (and his behavior sounds angry to me) is a secondary emotion. The primary emotional root of anger is almost always frustration or fear. This child, based on your description of the behavior and the situation, is clearly acting out his frustration, fear and powerlessness. Forcing compliance through fear of punishment does not, and cannot, teach good behavior. If you’re lucky, it may create absence of “bad” behavior, but will certainly increase frustration (and suppressed anger).

It is our job as adults, to help our children develop the social and emotional skills to recognize and manage overwhelming emotions. Empathy (which keeps us from hurting others and allows us to care for each other) is not innate, rather is learned.

A couple quick tips for helping a child (and adults, too) learn empathy. None of these are magic bullets, but over time have very positive effects when used consistently:

Name the emotion: What often works for my 3 year old (and even for my tween) is to describe the emotion the child is feeling: “I can see you are really (sad/angry/frustrated) right now,” or “You must feel really (sad/angry/frustrated) that (I need you to eat your food/put on your shoes/…)” It helps them to have a name for the overwhelming feelings, and more importantly, shows that you understand how they feel and are compassionate. The effect for my kids, almost every time, is that the strong emotion dissolves into tears and need for a hug. Talk about where you feel the feeling in your body: “when I feel frustrated, my hands make fists, my heart beats fast and my cheeks feel hot. where do you feel the frustration in your body?”

Teach and offer alternative, acceptable behaviors for expressing strong feelings: “I see you are (angry/excited/frustrated). You may not (bite me/kick me/throw blocks at the window), but you can (hit a pillow/yell into the teddy bear’s tummy/run in circles) instead.”

Try I statements: I also get much better results from my kids with I statements than you statements or commands. For example “I need you to…” rather than “You need to…” or “Don’t…”

Talk about your own emotions: “I feel SO SAD when you bite me (showing exaggerated expression of pain). Oww, it hurts my hand” rather than “Don’t bite!” And “It feel me so happy when you hold my hand,” or “I feel frustrated when I can’t put socks on your feet. I worry that you will be cold when we go outside.”

Steff March 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm

@HM Pippa :: I believe this post was really good, and pretty helpful! Not just for the 25yo AP with the ‘problem’ but to all of us overall!! Really just wanted to say a ‘Thank You’, I’m sure those are things anyone dealing with children should know and make good use of it. Thanks :)

aria March 1, 2011 at 9:23 pm

I’ll probably get some disapproval for saying this, but I think you should rematch. I was in a similar situation- in fact, much easier than yours- and even I can relate. I matched with a family in Europe with two children- a 7 year old girl and a 4 year old boy. The boy was a sweetheart and just needed run of the mill discipline. The girl (this will sound awful) was a nightmare to deal with. The AP before me got into a severe car crash with only the little girl in the car (flipped upside down and down a hill) and then booked it the next day. The mother was also a workaholic and was rarely around; Dad worked from home and was overly permissive (due to guilt from Mom not being around, IMO).

Anyway, I planned to stay for the entire ten months, and I tried, but the behavior became too much to deal with. If she did something naughty and I tried to discipline her, she would ignore me. She hit me, her brother, her parents, and was never scolded by mom or dad. She spit, bit, said bad words (even at school!) and Dad constantly made excuses, while Mom made comments exactly the same: are you telling me how to parent? I would try to leave earlier and earlier, went to bed at 9 from exhaustion every night, and dreaded returning every morning.

I hated it, and neither of the children got any better for me staying- the girl needed someone better equipped than I was to provide her with solid discipline and structure, and the boy needed a cheerful AP, which I no longer was. I finally left, and when I was telling Dad, he asked me, “don’t you even want to try to work things out?” I had to say no, I didn’t. I think there are some situations that are beyond what an 18 year old girl can handle, and that’s not her fault. I found a new family with GREAT kids, and I ended up having an amazing year, now I even want to go into teaching their age group. I probably never would have made that decision if I stayed with the first family. Rematch now, move on, and be done with it. You deserve better.

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