Help Your Au Pair Develop Rituals For Bonding With Host Kids

by cv harquail on January 12, 2016

As I was snuggling my tweenager on the couch after a hard day at school, my mind wandered back to all those times when I’d come home from the University to find this same daughter — infant sized — snuggled up in the rocking chair napping with our Au Pair Margit. au pair, host child, childcare

All the books I’d read warned against rocking a baby to sleep in your arms– babies were supposed to learn how to fall asleep on their own. I’d originally asked Margit to avoid teaching the baby to fall asleep only by being rocked. I wanted everything to be done ‘the best way’.

But when I came upstairs to see them both asleep in the glide rocker, instead of being irked I thought my heart would burst.

They looked so adorable, so comfy, so peaceful, in snuggly bliss.  

I let them be.

This was the first of several situations where I realized that the “right” way of doing things, or the way I wanted things done, wasn’t what our Au Pairs always did.

They read five books aloud instead of four. The Au Pairs put real warm milk in the play teapot, not just water.  They gave a few stuffed animals scary personalities, then taught the girls how to tame them.  Things I might not have done.

And that was okay.

I realized that each of the Au Pairs needed to find her own way to connect with the girls, to share emotions, to offer something of her own family’s traditions, or sometimes just to feel creative, even when (heck, especially when) these were not what HD and I did.

Have you helped your Au Pair create her or his own rituals with your kids?

Have you flexed your ways of doing things to make room for them?



AuPair Paris January 12, 2016 at 6:47 pm

My host kids and I had musical rituals. I showed them music videos and made them CDs and we had dance parties after homework every night. I think finding songs on youtube possibly did conflict with the “screens” rules – but my HPs knew, and didn’t mind. Now I’ve left I email them songs. I’ll still make them CDs for their birthdays, though I’ll have to change the songs as they get older…

Mimi January 13, 2016 at 3:12 am

We’ve always encouraged our APs to connect with our kids in whatever way is most natural for them. If the kids are happy and the house isn’t a (major) disaster, I’m very flexible about how the AP runs things and we give them a lot of independence to establish their own routines and rituals.

In general, I use a bulls-eye philosophy with our APs. Things that have to be done an exact way are in the center and are done a particular way because of safety or what’s legal (think never leaving a baby in the tub alone even if someone’s banging on the door). The middle ring is things that should be done within certain parameters because it’s part of our beliefs/values or affects other things in the house like having the kids put their toys away themselves as opposed to having someone clean up after them or having baths on particular days because it ties to laundry and bedding getting washed. The outer ring is more about outcome and the process is all up to the AP — the baby needs a nap, but where/what time is up to the AP as long as it doesn’t negatively impact her overall sleep schedule.

When a new AP starts, we have always carved out scheduled individual play time with each kid so they can get a feel for each other and bond early on. I think it makes it easier for the APs to learn about them in a way that’s not so overwhelming as having them all together. We actively encourage our kids to engage in activities that interest our APs and some really great things have come out of that including special movie time with AP#1, crafts with AP#2, baking with AP#3, sewing with AP#4, and so on up to horses/riding with AP#8. All those different experiences have been very enriching for my kids.

5kids=aupair January 13, 2016 at 10:13 am

Some au pairs are better at this than others. A lot also depends on the age(s) of the child. Babies and toddlers are usually not a problem. Our current au pair is not bonding with our 13 year old at all. AP doesn’t even talk to teen when she’s home alone with her or driving her places. I would assume they would have a great relationship since the AP is so young. We’ve never had this problem before, so I’m interested in what everyone has to say.

JJ Host Mom January 14, 2016 at 2:48 pm

We had this problem with our last au pair and one of my boys, then 6 years old. We didn’t realize the extent of the problem until after she left. My son was really hurt by it and it took him several months to come out of his shell afterwards. Never again.

Maybe it’s because of her culture; i.e. Northern Europeans aren’t as friendly. Maybe it’s because of her personality. Maybe she doesn’t feel capable of a relationship with your 13 year old. Maybe there’s some bad chemistry between them. But regardless of the reason it’s happening, your 13 year old may perceive that she’s the problem and may be feeling really badly about it. In retrospect I really wish we had rematched. Maybe you can get to the bottom of it and resolve it with your au pair, but if you can’t, for your daughter’s sake, I would find a new au pair.

Taking a Computer Lunch January 14, 2016 at 10:27 pm

Did a beloved AP that your teenager loved just depart? Did the AP who just left have much better language skills than your current AP? I used to mistake that young APs would be more skilled in communicating with tweens and teens than I. For the most part, they’re just coming off being the-child-at-home to play the role of big sister or auntie to a teenager (who, quite honestly does not see the AP as another kid but as another adult – boring!)

If you see that your AP does not initiate conversation – and she won’t if her advances are rebuffed once or twice. Give her opening lines. Tell her that you want more than a chauffeur.

But really, the chemistry just might not be there. Tell your teenager that you actively need her to help the AP with the little kids, with the way things are done in your home.

AP #4 was a dream but AP #5 could barely speak English. Child #2 was 9 at the time and loved the way #5 cooked – it was great – but neither of them interacted. When I grated at #5’s lack of initiative, he always took her side. He liked her – in his own way. #6 was fluent and beat him at Wii. He insisted on going to the airport when her year was up. #7 was better, though – she took him out and let him stick fight with her until The Camel came home. He was sad when I wouldn’t let him leave school early to drive her to the airport (actually, I would have, but Dad said no). AP #8 was too self-centered to reach out to him. AP #9 was a real family member, but he was too old to bond with her in the same way. AP #10 was a dud. AP #11 and he talked but they never bonded. AP #12 is special – she’s a little older and is willing to elicit his opinion. Will he love her in the way he loved #1-4 and 5-6? I doubt it, but he will respect her and talk to her.

If your AP is home alone with your 13-year-old, then assign them a task. I’d like you to bake a batch of chocolate chip cookies, work on a craft project for a younger child (if your AP is crafty and willing to teach your teenager), or something that forces them to communicate, work together. You can’t force a bond, but by throwing them into collaboration, you’ll create opportunities for communication.

IntellectualMom January 14, 2016 at 9:17 pm

Our previous AP had a lot of trouble connecting with our then 8 year old. He felt she wasn’t enough of an ally; more like a second mom. It was hard to watch since she did amazing things for him – knitted him a scarf after being here only 3 weeks, made a very complicated piñata with him, etc. I encouraged her to keep working at developing complicity with him by taking a bit of liberty here and there to do fun things outside the normal schedule – “stealing” a few moments on the way home to take him for frozen yogurt or an art activity without siblings, etc. He never grew to LOVE her, despite her best efforts, but things got much better by the end of her stay. She even read lines with him when he was preparing his role in a Shakespeare play. I think sometimes it’s just chemistry —and maybe if it were so off in the future, I would go to rematch. Now that I think of all the extra work she put into the relationship I can’t believe they did not bond. Nonetheless it made for many great memories and enriched the year.
Current AP has been very good at bonding with all the kids (perhaps less with the middle child who is 4, ) and that really helps her in enforcing rules and gaining trust.

IntellectualMom January 14, 2016 at 9:20 pm

PS As another poster noted above, pop culture is a major area of bonding between AP and our kids – our AP and kids love to sing top 40 hits!

Taking a Computer Lunch January 14, 2016 at 10:30 pm

I used to tell my APs that if they could get child #2 to help with something like cleaning his room, then they should feel free to reward him with extra Wii time (or another activity that they did together – and to let it be their secret). Let your AP build a conspiracy against you – extra ice cream for helping out with the “littles” or something that helps your tween or teen see that s/he is part of the parenting team and not just another kid for the AP to supervise.

FrankFurt AP Boy January 20, 2016 at 7:35 pm

(Formerly: Boy Au Pair in Spain – I am soon to be changing countries!)

I have found that the key to form a close bond quickly with kids as an au pair is to distinguish myself from the parents in terms of just being, generally, much more very fun and active. It is funny but I have noticed that is always much more difficult for au pairs to bond with the kids if the parents are also very creative and engaging with the kids. It is actually much easier if a playful adult in the house is a new thing.

I will give some examples of how I have bonded with kids from an au pair perspective.. maybe it will be useful for ideas for how host parents can encourage their au pairs to bond (??)…

I brought balloons with LED in them the first time I met the kid that will be my next charge. It was something out of the ordinary; a high energy activity and we were instant best friends! Bubbles are also a great prop with young kids. Perhaps encouraging an au pair to play games and with toys that the kids wouldn’t usually play with is one trick to help an au pair develop a bond.

Allowing the au pair and the kids to go on an adventure somewhere is a nice idea I always think. One of my best memories of my last job was wading through a stream we found on a bike ride with the youngest leading us where he wanted to go. With toddlers that are crazy about trains or buses it seems like a big treat to them to just randomly take public transport (especially true of course if the kid is usually taken everywhere by car!). Whatever the kid perceives as an adventure will do!

A big thing for me was also sharing my hobbies. The older kids I have looked after know that they can come and play video games with me on my computer (if they have behaved well!) during their screen time for example. I have also let an older kid I have looked after shoot my bow, which was a good bonding experience – I guess not many au pairs have a bow but I suppose it is the same for sharing any sport!

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