When All Your Host Kid Wants Is The Former Au Pair

by cv harquail on June 9, 2017

Au Pair transitions can be rough on kids. Some kids wonder if an Au Pair’s departure is their fault. Others get upset when their ‘totally best friend’ departs for her next adventure.

Even though we have ways to explain this all to our kids, sometimes the kids have a hard time letting go of their Au Pairs.

34348705335_d439a932ae_mAfter all, the Au Pair has cared for them, cuddled them, listened to them, played with them, and been a warm safe presence in the child’s life.

When a host child has a hard time letting go of a departing Au Pair, it sets up a painful issue for the new, incoming Au Pair.

How is s/he supposed to connect with the Host Child, when all the Host Child wants is the former Au Pair?

You think it might be time that would solve the problem. Or maybe some direction from the parents. Or something seriously compeeling that the new Au Pair figures out how to offer to the child.

Or the problem could resist all these efforts, as is the case with this DesperateToConnect Au Pair…

I’m an experienced au pair having looked after children from the age of 19 years old. I’m now turning 23. I’ve au paired in two different countries and have just started a year in my third. I’ve worked effectively with different kids, with different personalities, etc.

I’m now a month and a half into my year. The host parents are really nice and friendly which is a big plus. My concern is with the little girl. She is 4 years old. Very pretty and smart.

My concern is that she keeps saying she wants the previous au pair back. (I’m their second au pair) while I understand that kids build connections to au pairs and I respect that. (I pride myself on the connections with the kids I’ve worked with and I’m still in contact with their parents.)

Everyday is a constant battle to get her to listen and to be nice to me.

When she gets back from school I get hit, scratched, pushed and she’s even spat on me. She will stand there and tell me she doesn’t like me and that she hates me and that she’s going to kill me.

Interestingly, by the end of the day she is happy and says goodnight to me and doesn’t want to go to bed.  But when she wakes up the next day it’s the same story.  It feels almost like Groundhog Day.

I’ve tried everything to get her to listen and to get her to accept me. But nothing’s working.

I’ve spoken to the parents about this and they told me that they didn’t think it would be such a big problem. That it was easy after the first au pair left until I got here. They told me to do activities and not to punish her if she does something wrong (because I’m public enemy number 1.) I’ve tried multiple activities of which she’s either turned down. Thrown a massive fit. Or told me it’s stupid.

While I know she is only 4 years old and that she doesn’t really “understand” it’s stressing me out because I should be able to do things to help her. But she won’t let me and insists that mama or papa has to do it. I feel bad because I should be making their lives easier instead it feels like I’m adding more trouble.  Is there anything I can maybe do to improve the situation?


See also:

Gentle Ways to Let Go of Your Departed Au Pair
“Her Next Adventure”: Telling your kids that your Au Pair is leaving
Ending the Au Pair Year on the Right Note, by Host Mom TACL

Image: Push Back, by Sherrie Deveaux on Flickr


Seattle HD June 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

No specific advice here, but interested in the outcome and other advice, as we have 4.5 yo twins who will be saying goodbye to an awesome au pair in August and transitioning to a new one. This is the first age where they will be fully aware of what’s going on.

However, they are in preschool and have switched teachers a couple of times and we deliberately try to get them doing new things and meeting new people. That they’re twins also gives them a built in support structure, which an only child isn’t going to have.

Find something fun you can do with the child that you can make a regular thing – and the HF needs to help, but not too heavy-handedly.

Anonymous in CA June 10, 2017 at 5:19 pm

This sounds like a tough situation for you and I’m sorry. At the risk of stating the obvious, I really think children, especially at that age, need firm boundaries and I have to think there’s a way to set a boundary without punishing. Bottom line is that a child doesn’t get to treat an adult (or anyone) the way she’s treating you, and she needs to know it.

I also don’t think that a child gets the choice to “turn down” an activity that the adult presents. That may sound harsh, but I think children are more confident and secure with fewer choices, not more. A little thing that a preschool teacher clued me into when my child was much younger is that when kids think the adult isn’t the one in charge, they look around and ask themselves who IS in charge. And if the answer is no one, then the kids think that they are in charge, which is actually terrifying to a young child, and can result in behaviour such as you’re describing. I see parents, babysitters, and au pairs give all these choices to children and then they wonder either why the child won’t do whatever it is that was suggested (when you say, “do you want to do X?” you have to be prepared for either answer), or they get flustered and upset when the child throws a tantrum instead. Don’t burden the child with the decision; children are looking to the adult for direction and they’re looking to the adult to be leaders who are in charge. So, lead the child. (And that will certainly sound harsh – I really don’t mean it that way and I know you’ve tried a lot of techniques to resolve the problem – I admire your tenacity in not just giving up.)

So, I think if you present an activity that you and she are going to do, you present it as “we are doing X craft this morning,” and not “do you want to do X craft?” Then even if she objects, you just quietly start doing X craft. And yeah, make sure that X craft is something she likes, but also something you like! At least you’ll get to do whatever it is and you’ll enjoy it. Usually, the child will eventually get board and start participating in the activity, and usually the child will feel more relaxed knowing that she’s not in charge. Obviously this doesn’t work with all children or in all situations, but I have seen incredible things happen when the adult leads by just quietly doing the activity without the child. Along with so many other things, children are little mimics of what they see around them!

And remember, even is she’s upset about the au pair transition, she doesn’t get to treat you or anyone badly…that’s not going to serve her in the future. Frustration and disappointment are normal things that are important for children to experience so they can learn to work through them. If as a 4 year old she’s not required to behave well in the face of frustration, what will happen when she’s 14 and doesn’t win the science fair, or when she’s 24 and doesn’t get accepted to the graduate program she wants?

Getting off soap box now.

Good luck! I am totally rooting for you!

AuPair Paris June 11, 2017 at 4:32 am

I think the above advice about boundaries is good. She’s obviously hurting, but doesn’t get to treat you like that because of it. I don’t know if, when you say “not to punish her” you mean that they will then sanction her so you can play “good cop”? I think ignoring the behaviour is likely to reinforce her impression that it’s acceptable.

In more positive ideas, could you skype or email with the former au pair? Maybe a couple of times to get to know her, and then with your host kid? I always try/tried to have a good relationship with former and current au pairs… My host family have had two since I left, and I made friends with them (I visit a lot) so that we could come across as a team… My youngest host child and I are extremely close, and she started off behaving a little like this to the following au pair – but it decreased after I visited and made sure to include the new AP in all our games, and to sit with her having coffee and being friendly etc. When I emailed the girls I’d be like “Jane told me x, y, z! How exciting!” or “Jane tells me you’re doing so well at x, y, z!”. I also brought games and activities, and would say “you’ll have so much fun doing this with Jane!”. I think it helped for us to be on the same team. Obviously if they now have no contact, that makes all this impossible…

2 kids and a cat June 11, 2017 at 10:14 am

We had a challenging transition between our first and second au pairs. The kids in the end loved them both equally, but it was hard for our daughter to realize that accepting the new one didn’t mean rejecting or betraying the old. She was also young and didn’t always have words to talk about it.
That said, hitting and spitting – any aggression towards another person – are automatic time outs in our house. Regardless of the situation, that kind of think should not be tolerated, and you should feel like you have support and resources from the parents to deal with those things separately. After the time-out, we talk about how it’s okay to feel mad, sad, etc. but we can’t hurt other people.
Ask the parents about some favorite activities they did with the old au pair, and see about doing them. When we prepared our kids, we assured them that they would be able to do XYZ crafts, etc.
I also agree on the choices. “Do you want to do X or Y” is fine, but no open ended questions. Alternatives include “we are going to do X and Y today. Which do you want to do first”. So, doing the activities is non-negotiable, but the child feels as if she has some control over the situation.
Lastly, at this age, preparation and anticipation is really important to the kids (again, they are beginning to want to have a sense of control, or choice). So, a loose schedule, like Monday morning craft, Tuesday walk, etc. etc. where she can be prepared for the stuff may help cut back on resistance. Good luck!

NZ HM June 11, 2017 at 6:35 pm

I very much agree with above comments about the need to discipline the child in some form or other (you or the parents) despite her obvious pain/ frustration and to provide choices that don’t allow a yes or no answer. If the parents are not around to observe the bad behaviour in person and feel the meaning of any punishment is lost at the end of the day try a reversed sticker/ reward system where you start with a jar full of … (coins, buttons, sweets…) and take one out everytime she is aggressive towards you. The more are left, the more the parents can see how nice she’s been. If she’s allowed sweets she might be able to eat the remaining at the end of the day or get a little reward from her parents if the jar is still full…

Also important: not to get dragged into discussions with a 4 year old (rescuing/ trying to make it better by keeping to offer more options).
The more the child misbehaves the more you need to take charge!

I also second the sentiment of planning ahead and young children thriving on routine: I suggest to make a plan for the following day towards the end of the day (when she is feeling warm and happy towards you). Get her excited about your adventure/ plan for the next day that you have organised together (a trip, a crafts project, some cooking…) and try keep the momentum going the next morning. Remind her about what you are going to do and, yes, just quietly start without her if she’s being stroppy!

In general: have another talk with the parents and present them with one or two approaches suggested here that you think could work!

HMAdvice June 12, 2017 at 1:32 pm

I agree with the above in that the child must have respect for you and understand that you will not tolerate being treated that way. I would work with your host parents and really communicate to them what is going on and what you have tried. I would abide by your host families preferences on discipline but I would also try to be sympathetic to the fact that she misses her former au pair. I would try this route before the discipline route. Maybe you could do a project like make a card and send it to the previous au pair? I like the skype idea someone above had. We also do this with previous au pairs or record a message and send it to the previous au pair and see if she gets one back. I think this is a balancing act. Mix compassion with structure and a dash of discipline. Be sympathetic but also make sure she knows that you are in charge and that her behavior is not acceptable. Sometimes kids at this age don’t know how to control their feelings and but that doesn’t mean you should tolerate being abused by a 4 year old either. Tell her that it is ok to miss her former au pair and ask her about it and see if she will open up. If she won’t maybe ask her to draw some her favorite memories with her former au pair or games that she liked to play with her previous au pair. I wouldn’t dwell on that relationship too much but it might help her to express her emotions. I like to focus on positive behavior too so sticker charts are really good. “Look what you did today” “you picked up your toys without me asking” or ” you were a really good listener” “go show mommy how many stickers you got today”

Taking a Computer Lunch June 13, 2017 at 10:17 pm

AP #1 had lived with us for 3 1/2 years and child #2 was just a little over 4 when she left – on horrible terms. Child #2 assumed that the second AP had kicked the first AP out of the house and that if he misbehaved, he could have her back.

At 4 kids understand and hate change, but they often mis-perceive the reasons for the change in their lives. You need to enlist the help of a HP to explain about how beloved AP #1 had to the leave the US – it was the rules, and that you were selected because you are great.

You have a role in this, too. What worked for us, was that AP#2 loved, loved, loved Disney movies, but felt awkward about seeing them without a kid in tow. We paid for the movies, but they were a 1:1 bonding experience – and quite frankly, she often took him after working 45 hours. That, and she did not take his shit personally. AP #2 is a very strong woman and has gone on to do great things to make the world a better place.

I would say one of the biggest mistakes new APs make is trying to get kids to do the activities they love to do. Find an activity over which you and the child bond on her terms. Since she begins each day with a firestorm and becomes more compliant during the course of the day, you might greet the initial firestorm with “I’m so sorry you’re angry/hitting/biting/kicking this morning, I really enjoyed X yesterday. When you are able to calm down maybe we can talk about what you might want to do today.”

My rule, as a HP, was the AP ALWAYS got to select the removal of an activity for bad behavior and it was my job to follow through. “I hear X took away watching TV for today. Because you hit her, I can’t let you watch TV now.” You and the HP have to work out the boundaries for your authority!

We actually made up “prince” stories for child #2. He was a prince, as an such, he had rules of engagement: always be grateful to one’s subjects, and thank them for gifts (this worked wonders at birthday parties – one should never ever be mean about a duplicate gift if one is a prince, after all). He also had rules of engagement with the adults around him. (And no worries – he has no illusions that he’s a prince – now that he’s a teenager he has to change his older sibling’s diapers and adult sit.)

Relax and find your rhythm. Is it the reading of books that relaxes and changes the rules of engagement, coloring?, kicking a ball?, cooking? Then change the order of activities.

And then, if nothing works, it’s just a bad match. Sometimes two people are not right for each other – and like a no-fault divorce, there can be a no-fault rematch.

WestMom June 15, 2017 at 6:30 pm

Not that is makes a huge difference in the end, but is she an only child?

I am asking because I have found that even in change, children with siblings can rely on each other to adapt to new things. They also look at others for models on behaviors. What I read in this post, is that this little girl is the master of the house when the parents are away.

Kicking, spitting and telling AP she will kill her? This AP needs A LOT more support and reinforcement from the host parents. They are the ones who need to reaffirm their decision about why new AP is here and that this is for the best of the family (4yr olds are young, but 4yr olds also love their parents and can redirect their behavior to please, and for the unity of the family).

I am sorry OP, this seems really difficult and it despite you trying really hard, you should not be afraid to move on if you are miserable.

Aspie Mom June 20, 2017 at 6:23 pm

My 5 year old would say disparaging things and blame our first au pair for things in front of me. Our au pair was such a sweet, timid person it was important for me to stop what we were doing, get down to my daughter’s level and let her know she needed to find a nicer way to talk about her feelings. She is still a sassy thing, and I still need to remind her, in a calm way, to try again. We expect our AP to do the same, and try to set that example for her. Our daughter USUALLY is able to say things in a nicer way the second time around. My point is the parents can help by setting limits for the child in front of the au pair. Maybe they can call a family meeting if the child doesn’t do these things in front of them.

My son with Asperger’s was 10 when our AP#2 left suddenly after a car accident. It CRUSHED him. Every time a parent went on a trip he worried the whole time. He couldn’t even talk to AP#2 on Skype until she was fully healed (and she DID heal!!!) Enter AP#3. Our son was very honest about her not being on par with AP#2 and in the end AP#3 didn’t have a personality that really matched our son. She was fantastic with our daughter but didn’t end up bonding with our son. I tried to help, but there is only so much a parent can do. In the end we rematched in 4 months over house rules not being followed. I think we gave it a try, but there are going to be times the personalities don’t match and there is no reason to fight through a situation that isn’t in everyone’s best interest.

I think it is great that you want to make it work, but if the family doesn’t/can’t help and the child doesn’t adjust, there is no reason you have to be miserable or unsafe. Just don’t forget that rematch is an option. I would be sad if an AP wanted to rematch over personality issues, but I would understand. Our son is tricky to bond with and our daughter is a million miles an hour handful! We won’t be a good fit for every AP.

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