Is it a Personality Thing, or a Training Thing, or Some Other Thing?

by cv harquail on October 6, 2013

Even when we don’t have enough information about the ‘real’ problem between a host parent and an au pair, the action steps are the same:
1. Check your expectations,
2. Talk with each other candidly, and
3. Give each other a chance to change.

Here’s an email from a host mom having trouble:

baby tears

Dear Au Pair Mom Readers,

Our second au pair is 20 years old, arrived 6 weeks ago, speaks excellent English and comes from a rural area in Europe.  We have one child, 16 months old. I work full time from home. Our first au pair, also from Europe, was excellent in schedule/discipline/cleanliness/playtime/education, but low on the cuddling and warmth.We’d love some help as we approach what we expect will be a rematch.

We’re struggling because our current au pair rarely if ever speaks to our child. 

She seems to liven up when she goes out with other au pairs and Skypes, but around us and our child she pretty much sits in silence.

When she approaches our baby, the baby usually starts screaming when she does try to hold him. And, she doesn’t play with him. I can hear them upstairs and it’s silent most of the day.  It’s almost like she doesn’t know what to say, so all she says is “Come Here.” Or “Stop Crying”. Overall, she does not seem to understand how to communicate with babies.

We spent the weekend with 2 other babies and she completely ignored them, which leads me to believe that deep down she does not like children.

I’ve taken off extensive work to train, given her books/articles, put together game ideas, etc. We haven’t sat down and had a formal talk. Instead, I will stop work and go upstairs and say, “Why don’t you say this…” or “Why don’t you try this…”

Also, my husband and I are very fit and we move fast. In contrast, our au pair seems quite slow… she doesn’t exercise, etc. And, she is honestly the most boring person I’ve ever met. Not sure if this is adjustment, or who she is.

My husband and I would like to communicate our requirements and give her 2 weeks to change before rematch.

Would you recommend this? Or should we just move forward with rematch?  ~ DisquietedHostMom


Dear DisquietedHostMom,

It’s hard to know exactly what’s wrong — whether the most important problem is:

A personality mismatch between what you wanted (active au pair) and what you have (silent, passive au pair)
– A skills or training issue (your au pair doesn’t know how to interact with a toddler)
– An attitude issue (maybe she doesn’t like kids?)
or if there is more to it, like some effects on your child or your au pair from having a work-at-home parent in the background, or even whether you and your DH have been honest with what you really need from an au pair.

You’re still within the two-month trial period of most Au Pair Agencies, so you have time to experiment with approaches before you pull the plug on this au pair relationship.

Even when we don’t have enough information about the ‘real’ problem with your au pair, the action steps are the same:

1. Check your expectations,
2. Talk candidly with each other, and
3. Give each other a chance to change.

1. Check your expectations.

Look back at the information you have about your au pair when you matched. Were you clear about what you needed? Did she mention she preferred older kids? Is there some information that you understand differently, now that she’s in your home? There may be some clues there.

Then, I’d suggest you contact your LCC (always bring them in– they are there to help us!).  Describe the problem and ask for your LCC’s advice and help. S/he may have intell and tactics that will help you craft your path.

2. Talk candidly with each other.

DO have a talk with your Au Pair about what kind of interaction you want her to have with your toddler. Ask her what her ideas are about what to do, and really talk to her.  You have to do this kind of tough conversation anyway if you go into rematch, since it’s only fair to make a good faith effort… and in this case, you and she could really learn how to talk with each other, parent <=> au pair, and build skills for the long term.

3. Give each other a chance to change.

It’s important not to dive into a rematch without making a good faith effort to change, yourself, and without giving your au pair time to adjust her behavior.

Only after you take these 3 steps should you move — emotionally and behaviorally– into rematch.

Scan the resources here on AuPairMom about rematches, when to initiate them, how to do it, and what to expect.   You’re unlikely to find a better au pair unless you analyze what you really want and what else/different you should look for.

Parents and Au Pairs– what additional advice do you have?



See Also: What if I actually don’t like my new Au Pair’s personality?
How To Rematch: Share your best practices
3 Tips for Cross-Cultural Conversation

Image: The Humidity, from Flickr, Attribution Some rights reserved by nerissa’s ring


Taking a Computer Lunch October 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I believe in treating my AP as I want to be treated when my boss thinks I’m not doing a good job – an opportunity to make a change. I don’t think it’s fair to go into rematch before having a real conversation about what is wrong. On the other hand, I don’t think you need to give her two weeks to correct her behavior. You’ll know in 7 days if she is able to rise to the occasion or not.

Before you have the “reset your attitude” conversation, call or email your LCC. Ask her to come to the table. If your LCC has been around for a while, then she’s seen it all before. She can help your AP understand what is a reasonable expectation.

Set an example for your au pair. I find that my au pairs are embarrassed about talking with my child with special needs, but when they see me talking to her, asking her questions, singing to her, then I set an example about how I want them to behave toward her. This is really important with infants and toddlers. It’s not just enough to give your AP a book to read, you have to lead.

Finally, if you’re an extrovert and your AP is an introvert, it doesn’t make her a bad or lazy person. Being quiet and still is not evil, as long as she is capable of speaking gently and kindly with your child. Stop interrupting her work and yours. If you feel that she’s under-motivated to initiate activities with your child, then give her a list of activities. “Today, I want you to take the baby to the playground…”, “There’s a story time at the library. Afterwards, please check out three books to read to him this afternoon before naptime.” And then leave her alone. If something troubles you, wait until ten minutes before the end of her shift to have a conversation, “I couldn’t help overhear you… what was happening?” Let her explain to you what her issues are.

If, after a week, you decide that she’s unsuitable, then initiate rematch.

(BTW, the APs I have hosted who were least motivated to achieve, I later discovered were unmotivated in other areas of their lives – e.g. perpetual B and C students. The APs who did the best were curious and engaged in the world. Even if they weren’t perfect, they were always willing to try.)

cv harquail October 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I *knew* you’d be the first person to notice ;-)

JBLV October 24, 2013 at 3:09 am

I agree, you’ll know in 7 days. Besides, 2 weeks is a long time in a baby’s life. If she still isn’t working out in 7 days, it’s time to rematch.

German Au-Pair October 6, 2013 at 6:02 pm

When you say that she’s not as boring when she’s with peers, maybe it freaks her out that you’re home?
I know I feel super awkward talking to babies or playing with kids when a grown up is there to witness. It’s just weird, even when you KNOW that the other adults do the same themselves and even expect you to do it.
Of course it’s hard for you to figure out what she’s doing when she’s not home…but I’d definitely ask her straight out if there’s a reason why she isn’t communicating with the baby. Maybe deep down she’s actually a baby-talk kind of person but feels embarassed to show it to you.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm

By your reasoning, she shouldn’t try. Who suffers? The baby.

AmericanAP in Germany October 7, 2013 at 12:45 am

I don’t think that’s what she meant. The mom who wrote this email would probably benefit most from having a really frank conversation with her AP about why she doesn’t seem to talk to the children. Giving her a list of activities to do might prompt her to be more active with the child while the parents aren’t around to see (I myself am always talkative with my host child, but definitely less so when the parents are present). However, if she doesn’t naturally want to interact with the baby this way, I don’t think anything but addressing the problem head on is going to fix that. There’s no way to know what the issue really is than just asking!

Host Mom in the City October 7, 2013 at 7:41 am

I don’t think that’s what German AP meant either. I do have low hopes for this match, but think this is a good point to explore. Maybe she does feel silly talking to a nonverbal child when the mother is right there obviously listening to her every move. She might also feel smothered if you’re dropping in randomly to tell her to do things differently.

I’d say have a frank talk with her about what you want and then give her some autonomy to see if she can exercise it (don’t drop in in the middle of the day to correct her).

I personally would strongly prefer an au pair who is not embarrassed about being engaged with my kids. I also would find it difficult to trust that she’s engaging when I can’t hear her if I already know she isn’t engaging when I can hear her. So even if she assured me she was when I’m not around, I think the trust might be gone. And once you don’t trust her even a little, forget it. You’ll be questioning everything.

German Au-Pair October 7, 2013 at 7:30 pm

I think asking her why she is not interacting that much with the baby will cause a reaction that can help you figure out if you’re comfortable with this and if this can be changed while you’re around, too. If she says “Oh yeah I know, it just feels so silly when I know you can hear me” you could talk about how you would LOVE her to do that and even show her. (And maybe give her some space like letting her close some doors…you can still hear, but maybe she won’t feel like you can?)
If she’s responding confused and you get the impression that this is normal behavior for her, I’d probably rematch.
Changing her behavior itself won’t be possible, but if her behavior is actually just inhibited by shyness or embarrassment, maybe you can do something about that.

Anna October 6, 2013 at 11:02 pm

From my experience, training someone in short time from the situation you describe to an acceptable degree of involvement with the child is not realistic. Even if she tries the child will sense that her heart is not in it, and will not listen to her, respond to her or like her.
I just rematched with an au pair who didn’t bother to get involved with my kids, and they were much older (the youngest is three). They were horrible to her, they didn’t listen to her at all. Now we have a new au pair who plays with them, laughs with them, and is truly interested in them – they are back to being their normal sweet kids, trying hard to please her.

I have had a gloomy au pair who refused to touch/hug/pick up my not yet two year old child, so much so that he screamed and grabbed my skirts every morning I was leaving for work, and she just stood there stonefaced, not even saying hello to him, not smiling, not extending her hands, a few paces away waiting for me to just hand him to her. I tried to train her to for 8 months. It was too long, I should have rematched much earlier. She listened and nodded all this time but nothing changed, in the end she said that she cannot change who she is. With a child this young your obligation is to your child, I regret keeping her for this long, I believe it harmed my child, he didn’t get his needs fulfilled at a very vulnerable age. He is now seven and is prone to tantrums; I don’t know if this has contributed to it or if it is just who he is, but I still feel guilty.
Trust your instincts. I now believe that au pair had issues and should have never been an au pair; the program was just a way for her to come to America.

Host Mom in the City October 7, 2013 at 7:26 am

I think I agree that it will be way too much effort to train her to be up to a level even close to what you want with a child that young in particular. With the caveat that maaaaybe she’s just homesick and nervous, what you’re seeing is her true personality. She’s just not going to be the bubbly, engaged type with the kids. As someone who went through a year with an au pair who is not a natural with kids and didn’t even seem to really enjoy them all that much, I would suggest being absolutely upfront and unapologetic about your needs now.

My mistake I think was being unsure if what I wanted (someone for whom my kids were her first priority while on duty) was reasonable. Now I know that even if it wasn’t reasonable (and I do think that it is), it doesn’t matter. What matters is how you want someone to engage with them – if they’re not even close to where you need them to be, you are well within your rights to have a candid conversation, give her an appropriate amount of time to react, and end the relationship if it’s not meeting your expectations.

I really wish I had sat ours down right away and been clear on what I wasn’t happy with (phone use while on duty, making plans with her friends while in duty and dragging the kids along even when they didn’t want to go, sitting on the couch not talking for hours while they played, etc). We did fix some of this, but it came with a ton of resentment. I basically spent the summer complaining to anyone who would listen and had been counting the days until she left (just recently!!).

I know that it’s difficult – especially when you’re looking at someone young and immature and you’re telling them “your personality isn’t working for us.” That’s basically why I didn’t take any action. It was too emotionally tough for me. But I think my kids suffered for it (not hugely, but still), and I’m angry at myself for choosing to avoid an awkward conversation at their expense.

There’s no other way around it – you cannot live through a year of this, I assure you. Have the difficult conversation. Be unapologetic about how you want a caretaker to be with your child. If this au pair is not a good match for what you want (it’s not personal, she may be a great match for someone else!), then move on ASAP.

SKNY October 7, 2013 at 6:47 am

Different things come to mind.
1. I agree with giving her some time alone with the baby and letting them spend the day. Have a frank conversation, give a list of suggestions of ideas, games, etc… And leave them alone for the day (no coming down to check, which can make someone shy).
2, if the baby was attached to au pair 1, it is normal to reject au pair 2. It happened to us once. More than once. We have learned that the more we leave them alone, the easier is for them to connect.
Finally, my last au pair (one who we let stay with us while found a rematch) was terrible in our home. Did not know how to connect to our children, spent most of her day sitting while kids ran around, etc. She finally found a family with 2 boys same age as our girls (never had au pair before), 40 minutes from here. I was very careful to make a balanced recommendation without personal bias.
We met the family in an organic mom group the other day and they love her. Their kids love her, they are all very connected and happy. They couldnt be happier.
So sometimes what was an unbearable match for one, works perfect for others. I had questions if that au pair liked kids, if she would last more than a week on other family… but she is doing great. Something in their personality/expectations/approach combo worked.

NoVA Twin Mom October 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm

A couple of suggestions, though I agree you ultimately might be looking at rematch.

First, start with the “reset” conversation referenced above. Our first au pair, with babies much younger than yours, didn’t quite know what to say to them. Until we “released” her to talk to them in her native language. She didn’t know songs/nursery rhymes in English – but she knew a ton in Swedish. So we had her speak Swedish to them! Even if your au pair’s English is excellent in everyday life, the memories she has of what to do with a toddler are probably in her native language (unless by saying she has excellent English you mean she is a native speaker. Then I don’t know :))

Second, google Gymboree Toddler Play Book. They publish both a Baby Play and a Toddler Play book. I bought our copies used on amazon for cheap, but your library may have copies as well. When you look through it, you’ll think “how hard is it to think of these things” – yet sometimes it IS hard to come up with those ideas. Give her a copy and tell her you’ll get her whatever (within reason) she needs to implement anything in the book. Sometimes we all need an idea to get us started.

Oh – and does she do Pinterest? Because there’s a ridiculous number of toddler activities there too.

Hopefully giving her a place to start will let her succeed!

Taking a Computer Lunch October 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm

We signed our first au pair up for Mommy & me classes. Now, she was gregarious, and even though her English was far from perfect, talked to everyone. We tried to set up sessions that worked for other au pairs in our cluster, so she could be with her friends. Those classes are set up to encourage adult/child interaction.

We, too, encouraged AP #1 to speak to our younger child in her native language. It was a fantastic experience for everyone. He ended up completely bilingual until he was 4. We reinforced the bilingual experience by purchasing books, music and movies in her native language.

Military Mom November 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Taking a Computer Lunch- I would like to know how your 4 year old is doing with retaining the second language. We are doing the same thing with our au pair and wonder how long we need to keep up the one on one before we use alternative methods to reinforce.

valc October 7, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Love the idea of setting au pair up to sing their childhood songs. Our au pair’s mother came to visit and she taught our 2 year old songs in Slovak.

Emerald City HM October 7, 2013 at 6:31 pm

We are dealing with something similar with our 3rd au pair. We noticed that she’s been here 2 months and hasn’t really connected with our 2.5 yr old, who had previously a great connection with our first 2 au pairs.

We had previously asked her to speak her native language to our girls as a means of talking to them, she said she didn’t want to becasue her english is so bad. We figured it must be exhausting to try to learn english while speaking to the girls in her native language and that we would maybe try asking her again in a few months, when she had more resources for english learning opportunities and was more comfortable.

What ended up happening is that my husband hit the end of his rope recently with this part. The au pair was watching the girls while we were home but trying to get stuff done around the house. DH took our oldest daughter back into the room with the au pair becasue she was hanging on us. The au pair’s attempt to engage her was to continue to do what she was doing (preparing food for our infant) and say our oldest daughter’s name repeatedly. DH, somewhat abruptly, explained that she needs to actually talk to her and treat her like a person, not just stand there and say her name over and over. Whether that is in english or her native language we don’t care. But standing 10 feet from her, saying her name repeatedly, is not the way to make a connection. Either way, it did get her actually talking to both girls that day both in her native language and english.

We still don’t know the reason that she seemed unwilling to speak her native language to the girls during the day. Nor do we know why she doesn’t quite have that connection. It’s difficult to assess during family time. It’s hard to for us to tell if it is just more difficult being the 3rd au pair or if there is something she can do to make that connection. I have noticed she does stand back and let us interact with the girls during family time, but at the same time, they don’t really go leaping out of our arms to have fun with the au pair like our oldest did with the first two.

Some if it might be that the au pair feels like a 5th wheel during family time. Or maybe she figures since we work all day we want that time with our girls. Or she doesn’t have the energy to chase them around off hours and more observes (our preschooler has a LOT of energy). Or she’s embarrassed to admit that she doesn’t understand our preschooler (who speaks a different language than hers or english sometimes). Or she’s embarrased to talk to little people who don’t reply. Either way, for our sanity, we did have to have an expectations talk because this was starting to not work for us. We did promise to do more on our side by having conversations that involve her and will help with her english instead of talking about work at the dinner table.

Anna October 7, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Little kids are forgiving and forget fast, I hope your au pair is able to repair her relationship with them, it is a good sign that after your husband’s comment she seemed to change her behavior. 2 months is more than enough time to make a connection though.
It reminds me of our last au pair when you mentioned the food prep thing – she mentioned to me she loved preparing lunch for them. One day I was home while she was working and I figured out why – she spent an hour and a half cooking lunch, while not even attempting to engage or involve or talk to the kids – they were playing on their own all this time.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm

While I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for kids to learn to play on their own, it does depend on their ages. While a 4 or 5 year old might be able to safely occupy themselves for an hour, and school-age kids would have no problem, toddlers can get into all kinds of mischief.

When my kids were little, and I sensed that they were bored and neglected (my study would get trashed – the one room in the house where there was a computer), and I called my au pair on it.

So, if your au pair lovingly makes the kids lunch and nothing is amiss, then your kids are probably old enough to talk about how was the lunch and what did they do while it was made. However, if you they tell you they made a mess and the AP yelled at them while she cleaned it up, then you have a problem.

Sometimes you have to direct an AP with a strong sense of tradition but not a lot of common sense. Perhaps she wants to do something because that’s the way it was done in her family, but you need to point out that her primarily goal is to keep the kids healthy and safe.

If you sense your AP is not paying a lot of attention to the kids or doesn’t know how to play with them, then pop in unexpectedly. (It is easier for working parents to do this and harder for SAHMs not to do it, I suppose.) If job coaching grows tiresome, then it’s time to have a “reset your attitude” chat with rematch on the table.

Anna October 8, 2013 at 10:09 pm

In that case the kids were not even around, they were playing alone in a different room on a different floor of the house. The youngest is three. This is not relevant anymore because we rematched; this was the case where she didn’t connect with them and didn’t show much love or interest in them overall; and likewise they didn’t enjoy her company either.

IT-Aupair October 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Firstly I want to say that I really like this site and I’ve learnt a lot from all of you host moms! I just can’t understand one thing about the previous post. I think to be a good au pair and I’ve always tried to engaged my host kids but in my country spending an hour cooking while letting the children playing by themselves (of course I don’t mean not talking with them at all) would be just normal.
Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I can’t get it…can anyone explain to me what’s wrong with this?

Considering that a lot of psychological studies evidence how important is for child spending a part of his time to play alone and to play alone with kids of the same age without an adult interaction (of course an adult supervision is always needed) how much time is considered appropriate in the American culture? And under which conditions?
Looking forward to hearing your opinions host moms…I know I will learn something new as always from you! :)

Emerald City HM October 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

This is going to be difficult because every family is different in how they raise their children with frequency and time of independent play.

We have a 2.5 year old and a 1 year old. We try to follow child-led cues when it comes to most everything. And yes, I do think children will want (and need) independent play occasionally, but the time they want to do that might not sync up with the time that someone is spending an hour preparing food.

It also kind of depends where they are playing and what they are doing. Our living room is right next to the kitchen and most of their toys are in the living room.

It also depends how interrruptible you are. When I cook and no one else is there, I make sure I am preparing something I can walk away from, or only takes a minute of my time to check on, stir, whatever. I don’t prepare anything that would require extensive washing of my hands after handling the food before I could go pick up a hurt child unless someone else is there to keep an eye on the kids. For example, I don’t do stuff with raw meat when no one else is around becasue I want to be able to respond quickly if I need to.

Host Mom in the City October 17, 2013 at 11:36 am

This is a great question. For us, it boils down to one thing – trust in the au pair’s intentions.

Our au pair that just left would have pretty much done anything rather than engaging with our kids. If she told me she had spent an hour cooking an elaborate meal, I would know it was on her timeline and that it was because she wanted to have something to show for a period of time during which she was ignoring my kids (because we had already had huge PUT DOWN THE PHONE conversations, so sitting on the couch texting was out).

You know why the kids played independently so well with her? Because she made it really clear right from the beginning that she was disinterested in playing with them and didn’t like to do the things they like to do.

With our first au pair, I would know that she was simply trying to stay busy during a period that the kids were truly engaged by themselves – which for the record, I am totally fine with. I would also know that she would have tried to let them help her cook if they wanted to, and would have kept an ear out to make sure they were ok and playing nicely.

On the surface, both situations look the same – an au pair making dinner while the kids play independently. I have nothing against that scenario, but I do need to have trust that the au pair is doing this for the right reasons and not because deep down she just really doesn’t like kids.

Does that make sense?

Skny October 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Host mom, your au pair who just left looks like the one we sent away this summer. She’d clean the whole house, cook dinner, clean refrigerator, car, organize cabinets…
All awesome, except this was all so she didn’t need to watch the kids. If they were older I’d love her. But at 1 and 3, I needed different. They’d get in all sort of troubles, color walls, and watch tons of tv.

Monkey Mom October 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

It is funny because our kids are getting older and need to start learning how to entertain themselves better. Our au pair is fantastic with our kids so our problem is making sure she cleans up after things instead of playing, putting together art projects, etc. I am not complaining because we are all happy. But, it would be nice to have her pitch in a little more. And, yes we’ve talked about it with her but I just think she can’t help herself because she loves the kids so much.

Emerald City HM October 17, 2013 at 11:06 am

I wanted to update on this. It’s been less than 2 weeks since my husband said something and our au pair started talking to our oldest like she was a person. If she doesn’t know how to say it in English, she says it in her language.

Even in that short time, their relationship has done a complete 180. Our daughter now asks where she is when she’s not around, doesn’t throw a fit in the morning when we leave, it’s just better. We can see the connection now and our au pair can see it too.

Host Mom in the City October 17, 2013 at 11:37 am

Great news! Hope it continues!!

Should be working October 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

I love updates!! And this is a great one!

I have always wanted a section of this blog to be reserved for turnaround stories. Because I am a pessimist (or a realist!) I tend to believe that bad APs don’t get better–but maybe I’m wrong?

Momma Gadget October 17, 2013 at 11:53 am

What great news! Sometimes a little communication goes a long way. I hope this is the beginning of a wonderful rewarding year for All of you!

TexasHM October 9, 2013 at 8:15 am

I agree I suspect this will go into rematch but to answer the original question, if possible I would have the rematch/reset conversation then rematch. Why? For me it’s for sanity reasons. Sometimes in rematch you get a sob story and begged, I couldn’t emotionally take that on unless I knew we were explicitly clear and it was on her. Please get the LCC involved so you have a neutral witness/resource for it all. I suspect in this case she won’t suddenly bond with your child (which you absolutely can require and deserve) and the two weeks will help you transition and honestly, she may be ready to go. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen host parents finally bring up rematch and the AP is visibly relieved/thankful!! She may realize she isn’t a good fit for toddlers but doesn’t know how to tell you! Then it’s a win/win, no guilt and she may even be awesome during transition. Have the conversation with LCC present and see where it goes. I am sure she is a perfect match for someone else, and that your next perfect match is waiting! Good luck!

Jane October 9, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I’m asking this in all sincerity as a first-time host mom (i.e. not coming from a place with a lot of experience with APs) — what happened in the interview process that made you decide to match with this young woman in the first place? It sounds like she’s just really not a good fit for your family, not only in terms of not having much of a clue how to take care of a baby but also being physically inactive, not having much to say to you, etc. Were there aspects of her personality and experience that really drew you to her during the interview process? Are there things you will miss about her if she leaves? If not, then perhaps it’s time to admit that for whatever reason, you made a bad choice and it’s time to pull the plug. She may be a great person in many ways, but from your description she doesn’t have what it takes to be a good au pair for you and your family, and it doesn’t sound like a grace period is going to change that.

Personally I would go to rematch right away, and take a good hard look at your interviewing questions and techniques, to figure out how to find the person with the skills and personality to meet your family’s needs. That includes not only asking about child care experience, but questions about exercise, outdoor activities, things she likes to do with toddlers, etc. It will be stressful, but much less so than dragging things out and then having to rematch later.

Anonomomma October 11, 2013 at 8:27 am

I completely agree with you.. I will soon be looking for our next au pair and in my profile I’ve written a list of things that my 4 year old likes to do… and I’ve specifically asked if the candidate likes to do these things… there are a must .. you MUST like the outdoors.. (yes even in the rain)… you MUST be active (extremely so) .. you MUST like cycling … you MUST like reading/teaching… we expect our au pair to read to our child at least once a day.. you MUST like children…

You MUST not mind getting wet/dirty/covered in snot/wiping child’s tushy (when needed)/ etc.

If child approaches you with a worm/spider/muddy hands .. you must be able to laugh/clean up/deal with it.. you MUST not shout or give out using words like “disgusting..put that down.. ” etc.

As an AP – you MUST like to do things that the children like to do…

Should be working October 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Anonomomma, It is great that you have more specific ideas for the next round of AP selection. But I want to point something out: Some APs might BELIEVE that they are what you are looking for, or might SAY that they are what you are looking for. If you list criteria and the AP finds your family attractive (sometimes even for the wrong reasons, like location), they will think to themselves, “Sure, I can do that!” But it won’t be realistic.

I think it is better to ask strategically formulated questions that elicit real information about what the AP does and how active s/he is. Like instead of saying, “You need to be able to cook,” you ask, “Do you like to cook? What was the last meal you cooked? What meals did you cook in the last few weeks? How many times a week do you cook? Who does the shopping for the meals? What is your least favorite meal to cook? What have you cooked for other people besides yourself?”

Those detail-oriented questions show you perhaps a more accurate version of the AP’s abilities and preferences than just “you must be outdoorsy”. I can imagine instead “What do you like to do outdoors? When was the last time you played with kids outdoors? What would you do if it were raining/snowing? How would you react to a kid who gets wet and starts crying?”

We live in an area highly desirable to APs, so this kind of thing is really important in our interviews.

Taking a Computer Lunch October 11, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I’m a big believer in a) not revealing everything I want prior to the telephone/Skype interview even though I lay a lot of the cards on the table (like having a teenager in diapers) and b) not asking yes/no questions in the t/S interview. Instead of “Do you like to cook?” (Very few women will say no to that.) “What do you like to cook? And yes, my pointed, “What was the last meal you made for your family?”

When my kids were younger and we had a bewitching hour every evening just before dinner, my question was “What would you do if you were feeding one child and the other came up crying and injured?” I wanted to see how they would convey, in English, their need for safety for both children.

The other question that we still ask, is about resolving conflict. “Tell us about a time you had to solve a problem at work and what did you do to resolve it?” The candidate who says that they ran to get an adult or gives an example that involves school classwork is no longer on our potential list. Successful candidates have discussed all sorts of conflict resolution, not all of it having to do with children (we’re on our 9th AP).

So, if you want someone interested in cycling, then ask “Where did you go the last time you rode your bike?” If you want to suss whether or not they’ll do more than text every time they take your kids outdoors, I recommend asking “What was the last outdoor activity you did with children? What is your favorite outdoor activity to do with children?” And keep asking around the issue until you figure out whether or not she prefer to engage kids over watching them.

Busy Mom October 13, 2013 at 10:40 am

Anonomomma, I agree with SBW and TACL about asking detailed ‘behavior’ oriented questions. At one of my husband’s former employers, the interview process was revamped to focus on assessing desired behaviors, so I’ve borrowed from that in my interviewing. We ask the same type of detailed questions around driving. In my professional life, I do a lot of interviewing, and one cardinal rule of good interviewing is not to ask yes/no questions.

We’ve had 5 APs with 4 good fits and 1 so-so fit. I attribute the so-so fit to the fact that I didn’t understand the overall quality of the pool, so rushed and didn’t follow my own interviewing advice! However, all have been good to excellent cooks, were excellent drivers, respected our house and our rules. #6 arrived on Thursday and I think she may turn out to be my favorite of them all :-)

Caveat: we have only had APs with school-aged children and I do think that makes it easier to find a good AP.

anonamomma December 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Hi all.

My point in referencing the “Must” list is that so many of our profiles tell APs what is expected of them but do not actually state the qualities that an au pair MUST have (for each respective family). I do.

My AP MUST like children… how many of us know of an AP who has ended up in rematch and then later admits she doesn’t like children….

By throwing the MUST list out there I am hoping that some of the wannabe APs will pass my profile by….

Because you do know whether you can handle a little boy coming up to you with mucky hands full of worms and be able to laugh and play and dig for bigger ones …. and you also know if this is not for you.. that’s fine..

But those are the qualities I am looking for and expect to see in my AP – they cannot be faked (at least for not for long) but I think it is only fair to put my list out there.

Once a conversation begins with a potential AP I too am a very well seasoned HM with an OCD screening technique… which contains enough leading questions to truly assess whether or not a potential candidate is trying to sell me green tomatoes….

But for anyone out there screening at the moment I think it is important to think about what is really important to your family and its requirements – say the top five requirements – and list them – not necessarily to share – but top of that list should be MUST LIKE children – because there is nothing like having an AP who is a natural with a child – the rest you can and will work around…

Taking a Computer Lunch December 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm

I have 3 “Musts” – the AP must have direct experience working with children who have special needs, they must be able to drive, and they must not smoke. I prefer that they enjoy swimming, that they are self-starters, and that they are extraordinaires. We ask a lot of questions and our outgoing AP usually interviews the candidate, too (when candidates ask about their room, we tell them to Skype with the current AP and ask to see it – unless we have a real reason to go in the AP’s room, we don’t.

Ruth October 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Having been a former Host mom to 2 AP’s (a third one that quit after 2.5 days b/c she was honest with me that she didn’t feel a connection to working with babies) and being a work from home mom with a baby, I would definitely have a reset conversation. However, I have also found that the AP’s are more likely to be on their best behavior from the start and, if she’s not engaging and comfortable with your child, it’s showing and it’s obvious. I don’t recall how long she has been with you already. If it’s only been a matter of weeks or a month, perhaps, I would have the conversation and try again as she might be dealing with homesickness and other issues that are being displayed through her care for your child. Although, after 2-3 months, she should know what your child likes, doesn’t like, how you engage with your child, how to engage them, take an interest, explore, etc. Was this AP infant qualified? I assume you told her in the interview you work from home, etc. I know when we withdrew from the AP program after 6 months and interviewed US live-in nannies, I was very clear that I work from home and, if they weren’t comfortable with that, then there was no need to apply or pursue the position. I now have a very chatty, comfortable 23 year old nanny who talks all day long to my child, is very engaging, gets out for walks every day, adheres to my schedule and instructions and we have a really good working relationship all around, but I learned from my past hiring and made sure this time around I drilled home in the interview that I work from home, don’t accept the job if you’re not comfortable with that, I have specific requests for my child (I was a former live-in nanny in my youth, so I have high expectations, I’m aware)! But, oh, the breath of fresh air I have now. I don’t agree that you should settle or play it out if your expectations are not being met. After all, your children are your most precious gift and the care you would give them should mirror as closely as possible to your caregiver’s care.

Ruth October 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

One other thing: I was also very honest with our current nanny during the interview process that I would likely never feel comfortable with her driving my child anywhere, so she would have to be okay with being home all day, just going out for walks, etc. so there would be no mommy and me classes, zoo outings and more unless I was driving. I wanted to state that up front as she is a college grad, has already had roommates and led a fairly independent life. I helped her transition to our new town, helped her find websites to get out and meet people and I encouraged her to use her time off to hang out with friends and be active b/c I realize her working hours are restricted to the house and neighborhood (unless I ask her to run errands to the grocery store, etc while my little one is napping). I appreciate that she is okay with that as well b/c she knew that going into this job and she definitely utilizes her time off to go and enjoy. As a result, she has said her last 2.5 months have flown by! YAY!! Expectations communicated beforehand have helped immensely.

San December 7, 2013 at 2:23 am

Go into rematch! Our first AP was like this, silent, passive… She rarely talked to the kids and they already started crying when she came in the room. it was even awkward for me, when driving with her or having lunch with her it was absolute silence- any conversation I started, open questions… All she ever said was yes/no/ I don’t know/ don’t care. Absolutely bizarre! We talked to her and gave her twice the speech about going into rematch- eventually we kept her with a scheduled talk on a weekly basis to ensure she meets minimum requirements. BUT I will never EVER do that again! I will not make any more compromises on the cost of my children. We did send her home 6 weeks before her year was over and were so relieved when she left- only than did we realize what a negative energy she brought into our house. My advice: Please rematch your AP for your family sake. You will not be able to completely trust your child to her and it makes it hard to concentrate on your job as you will always listen for what is going on in the other room. I know that feeling (I did the same for a year) – don’t do that to yourself and your precious baby.

Skny December 27, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Dear husband has recently told me he’d give au pair a last try, if I found the right candidate.
Our pool is VERY VERY limited. Our au pair must come from a specific country and be willing to speak her native language with kids at all times. She has to be willing to watch 3 young kids (one newborn), and live on a very far away area, with extremely few au pairs. We offer car, etc, but we are far from being a very attractive family.
So I met this very nice 23yo girl, who seems up to the challenge. She has been working full time since she was 18 (worked to pay her degree), and has been on the same job for the last 3 years. She seems hard working, motivated (family is not wealthy and she is putting all available resources on this trip.
My concern: experience with kids is very limited. Really only the hrs required by agency to be infant qualified. I am ok with teaching as I will be home on maternity leave and can have her come a few weeks before I am back to work. But how to distinguish between the person who will learn and be able to handle, and the one who won’t? Kids will be 4 (pre-k from 8 to 2 at the time), 2yo, and 3mo

Taking a Computer Lunch December 28, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Since this candidate is from your native country (or at least a country where you speak the language), I recommend calling/Skyping her references (I’d avoid using email to do more than the initial set-up – you want a conversation). You’ll quickly ascertain whether they can honestly talk about her work experience and readiness to learn new skills, or whether she selected them for glowing references.

Should be working December 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Does she have younger siblings? How do the photos/video look, is she playing with kids or standing over them while they play? If you are with CCAP look under “Evaluations” at the DiSC personality profile and see if the “S” category describes her as patient or restless (patient is obviously what you want). She sounds “high C”, which is also good, it means compliant with rules and structures (look for “diplomatic, laid-back approach” in the report).

I thought IQ au pairs have a lot of hours for that designation, i.e. on top of the regular childcare ones. I would look at toddler hours, not just tiny babies. I would ask her directly about her experiences with headstrong toddlers and listen not just for “answers” but tone of voice–adoring, exasperated, eye-rolling, calm?

Skny December 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

No young siblings. The youngest is only 2 years younger. She has 300hs volunteering in an orphanage with kids 0 to 3. No real headstrong toddler experience. Lots of pictures. Has a godson who is 5 months and she loves. Many pictures and videos playing with this godson

Skny December 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

We won’t need until July, so no real rush, but because I must find the right person, I am really starting now.

Skny December 28, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Just got another candidate with a positive response. This one has 2 years of full time experience as a live in nanny. Watching girls in my girls age. 4 years degree in education. I got so excited I called the reference.
Her boss loves her. My only but is that this is a very wealthy family. She is very well paid (for our country’s wages), and the family has a full time housekeeper and a full time cook. She has no chores other than kids. No laundry, playroom, room, etc. makes me wonder if she will last making 1/2 of what she makes now, working a lot more (kids room, play room, cooking meals for kids, laundry, once a week cleaner).

Should be working December 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Hm, good question. Why does she want to be an au pair? English? Is she “too old”? I know a lot of HMs on here like older APs but I find younger ones to be more “moldable”.

skny December 28, 2013 at 8:30 pm

she is about 25. she wants to be an au pair because even with her masters there is no work for her in her country. And in there being a nanny is not what people with college degrees do. it is lower class job. While she is not wealthy, the family she works for is, so she is used to fully paid fun trips, no housework related chores, no cooking, only working with the kids.
I have not skyped but her resume is excellent. One other down though is that she was supposed to be in charge of the kids all afternoon today, but exchanged messages with me in a very fast manner. Made me wonder how much internet access she has while working with the kids.
I will though follow TALC advice and keep going through profiles, interviewing, etc.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 28, 2013 at 5:57 pm

I had a 23-year-old Brazilian AP from a wealthy family (her family had a housekeeper and a cook). When I had interviewed her, I had a gut feeling she would be a wonderful AP. She was working on a degree in child psychology, she asked us if it would be possible for her to take piano lessons, and she held out on us. We interviewed and she asked to interview 3 more families before she made her decision. It turned out that her intelligence, determination and love of beauty was a perfect combination for us. She was fantastic with the kids, especially The Camel (and in fact identified an issue for which The Camel had emergency surgery). In the 1 1/2 years she lived with us, she studied English intensively, but also took a singing class. She wanted to stay, but as wealthy as her family was, they couldn’t afford to fund her education here, and so she went home to finish her college degree.

There’s a certain amount you can do on paper, but there’s also a gut instinct.

But I do have some other advice. If you have until mid-summer to match – then wait until you have interviewed 4-5 women. Yes, some will move to match with other families. You want the right match for you.

dorsi December 29, 2013 at 5:35 am

It seems as though there are a number of qualified candidates — you have found two that look like good matches on paper — in just a few days. You have five full months to look (a May match for a July placement) and I would not rush this. I have to look at 10 applications each time I do this just to get back in the swing of things –remembering my list of must haves, must not haves, etc. How many applications have you looked at? They all look nice initially.

I have similar aged children and cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a caregiver who has spent 10 hours in a row, alone, with multiple children, for many days in a row. Volunteering in an orphanage sounds like it might involve chatting with your friends while you give a baby a bottle. Volunteer work (and often sibling care) is not something you necessarily have to do — if you want to go out with your friends, need to study, are mildly ill. That is different from being an Au Pair — you have to work every day, even if you are not in the mood.

I am surprised that you have found two candidates so quickly that are willing to talk with you. As you mention, you are not a very attractive family (on paper, at least!) If I were to compare you to our situation, we might come across as better — urban area, many au pairs, etc. The fact you are easily getting candidates makes me worry that you are selling the job — and not explaining exactly what the requirements will be. We send out 10 emails, get 5 who don’t respond, 1-2 who say “no” immediately, and 1-2 that say “no” after asking us a few questions.

Good luck!

Skny December 29, 2013 at 9:49 am

To be fair I found very few candidates in the agency’s site that were open to my date. So I posted my “search” on the page for au pairs from my home country, which has about 5000+ au pairs (and former au pairs). I wrote my pre-requisites and my agency, and left at that. Got about 30+ replies, most from girls on different agencies, some willing to change.
The older au pairs in the group know me and my family (I have rescued a few over the years), so even though I am not a desired family in paper (too many kids, far away land, very few educational choices, few au pairs In the area), they are not concerned about being exploited, mistreated, etc. also, my awesome former au pair is in the group and has talked about our family a lot.
While it helps us match (I get more willing candidates than dorsi), it is harder because a girl who might match with us because feel we are safe and follow the rules (true), not necessarily can handle our situation (to be honest I wouldn’t be living In this area if it wasn’t for my husbands job).

Skny December 29, 2013 at 9:52 am

Ps from the 30+ who originally replied only the 2 continued talking after more information and clarification…

dorsi December 29, 2013 at 10:30 am

That makes more sense!

Taking a Computer Lunch December 29, 2013 at 11:53 am

I usually send out 100 emails to candidates to get 5 positive let’s-move-forward-to-an-interview responses. I live near a major city with excellent public transportation, rarely ask APs to work more than 30 hours a week, offer nearly exclusive use of a vehicle, and let friends and boyfriends stay overnight. The kicker – The Camel is a teenager who wears diapers, must be fed, bathed and dressed. Anyone who says no, or moves to match with another HF was not the right AP for us.

If you find few candidates 7 months out, then you’re looking too early. I know some HF on this list match 7-8 months in advance, but if I were you, then I would not look to match with an AP who hadn’t talked with any other HF. You both want to be certain of the match.

Should be working December 29, 2013 at 1:10 pm

TaCL, but wouldn’t some of the great APs get snapped up quickly by families before they have a chance to interview more than one? In two cases I grabbed a great profile from the agency website (CCAP, exclusive matching) and after I eventually passed on that profile (language reasons) it returned to the pool and then disappeared almost immediately, never to be seen again, so they got snapped up by someone else. I watch the matching website like a hawk so I know ALL the profiles. And yes, I match 7 months out. I like the ones who are organized and know in advance that they want to be an AP, not just 3 months before hs graduation realize they have no plans and throw together an application.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 29, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Yes, of course it happens. We’re up front when we start the process that it takes us 4-6 weeks to match. Along the way some “perfect” candidates match with other families or reconsider. We rarely end up with the candidate we thought was our best choice, but having hosted 9 APs, there were only 2 candidates with whom I really wanted rematch but didn’t – and one was doing her job, she just couldn’t drive. 7 ended up being perfect for our family. We start the process 4 months out, which means we see some candidates who would prefer to come in July, rather than in August when we want to match. It also means that we don’t see extension AP applications – those usually arrive after we match.

Skny January 1, 2014 at 8:18 am

Open ended questions: do you ask live on Skype? Do you send by email? Do you ask all at once?

Taking a Computer Lunch January 1, 2014 at 6:17 pm

I ask on Skype. In our personal interview (as opposed to email), we don’t ask yes/no questions – we’re listening to how the AP handles answering questions in English. We ask a series of questions on a variety of topics that include childcare experience, driving, family life, free time, diet, goals for their au pair year. In some cases, we’re asking the same question several different ways, but in others we’re building on the information the candidate provides. In our experience, a solid interview takes 45 minutes. In the worst, case (where the candidate could only answer the one yes/no question we asked, it lasted 15 – and we only made it to the 3rd page of questions when we realized it was time to call it quits).

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