Usually I shy away from offering or requesting parenting advice on this blog… I know what has worked for my family and I also know that every family’s systems have to fit within its own values, norms and culture. So, when it comes to questions of “how should my Au Pair discipline my kids” I haven’t had much to say, until now.
Kids, au pairs, and parents all need to share a system of discipline.
(Personally, I’d prefer the phrase “system for shaping the children’s positive behavior”, but let’s use discipline.)
In order for kids to learn to behave well, kids need to be:
- Clear about exactly what your behavioral expectations are.
- Confident that there are consequences for both bad and good behavior.
- Certain that your expectations of them will be applied consistently.
You host parents should have begun to write down your expectations for your children’s behavior as part of creating your au pair handbook… as you tell your au pair what you want from he kids, you are also able to clarify this for your kids themselves.
You have to have a system. Random punishments, ad hoc expectations, and differences across the ‘adults in charge’ don’t teach kids anything but ‘Hey, maybe I can get away with it this time!”
No matter what systems you use– time outs, no privileges, screaming — you have to maintain some consistency between you and your au pair. Not only should the kids not hit each other when s/he’s in charge, they shouldn’t be allowed to hit each other when you are in charge.
If you expect your au pair to keep kids under control, and you are unwilling to do the same when you are in charge, you are behaving like a bad parent. Period.
Kids need consistency. You and your au pair must apply the same rules and the same kinds of consequences.
How to learn a system and maintain consistency
1. One way to maintain consistency is for all of you to follow the same book. Yes, I said book. Find a book with a system you like, buy a copy for yourself/partner and your au pair, and all of you implement it.
My personal fave is 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12 (affiliate link). This is also a favorite of noted AuPairMom-er, CalifMom. 1-2-3 Magic uses a counting system with no yelling linked to time outs. We riff on this a bit by asking the children to reflect on how they could be kinder, more helpful, etc. while they are in their time out, but generally we’ve followed this system.
[1-2-3 Magic has worked so well for my family that, for the first time, I’m putting an affiliate link on AuPairMom. This simply means that if you click on the link and buy the book off Amazon, Au PairMom gets $.25. It’s kindof like getting an allowance, I think. ]
1-2-3 Magic is also straightforward enough that all of our au pairs have been able to apply it. The book is easy to read, and there are even summaries online that you can download for your au pair’s handbook. (I also noticed, when I went looking for an image, that there is a webpage, a newsletter, DVDs, the whole works. No matter what medium you prefer, they’ve got it.) (Note: here’s an affiliate link if you want to buy the book on Amazon: 1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12)
2. Another way to maintain consistency is for you and your au pair to attend the same parenting class. In my town the YMCA does classes on raising successful kids, and they have childcare during the sessions.
You must be a good role model
Regardless of how you learn a system or which you choose, you the host parent will need to model the discipline style and strategy that you’ve chosen. You are modeling it not only for your au pair’s benefit, but also for your kids’ benefit.
And a bonus? This is one of those situations where knowing that your au pair is watching you and following your lead helps to make and keep you a more consistent parent.
Of course, many of us lose it and scream on occasion, even when this is not part of our official system. (In my family, we call that “1-2-3-BREAKdowwwwnnnnn”.)
And, even though we’re more okay when we shout than we would be if we heard our au pair shout, it’s better to avoid a double standard. Thus, you should avoid breakdowns by using a good system, that fits your family, and that you’ll apply consistently yourself.
Another bonus of having the same system and applying it consistently is that you will seldom if ever feel like you need to intervene when your au pair is on duty and the kids are being hellions. If your au pair knows the system you approve of, and she’s using the system you’ve approved of, everybody knows what comes next. You don’t need to be ready to come to the rescue, intervene, and potentially damage your au pair’s credibility with your kids.
Our other go-to parenting book is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (affiliate link). This book offers advice on how to create and sustain good relationships between kids and parents, and helps set the stage for love and respect within your household.
Katydid sent in this specific request:
I’m always wondering the best way to empower our Au Pairs to get our kids (now 3yr old boy & 5yr old girl) to do what they are supposed to and to discipline the children when they misbehave.
As a parent I can threaten with a heavy hand to take away privileges and when I’m really hot under the collar “i’m going to spank you if you don’t stop” sometimes comes out of my mouth. Frankly if I ever heard our Au pair talk to the kids the way I do sometimes I wouldn’t be happy with them.
I have to add that my husband and I both work at home in an office attached to the rest of the house, so when everyone is here – we hear it all and have to make decisions about when we get involved or just let our Au Pair handle it.
What else might you advise Katydid for empowering your au pair?