Teach Your Kids To Treat Your Au Pair With Respect

by cv harquail on January 30, 2015

Here’s a host mom after my own heart.

Why? Because her first thought after describing the problem is to ask what she might be doing to contribute to it.

children rude to au pairNot that I want host parents (or au pairs) to always shoulder the blame, but with all things social it’s the *relationship, the *context, and the *structure — not just one person or another — that’s creating and sustaining the problem.

Writes this HorrifiedHostMom :

We aren’t jerks, I swear!  I don’t know why my kids are being that way!!

We are hosting a lovely Au Pair from Asia who has been with us for about 18 months (we extended).  She is our 3rd Au Pair and our best:  mature, good driver, very loving and patient with the kids, tidy, and always coming up with fun activities, crafts, etc. to do with the kids, who are 4 and 6.

My problem is that my kids are very disrespectful in their interactions with our Au Pair. 

My daughter (age 6) has said things like “She is NOT my family.  She is my friend and she takes care of me when you and Daddy aren’t home.” 

We discussed that she isn’t technically “family” but such a good friend that she is like family, etc. 

My son said something horrifying about how she was his “servant”.

When the kids make a mess, they say “Au Pair’s Name will clean it up!!  We don’t have to do it!!”

I honestly don’t know where they get this disrespectful attitude, but I’m realizing with horror that it could be our fault. 

One issue is that our Au Pair doesn’t interact with us much socially. She prefers to eat most of her meals alone or with friends, though we do a family dinner once in a while. She joins us for holidays and special occasions. 

She traveled with us to Hawaii as ‘part of the family’,  but for the most part she went out exploring by herself when she wasn’t watching the kids. 

So I think that could be part of it…she’s not really that “integrated” with our family unit.

I also wonder if my husband and I could do more in attitude that would help this situation. 

I’m horrified they are treating her this way.

Both my husband and I really do love this young woman. 

I’d love some suggestions from the community about how I could teach my children to be more respectful.  
And, I’d love ideas for how my husband and I could examine our own interactions with our Au Pair,  so that we’re not inadvertently undermining her or contradicting what we tell our children.
See also:


AlwaysHopeful HM January 30, 2015 at 10:02 am

It’s hard to gauge what’s happending here without a little more information. Is this new behavior, or have the kids always had this attitude towards this au pair? Were your previous au pairs more engaged with the family? Is this one more businesslike? I wonder how much of this is just your kids testing reactions to see how you will respond. Alternatively, I wonder if the behavior is less a lack of respect than an attempt to process the nature of the relationship, and fit it into a recognizable button. Apart from the words they use, do they actually treat her with disprespect, meaning do they act as if she is “less than”? My son the jokester often declares that he won’t do something or doesn’t have to listen…on his way to doing the thing he’s required to do. While it may strike some as disrespectful (because of the words), in see it as his way of asserting independence even though we both know he has to do the thing and will. So, I see it as developmental, rather than disrespectful. Does the au pair say that they treat her with actual disdain?

NoVA Twin Mom January 30, 2015 at 10:34 am

My four year olds really enjoy listing who is in our family. Our au pair gets listed as part of the family when they do – but so do our cat and my sister’s dog. It’s basically a big list of people (and animals) they like.

You say your daughter is six – is it possible your daughter recently realized the difference between “family” and “friends we like as much as family (and probably more than some actual family members)”? And that she’s now making a distinction she didn’t used to see but is verbalizing it awkwardly?

Your daughter mentioning that the au pair isn’t family but is her friend that takes care of her when you’re not home actually sounds like something I currently tell my kids, so maybe the au pair even said it to her. Or she heard the au pair explaining their relationship to someone else.

The servant thing would bother me more, but that would be the four year old, right? Has he recently seen a TV show or movie that included servants and thinks it means someone that lives with you and “works” for you? I watch WAY too much Disney channel, but that sounds like something Amber on Sofia the First would say about their palace staff – especially that they would clean up after her so she didn’t have to.

I don’t want to minimize your concern, because we’re working on something similar – my kids dramatically cry and shrink away when they realize their parents are leaving and they’ll be spending the day with the au pair (never mind this has happened every day since they were three months old). It’s an act, and they’re often giggling – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt our au pair’s feelings. I know they like her because they call her name for help even when we’re home, so I know that they trust her to take care. And my (awkward) solution at the moment is to emphasize that our au pair is my friend and they need to be nice to her.

Seattle Mom January 30, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I agree with the above. I also wonder if the au pair is teaching them to clean up, and if she makes cleaning up a group activity so it doesn’t seem like she really is the servant cleaning up after the kids? Our 2nd au pair was really good at this- she got the kids to help with everything, even though in reality it meant more work for her. Our last au pair (3rd) was pretty bad at getting the kids to do any cleaning up, but then again she didn’t do that much cleaning up herself so she could hardly be mistaken for a servant.

I wouldn’t be too concerned about the words they are using, if that’s all it is… these kids are just figuring things out. My kids are almost 4 & 6 and they are always saying all kinds of wacky things that could be perceived as disrespectful. I just talk to them honestly but without chiding them for saying the “wrong” thing.

But if it’s more than just words, and they are clearly not listening to the au pair or treating her badly then I guess it’s a bigger problem and I’d be looking for the underlying reason. It might have nothing to do with the au pair, it might actually mean that they are so comfortable with her and know that she will love them no matter what so they feel comfortable taking out their negative feelings about everything on her. Once my younger daughter started being uncooperative with the au pair that’s when I knew she really loved her.

I guess it wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to how you and your husband talk about the au pair in front of the kids, and whether you treat her with respect. But it doesn’t sound like that’s really the problem, if you truly love her and think she’s great then it’s unlikely that you are subconsciously doing anything to foment disrespect.

ProPair January 30, 2015 at 12:56 pm

It’s really sweet that your concerned about the au pair’s relationship with your kids and how she’s being treated. HK #1 and I got along well instantly-she was sweet and caring far beyond her years (6). HK #2 was very funny and charming (seriously, if there is ever a “Kids Say The Darndest Things About Their Au Pairs” thread, I have 1001 cute comments to contribute), but he was also a behavioural challenge overall. He loved to test what kind of things would be funny, especially the things he knew were actually rude.

On two occasions, I remember him asking “Mama, is she your slave/servant?” To which my HM replied, “No, she’s my friend”. And that was the end of it. I don’t think the kids ever actually knew that I was paid by their parents-HK #1 is 8 now and I’m sure she’s figured it out, but it was probably a disenchanting realisation. To them, their au pairs were big sisters who had to leave at the end of the year because of ” the law”. HK #2 was the same age as your son. I agree with NoVA Twin Mom that he probably saw or heard the term somewhere else and was testing it out to see if it would be funny. I would suggest asking him what he thinks that means and where he heard it, and letting him know that calling someone who’s trying to help you a “servant” can be hurtful.

As for your children saying that AP will clean up their messes, I think I know exactly why this is happening. You mentioned that she is tidy-when she’s on duty, it’s probably hard for her to restrain herself from cleaning up their messes, and she might not see why they need to form the habit themselves. Maybe have a sit-down with her and suggest that, while you love how clean and helpful she is, the kids are old enough to tidy up their own toys/spilled milk etc., and implement a no-screen consequence if she has to put away their toys (for example). She sounds like a lovely girl, and it might hard for her to be strict, so have her back on this one!

Lastly, pick a museum she would also be interested and offer to pay for her ticket so that she can either come with you as a family or take the kids with her during work time. I also didn’t spend much time with the whole family-Weekends with friends in the city, and two or three dinners during the week I either ate with just the kids or went out. My host family did provide me with a regional museum pass so that I could take the kids on outings. The afternoons I just had HK#2 we almost always went out. This really helped me bond with him early on. The more special things we did together the better he listened.

You definitely don’t sound like jerks, and neither do your children-your kids aren’t being physical with the AP, calling her names or spitting on her (this is way more common than you think)-but a little bit of a “reset” might be needed for everyone.

German Au-Pair January 30, 2015 at 2:19 pm

My first thought was: your 6 year olf is entiteled to view the AP like a friend (plus she said HER friend, so to me that doesn’t sound disrespectful at all) and not as family. I don’t think anyone can or should be forced to view someome as family if theys don’t. Especially if the AP doesn’t seem too interested in inserting herself into the family unity anways.
The servant comment does sound disrespectful, but I would also think that maybe the kids saw something on TV or that the AP acts like one around him sometimes. (It’s also not entirely untrue when you consider that she is paid for making sure his mess is cleaned up, he is fed and clothed…) He must have picked this up somewhere and connected the definition to the word and sees that the AP fulfills all conditions for a servant. He cannot possibly know the connotation and I would try telling him that being called a servant may hurt AP’s feelings because you would use that word for someone for whom you don’t care. I would also tell the AP to respond that way and make sure she emphasizes a caring relationship when he says it like “A servant just does things for you, he doesn’t care for your or doesn’t play fun games with you”.
The “AP will pick it up”-part also sounds like it may be a reasonable assessment of the situation (if she doesn’t involve the kids in the cleaning process) combined with what I think is a natural desire to avoid cleaning up.

I think it’s so great that you care and I would definitely speak to the AP and tell her how to handle being called a servant -and how to make sure not to act like one. To me it doesn’t actually sound like incredibly disrespectful behavior though.

Anna January 30, 2015 at 2:20 pm

YOu mentioned that your au pair is from Asia, and part of it could be that culturally her default behavior sets up her relationship with kids in this way.

I very briefly had an au pair from Thailand (she decided to drop out of the program to get married three months into it). My kids, who are respectful of au pairs, because they are good kids and because from my side I always encourage respect for them, also were treating her badly.

There are two parts to how your kids end up treating your au pair. One is how she behaves with them, what she does for them, and how she lets herself be treated. The second part is how the parents model the relationship and behave with kids and au pair.

Because I had more than 10 au pairs I know pretty well that on my part, I do what I need in order for my kids to respect the au pair.

I knew that with my Thai au pair, the kids’ behavior was mostly her fault. If my kid tried to be cheeky with her, she didn’t immediately put a stop to the behavior and didn’t even show displeasure. She kept smiling!!!! (only afterwards she would complain to me). Of course kids always try their limits, and if the au pair doesn’t enforce or set the limits of respect, kids may take advantage of it. So next time being rude to her was already a standard and trying limits became even ruder. She also told me that in her country adults do everything for children (dress them, feed them, do all the chores). So if my kids were already doing a lot of things for themselves, and now they suddenly find everything done for them…. they see her as a servant, because this is how she behaves.

IF you want to change it, you have to work with her, and step by step explain how she must behave with your kids. For example, if the kid is rude, tell him that he is not allowed to talk to you this way, wipe the smile off your face, look disapproving, step away from the kid, react immediately, etc. Make kids help with this, this and that. Of course this will be extremely hard for her to change, it is changing all the habits and a whole worldview. And it will be very hard for your kids to start seeing her in a new way and have this change in the middle of the year….

Seattle Mom January 30, 2015 at 5:45 pm

I want to add that my one experience with a Thai au pair was very different, and I don’t know if our au pair was special or more typical for the culture.

My Thai au pair was the one who got the kids to make their beds every day and clean up. I suspect that my former au pair may not be the typical Thai woman- she was tough and didn’t take any bad behavior or disrespect from anyone, but she managed to do it in the sweetest and kindest way possible. I learned a lot from her, and I still model some of my parenting on the way she acted with the kids. So positive, gentle, but firm and clear about her expectations. And she really didn’t take anything from anyone! I was reminded of this recently because she’s back in the US (married) and she is doing some babysitting for us and she totally faced down our neighbor kid who was at our house for being loud and obnoxious.

TexasHM January 30, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Agreed more context needed but I really want to stress to these parents that their kids are 6 and 4!!! I have these same ages right now and our au pairs are FAMILY, period and we have had several comments made in jest or confusion like this. Direct text from my challenge: “HK1 told AP2 once she wasn’t a REAL family member (not what he meant – when questioned he meant she had a different last name than us) and HK2 told AP2 once that she liked AP1 better (she was mad at AP2 at the time) and HK3 asked AP3 once if she could go home so AP2 could come back (HK3 was 3 and didn’t understand how the AP program works – it was not personal) so as you can see, you have to have maturity and thick skin to be an AP! Do you have concerns about watching 3 kids full time? Would you be able to be strict with them when needed? How would you manage the off days/comments they might throw your way?”
When HK1 made the “not a REAL family member comment” our AP started crying and I jumped all over him – we were at school at the time. He explained himself and started crying so I just want to caution you to really ask your kids why they are saying those things and get to the bottom of it before pouncing on it as a behavioral issue (because I did and regretted it). Yes, sometimes (our HK2) they are being jerks and all kids are sometimes but unless this is really upsetting your AP and your kids are truly being malicious every time I wouldn’t set a course correction just yet. You might ask the AP if it bothers her and examine why the kids say those things but you will never prevent everything. Think about older kids telling their parents they HATE them. Being a true family member means you will likely be their target on a bad day sometimes too! ;) Get to the bottom of it, remember how little they are (do they think the Tooth Fairy is a family member too? :) ) and see if the AP is impacted and if not, correct as needed when comments are made and try not to overcorrect. Good luck!

Seattle Mom January 30, 2015 at 5:49 pm

“Think about older kids telling their parents they HATE them. Being a true family member means you will likely be their target on a bad day sometimes too!”

My almost-4 year old has already started doing this… well she is advanced for her age, I guess in more ways than I realized :).

And she also said last week when my mother was visiting, “I wish Grandma was in our family.” Of course grandma is in our family, but she meant that she wished she lived closer to us. So you never really know what they mean, and they haven’t learned how to phrase things tactfully. Even my older daughter (nearly 6) says things that make me blush and cringe, though she doesn’t mean them in a bad way- she considers herself the nicest kid in the world.

TexasHM January 30, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Ha! Yes our middle (now 6) is that child in our family. At 2 she got exasperated with me and announced “Ughh! I am going to California!” Why CA? No idea. I asked her if she even knew what California was – “another state.” Smarty pants. She had no idea where it was but she thought it would push my buttons so she said it a few times. After about a week I told her “so go! Do you need some spending money?” Her response “no, I have FRIENDS there.” (Complete nonsense she was 2.) Point being, at that age they likely got it from TV or piecing crazy things together and if they think their best friend is a purple dinosaur and the tooth fairy is a friend and they are writing letters to Santa then they likely haven’t entirely figured it all out yet. ;)

Taking a Computer Lunch January 30, 2015 at 8:56 pm

I agree with Texas HM, that when a kid says something out of line, the immediate response should be, “Why do you say that?” A friend of mine once say, “Kids are aliens and it’s up to us to explain Earth to them.” Kids rationalize things in the funniest of ways, but they also reveal truths, too.

Child #2 used to rationalize that the APs were just big kids, and no matter how much I told him they were the 3rd adult, he insisted. Well, they are and they aren’t. It’s clear that DH and I have the real power, and he could see that. However, we persisted that when we were out of the house the AP was “the adult in charge.” It stuck, and even now that he’s a teenager, when the AP asks him to do a chore, he might complain, but he won’t fight back the way he will with us.

OP, if you feel like your kids are out of line, it might be worth having an evening conversation with your AP to see how she feels things are going. You mentioned she is an extension AP. Is she a short-timer? Is she starting to talk about going back home? Are you starting to interview her successor – or talking about it?

You mention she’s distant when it comes to family activities, but you feel she’s the best AP you’ve ever had. Does she know this? (It probably won’t change her closeness to you.) AP #5 was Asian, hated American food, and was incredibly distant. However, she loved to cook, so once a week we asked her to make the family dinner. It was amazing and child #2 loved her for it. His palate also expanded 100% that year. If she doesn’t like to cook, then perhaps an outing to a restaurant featuring her cuisine? Ask her to do the ordering! (Even if all the kids eat is rice, it will be an experience – they’ll see her in charge.)

TexasHM January 30, 2015 at 3:42 pm

Ugghhh edit – I meant this is direct text from my challenge email I send prospective candidates

Should be working February 1, 2015 at 3:33 am

My teen daughter has treated APs in ways I found mortifying. She never called them servants, but has done amazingly Martha-Stewart-worthy phrasings and intonations (“Elsa! Where are my blue pants, I had them last week! Did you iron them?”).

I basically hope the AP can do one of a few things: 1. Not care about or register the rudeness and just answer the question (although I will still cringe); 2. Respond in a dignified and calm way (“HK, you know that laundry day is Tuesday and it’s Friday. If you don’t see them in your drawer I’m not sure where they are, but you can figure it out.”); 3. Without resentment, tell HK to speak to her differently.

Unfortunately there is a tendency, which I understand–esp. for an 18-yr-old AP dealing with a 13-yr-old girl–to snap back at my daughter, roll eyes at her, and act exasperated and annoyed…like a teenager. Then I have to get into one of the “meetings” and talk there about being the adult and modeling behavior.

I think resentment is so poisonous, and with APs there is such an opportunity for it to develop in themselves, because they are relatively powerless.

German Au-Pair February 1, 2015 at 6:58 pm

“because they are relatively powerless.” YES! wish more HPs realized that even IF the HP stand behind the AP’s decision, the kids still won’t feel the consequences in the moment of the rude behavior so it’s hard to actually have an impact. It’s even harder when the HP can’t or won’t follow through. I get that the Hp don’t want to be the bad guys when they come home from work, but sometimes that’s necessary. Especially with teens who sometimes couldn’t care less if the AP’s feelings are hurt or if the AP is mad, it’s so important to follow through.

In the case of a 4 y/o I would expect an AP to be able to rise above and react accordingly. Whenever dealing with kids it’s so important what kind of behavior you can and will tolerate and what kind you will absolutely not. I for one let my teenager hurl a lot of verbal abuses my way but drew a line at certain words or threatening behavior. That was all I could ask from him and somehow being that certain of what I did and did not tolerate created more impact when I actually enforced those rules. Had I freaked out about every “I hate you”, my other actions probably would have been far less impressive. Same when he complained to me about his parents. I did let him use some bad words (big trouble with impulse control due to ADHD) but didn’t tolerate others as well as certain accusations. Fascinating how quick they figure out what goes and what doesn’t.
I still think it’s okay for a 6 y/o to call someone who isn’t actually family a good friend. Being right is not disrespectful.

Abba February 2, 2015 at 12:49 pm

I feel like I could have written this, right down to the details. I have seen similar patterns in my own kids, who are close in age to yours, and we have a similar relationship to our AP in that we have a great relationship with her but rarely see her outside of her working hours, as she is very active and social. My son in particular has said several times (in front of AP), “AP is not in our family.” Like many of the other commenters, I see this as his way (at age 4) of trying to figure out the particulars of this relationship. I was embarrassed at first but my response has always been, “well, in some ways that’s true. AP has her own family at home in X home country. But she’s living here with us for the year, and we’re her host family. There are lots of different ways to be a family.” We struggle more with the AP being too passive and eager to please, which begets less-than-appealing behavior in the kids. We work hard to model that my husband and I respect the AP, but it’s still hard. One thing we started doing is a weekly family meeting that the AP is always welcome to attend (and sometimes we require it if there is a particular issue to discuss). We start out the meeting by giving compliments to each family member, including AP (whether or not she is there). This has helped all of us (adults included) work out the “part of the family” bit in our own minds, I think.

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