The Weirdest Stuff Can Work Sometimes with Au Pair Host Kids

by cv harquail on September 3, 2015

House Elves
Encore Presentations
Arm Wrestling to decide who gets to decide.

Sometimes the sillier you make it, the easier it is for kids to just roll with the concept.

au pair, mischief, fairies

In our family, the House Elves are the ones who don’t actually clean up after everyone.

They are supposed to, but they don’t. The kids hear my disappointment…

“Those naughty House Elves left their sneakers on the kitchen table.”  Or, “Which House Elf was supposed to set the table?”

Yet they don’t take it personally. After all, it’s the Elves, not the girls themselves, who are in the wrong.

Then, the girls get to swoop in and save the day, because those “naughty house elves can’t be trusted to do the work of smart girls”.

(I’m not quite sure how things work in elf- and fairyland. I make it up and so far no one has challenged my narrative.)   

We also never, never, EVER have “leftovers”.

We have “Encore Presentations“, just like on HBO.

We make up silly labels, silly creatures, and silly behaviors, because these silly things help us slip past the awkwardness — or the hum drum routine — of household and child care work.

As WarmStateMomma explains:

As a last resort, we arm wrestle for it. My daughter knows she has to eat her veggies/meat/whatever to “grow big and strong.” Sometimes we will arm wrestle her to determine if she’s big and strong enough to be done with her dinner. At her age, she thinks this is an objective measure. Everyone enjoys the challenge – she stretches and warms up, the AP laughs out loud, etc. 

Your Host Kids may be too old for this tactic, but the weirdest stuff can work sometimes.

You hear that, House Elves?!

What kind of silliness helps your Au Pair?

Image from Flickr: Mushroom Children and Teacher Owl by  Elsa Beskow


TexasHM September 3, 2015 at 10:48 am

Our current AP has a lot of energy and plenty of silly bone in her. This has resulted in competitions for everything – who can clean up the room fastest, find and match the most orphaned socks etc (and coordinated silly titles/prizes/perks of course). With active, competitive children this has worked exceedingly well.

I love the arm wrestle idea and will TOTALLY use that. Likely today! :) This is probably an obvious one but when the kids are whiny we (adults) attempt to mimmick their facial expressions and tone which usually snaps them right out of it and into a giggle fit. We also tend to have spontaneous dance parties, the other day AP took the kids on the back patio and had them “yell it out” as loud as they could for 30 seconds because nobody could seem to keep it to a dull roar in the house (it worked btw).

When taking pictures we always take a silly one (the kids LOVE it so it is always last – the rule is mom has to get a good one and I look at it on the display to check before they can do crazy pic). This has eliminated all huffiness and complaining about having to pose for pictures.

And at my finest I morph into the “Mommy Monster”. A creature with tickle hands that loves to snack on (whatever age the kid is) bellies, fingers and toes complete with roaring and eyes rolling back in head. I know, I have problems!

We also, as a family at this point because my kids all do it all the time now, try to scare the crap out of each other all the time. It started because my husband did this regularly to AP1 (yes, I have added this to our interview documentation and it is discussed before matching and I check for health history of heart conditions). Historically at first it scares the crap out of them and once they get more comfortable the APs start trying to do it back to my DH (never works) and the antics get more elaborate as the year progresses and he starts getting shoes or whatever they are holding thrown his way. Yes, I realize this in no way contributes to getting anything done like the lovely examples in the post, apparently we have a LOT of silly in our household. If only I could find a way to harness it for good…..

NNTexasHM September 4, 2015 at 9:22 am

…history of heart conditions – lol

Anonymous in CA September 4, 2015 at 2:31 am

Oh my gosh, I LOVE the House Elves idea!!! I will use that one, for sure.

When my son refuses salad or healthy dinner or whatever it is, I regale him with the story of the grown up who only ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and how totally embarrassing it is to go out to dinner with “that guy” and I tell him he might turn out to be “that guy.” I alternatingly tell him that part of my mommy job is to teach him to eat a variety of foods and what would people say if he grows up and he’s “that guy” who only eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches….whatever it is, he doesn’t want to be “that guy,” it brings levity, he tries the food, and 9 times out of 10 realizes he likes it.

We also implemented a system of “tickets” at home for things like leaving one’s shoes out or not totally cleaning the kitchen before going to bed…we get the best laughs and giggles when we pretend to be the police coming to give a ticket – sirens in our house sound European (nee-na, nee-na) and tickets come with a fine (which are disproportionately assessed against DH!). So when my son leaves his shoes out, all I have to do is start with the “nee-na” and he screeches and runs back to put them away so he doesn’t get a ticket, giggling all the way. And he LOVES getting to dole them out.

American Host Mom in Europe September 4, 2015 at 6:01 am

Love the house elves (once we’ve read Harry Potter), the arm wrestling, and the tickets and sirens ideas!

We use a timer for some things — the kids like the competition to see if they can beat the clock — and often just a race. For some reason, when they were younger and even sometimes today, they like guessing games — so for example when they won’t get in bed, I’d say “I’m going to pick a number, and whoever is in bed first can guess my number” and they’d all run to bed so they could guess. They liked just being right, there wasn’t usually any prize.

I love how these types of tricks work, and are transferable. My last au pair learned the “beat the clock” approach here, and then when she was with another family, and the 11-year old son didn’t want to set the table, she said “I bet you can’t get all the silverware out in XX seconds” and, naturally, he raced to do it.

NNTexasHM September 4, 2015 at 9:21 am

House elves – classic. Also the picture idea to motivate the serious picture before the silly faces.

I LOVE using goofball ideas to motivate. My daughter and I still play this game where when cleaning the house and putting things away we pretend we are in a hotel and she is the bell hop running around making beds and making sure everything is in place for our “demanding guests” – i.e. me. Another game to avoid dropping crumbs and eating over the plate began when my daughter was 2 and I advised her that if she continues to spill crumbs she’ll get sent to the “hen house” because any hen walking by would take her as one of their own (based on my non scientific perception that chickens and hens scatter their food everywhere).

I love everyone else’s ideas and look forward to reading more!

NoVA Twin Mom September 4, 2015 at 10:20 am

At one point in my life, I held an au pair-type job here in the US in exchange for rent while in grad school. One of the kids’ VERY picky-eater friends was over for dinner. We were eating salmon for dinner, and knew the friend wouldn’t eat it if she knew it was salmon, as she was very vocal that she only ate chicken. No other meat. Her parents indulged this. (Aside – there were no allergy or sensory issues – just pickiness.)

So we didn’t tell her what the meat was and just served it to her. She dug in. We asked her how her meat was. She said the chicken was great. This happened twice, I think, until a third time when her older sister came over as we were cleaning up and saw the salmon on the plates and mentioned it. We GLARED at her (as the younger sister’s pickiness was a direct result of the older sister’s own pickiness) and said yes, the “salmon chicken” was delicious tonight. Older sister, who knew what was good for her :) , caught on as well. Friend ate “salmon chicken” at our house for many more months.

“Salmon chicken” was a running joke for many years after that.

I now use the same trick on my own kids – one of whom is rather picky but has no allergies or sensory issues. If I think she’ll object to something based only on the idea, I simply don’t tell her what it’s called. Or I’ll give it a silly name the first time. Once she’s tried it the first time, if she likes it, she’ll usually eat it again.

Mimi September 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Silly is a staple in our house. Random dancing, burp night (a favorite with my boys), opera time (you opera-sing everything), nakey baby (streaking by the under 2 y/o set), are all regular occurrences in our house. Since other things are very structured, we need to be silly to balance it all out.

We also have the meat-is-steak-or-chicken-depending-on-its-color situation in our house. I’ve forgotten how it started 11 years ago with child #1, but it’s actually had the biggest effect on our APs who don’t usually eat seafood. (No allergies, just outside their food pallette and probably never cooked right in countries that don’t typically eat it.) We also serve a lot of snake legs, lizard eyeballs, and refried bug squish. :)

WarmStateMomma September 4, 2015 at 7:01 pm

I love it! We eat tiger, shark, dragon and hippo.

cv harquail September 8, 2015 at 8:06 pm

We’ve had “eat like a dog night”– an earned treat. Chili or spaghetti in a bowl, on the floor, mouths only.
You have to see it to believe it.
good times. ;-)

Elisabeth September 19, 2015 at 3:21 pm

‘Encore Presentations’ and arm wrestling. That’s awesome.

I had a child who was of teenage age, and used to get very frustrated with things and throw a tantrum like a three year old. Quite often I would mimic his tone, actions, and expressions and he would look at me like I was crazy. Then I would tell him that HE looks that ridiculous, too. It didn’t stop the tantrums entirely, but it sure helped him get over it pretty quickly every time. :)

German Au-Pair October 4, 2015 at 8:15 pm

THAT works great with my teenage brother. He had some serious issues controlling his temper when I started tutoring him. So when he was in a good mood, I would mimic his tantrums to him, which made hime laugh. I would compare it to the Hulk and he thought it was super funny. Next time a similar tantrum came along, I would say things like “Hi Hulk” and he HAD to laugh.
Also always perfect: make the kids laugh somehow, notice how he gets really angry because he doesn’t WANT to laugh now, mock him for that (“Oh just give up, you WILL laugh”) and defuse the situation.
I also found sarcasm works pretty well in some situations.

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