Unbearable Fighting Between Siblings: Fair cause for rematch? (Bettina)

by cv harquail on June 28, 2011

Here’s Bettina’s story about her host kids… click back to the original post to discuss whether, if, and how an au pair can make a positive difference in host family dynamics.

I’m an au pair in the US for 2 weeks now, and I really like it here. When I arrived, I immediately felt comfortable here with the family. Sure, there are some things I didn’t like, but all in all everything was fine. I take care of 4 girls between 11 and 2 years old. The girls seem to like me, at least they like me more than the au pair before me, and I also really like them. I also like my hostparents. They do everything for me and really want me to feel like home. And I do, I never got homesick since I arrived201106271715.jpg , even though there are several ups and downs with the kids.

But here is the problem:

When I arrived, I realized how rude the kids behave against their parents, and especially how they interact among each other. It seems that they don’t have respect when they talk to the parents, and when they misbehaved in some special way, they don’t get any strict consequences.

But the thing that really stresses me is the way the kids talk to each other. Every day, without fail, the kids tell each other and me: “I wish my sister would die/would be dead”. Or, they say: “I wish I were old and strong enough to kill the 5-year-old sister”.

That is not normal! In my opinion the kids are old enough to be aware of what they are saying. I also think it’s like they want attention by saying these things, but that doesn’t make things better. I mean, I have 3 siblings, too, and I know that siblings love to fight and it is normal in some way, but not like that. It’s shocking for me because I think siblings should stick together.

I talked with the parents about the kids earlier. I told them that I’m shocked how they go around with each other, they insult each other in every single sentence, and there is no chat between the kids in that they don’t insult the other one or swear.

My hostdad told me I should leave them alone when they are fighting. I really tried it, but when I don’t intervene they start to hit, punch, pinch, pull the hair, scratch, spit and kick and really hurt themselves. What makes it worse is that the 9-year-old teaches the little 2-year-old mean things she should say to the oldest sister. And I mean she is two, she repeats everything she hears! And even though she would not knew what she said, it will hurt the other persons’ feelings!

To be truthful, the situation started bothering me since I arrived here. But, I have a really good connection to my hostparents and the kids are not mean to me like they are to their parents. However, a few days ago I realized that I don’t want to stay here the whole year under these circumstances.

I can’t ignore the kids’ behavior anymore, because it really messes with my mental power, if you know what I mean. It’s like the behavior is poisoning the working atmosphere in the house. I don’t have fun to play with the kids or being around them because every little word could lead to an explosion of the whole trouble.

I will talk with my hostparents as soon as possible about the situation, and I feel quite bad about it because I really really like them, they are great people. But unfortunately they are not on top of this with their kids. I would like to give them a chance talking to the kids and try to work on the situation, but I don’t believe that things are going to change.

And I can’t imagine to live there the whole year, because I’m not feeling strong enough to cope with this situation there. I’m not a psychologist or someone who is able to do any kind of ongoing counseling.

I do feel uncomfortable and feel some pricks of conscience because the hostparents have done a lot for me. I feel like I’m turning my back on them if I leave. It’s really complicated.

Would you say this is a legitimate reason for going into rematch? Thank you very much for your advice!


Come back to the original post and offer your answers to these questions:

  • Can an au pair change a family’s dynamics for good?
  • Can an au pair improve sibling dynamics?
  • How should Bettina respond?

Image: Sibling Rivalry from Lon Fong…back and catching up!


azmom June 28, 2011 at 11:15 am

First, it isn’t the au pairs’ responsibility to smooth over the entire family. However, if she wants to stay with this family, she should definitely go about finding a way to make things work. if we were in a school we’d be shouting BULLYING!

I am a firm believere that bullying starts at home – maybe not this home, but clearly someone’s upset and the kids are acting out and they don’t talk about feelings and emotions.

I’m not sure how the host family would feel about it entirely, but she may want to go to the host family and say, “I really can’t ignore it. I’m worried they’ll get hurt on my watch or that one will run away. I’m thinking of having the girls sit down and we talk about rules. Would you mind if we did that?”

There’s a pretty good parenting series called “Parenting with Love and Logic.” The premise behind this is that firm expectations are set and the adult holds to them. The au pair might go about it in a “democratic” way – as in, talk to each kid first individually about what is going on. How it makes her, the au pair feel, using “I” statements. “I get very sad and confused when I hear you say that you want your sister to die. Can we talk about what you’re feeling” – the older kids are likely to continue with this talk, but if the au pair is able to continue to say things along that line almost always the negative talk turns into tears: either out of frustration or into “she takes my thigns and I feel like she doesn’t like me when she does this” – often about power, etc.

Once they’ve all talked and the au pair knows what each (other than the 2 y ear old) is thinking, they can all sit down, ground rules set about only stating their own feelings so they can decide what is to be done. Each have their turn to talk, no interrupting. Each gets to help decide what the rules are when au pair is on duty. The au pair can lead something like, “the rule I’d like to propose is: even if we’re as angry as we can be, we cannot say that we want anyone in our house to die or get hurt” – then each gets to “Vote” the rule. They can all say these things and come up with house rules.

Write them down.
Post them up.

Then, the group gets to decide what happens when someone breaks the rule in the same way. Au pair can say “If someone breaks rule #1, I think they should have to go to the person they said it about and give them a hug and say sorry, I really do love you, I was just ____ (frustrated/mad/upset/tired/lonely).” They vote. There’s discussion.

These girls are mostly old enough to go this, and part of the putdowns/bullying is lack of power. Since the girls are able to have input and are proposing rules, the lack of power is not there. I could go on but I need to head back to work…

Taking a Computer Lunch June 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

While the AP may not be able to change family dynamics, she CAN change the way kids behave when she’s in charge. I assume the HP are not around when you’re working. If they are, then you have other issues.

State when I’m in charge you may not swear, etc.

It is impossible to expect that a) they will get along all of the time, b) you will change their behavior toward each other when you are in charge overnight. But with reinforcement things should get better.

However, in my experience, kids thrive with clear boundaries as long as those boundaries are reinforced equally for everyone. Parents are not always good at this, but it doesn’t mean you have to waffle. (My rule book states that the AP’s boundaries don’t have to be the same as mine and I will honor any punishments she makes for violating them.)

Why do the kids fight all the time? Do they have nothing better to do? Certainly the older children can be given small chores to help around the house. Try a “job jar” for bad behavior and a “reward jar” for good behavior.

Do the kids need special time? With that many kids, each may be fighting for precious attention any way they can get it. You may be responsible for all 4 at once, but you can reward good behavior by letting them choose a special activity (and the others must go along with it or lose their time to choose). It doesn’t have to involve spending money.

It sounds like the kids ended school and switched APs – a tough time for everyone.

My advice – you’ve only been there 2 weeks – too early to tell if you really need to rematch. See if things change for the better in another two weeks.

Calif Mom June 30, 2011 at 11:22 pm

Good advice, as always.

We have a jar that is labeled “bad words, mean things”. Tell a cursing kid to throw in a precious quarter (or buck for the older ones) and be sure to do it yourself if you slip up.

I only had to tell the child who was testing out curse words to throw a quarter in 2 or 3 times. It’s got embarrassment factor and they lose money… how long do you think the behaviors will continue?

I was surprised, but this one worked for the 11 yo and the 6 yo. Only kept the jar around for a couple weeks. Didn’t need it after that.

Calif Mom June 30, 2011 at 11:26 pm

we also had “name calling” listed on the jar. I think it’s important to label the things that are not okay right on the jar as a reminder.

And seriously, I was nervous when I launched this “training” device, but it never got more than 2 quarters in it. The effect was in its existence, and then it’s presence. That’s all that needed to happen.

newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Wow…this sounds pretty awful. I agree that two weeks is too soon to rematch, but I would definitely suggest trying to lay some boundaries regarding how the kids are to talk to each other when you are in charge. I would perhaps have a discussion with the parents, maybe not with specifics, but about how generally they would like you to discipline the kids. That way you make sure you are not stepping over some line with regards to how much the parents think you should assert control. Feel the situation out, but if it gets worse or you feel like their aggression is turning to you, I would not hesitate to rematch. Best of luck.

Bettina June 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm

No, I’m not here for 2 weeks, I’m here for 2 months. :)

newhostmom June 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Oops – sorry! Missed that. Well, 2 months is a little longer, but I would definitely try to implement some of the suggestions here before jumping into rematch. I’d say give it a couple more months of really trying before going that route. Hope everything works out!

Calif Mom June 30, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Sorry, I have to disagree. Another couple of weeks is enough to give it another shot. It is not in au pair’s interest to have been here for 4 months and try to rematch; 2 months with a family is long enough to see whether the problem in this match is “chemistry” or just your needing to adjust to au pairing. It is NOT you in this case! You don’t want to go find a great family and only have a 8 months with them, either. If you stay for 4, it’s more unusual and might make it harder to find a new family.

Former Au Pair June 29, 2011 at 8:33 am

I see more positive than negative things, regarding au pair job. It makes us, au pair, feel really bad when we were raised respecting our parents and we see kids taking everything for granted at their homes (food, toys, cel phones) and not respecting the parents’ hard work. But honey, THAT’S JUST THE WAY AMERICAN KIDS ARE. There are big chances, if you rematch, that you will face similar problems in some other home. If (in a different house), the kids behave better toward their parents, they will be nasty to each other. If the parents want to fix the situation, they could blame you (like we saw with some other au pair in here). I trully think you’re in good shape! YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSE TO EDUCATE, as much as you want. You’re suppose to help the kids go through the day, safely and fairly happy. You wont be responsible for them when they are 15, 16 and maybe abusing drugs, so do not grow white hair because of them now! Do you job and make sure they respect YOU. When you’re done, go do smething else to forget the yelling around the house and the fightings between kids and parents. In the end, you will only keep the good memories. You’re ridiculous salary do not cover psycologic assistance, so be cool and avoid drama with the parents.

HRHM June 29, 2011 at 10:16 am

I disagree with this entirely. “THAT’S JUST THE WAY AMERICAN KIDS ARE”????? Not in my house! My children (2 girls) are not allowed to even use the words hate or stupid – and they don’t to anyone, not me, not DH, not each other. I frequently overhear them complimenting each other or telling each other “I love you”. So, no, this is not an American thing, this is an individual family thing. As a PP mentioned, it likely has more to do with garnering attention and poor consistency in parenting than with the girls actually hating each other (2 year olds don’t hate anyone).

There is nothing wrong with AP trying to “educate” aand in fact, I think most HPs don’t expect it, but when an AP can help with family dynamics, it’s always appreciated. I think the OP should try to sit down with the HPs and if she gets a positive response, try to work on the behaviors with the girls. If the HPs aren’t on board, it’s more of an uphill battle.

an au pair June 29, 2011 at 10:17 am

Seems to me like it’s not about wanting to educate the kids and of trying to protect them from everything that happens in their future life.
It’s about Betting feeling uncomfortable living in an environment with so much hate and aggressions. Telling her not to care so much and do something else to forget about the kids after work neither helps her nor the kids.
Your post basically tells her to suck it up and that her problem is not such a big deal after all. That seems kind of rude to me. Just saying.

newhostmom June 29, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Wow, everything about this post seems just wrong to me. No, American kids ARE NOT like this. And really, if you think that, then please do us all a favor and don’t become an au pair. There are going to be bad kids and bad host families of course, but by no means are most kids poorly behaved. Actually, I just reread your post, Former Au Pair, and I’m really offended by pretty much everything in it. I would not advise any au pairs to follow the advice in this post.

And I’m not sure what your mean by “your ridiculous salary” – do you mean that au pairs are underpaid? Because we could certainly have that discussion about how much au pairs are “paid” by their host parents besides just their stipend (like utilities, food, etc). I’m hoping that’s not what you meant.

used to be an AP June 29, 2011 at 5:55 pm

@Former Au Pair
Please be a little more careful with what you say and don’t generalize. Yes, there are American kids who can’t behave themselves. But as a teacher working in Germany, let me tell you, there are German kids who can’t behave themselves either. I am sure that can be said of any culture in the world. Maybe it was that way in your host family, and I’m sorry that it made you a little bitter about the whole thing. But there truly are great families with great kids out there. Bettina asked for help and I think she found some great advice here.
Also, I think that calling the AP sallary “ridiculous” actually is ridiculous. You won’t get rich being an AP but you could do a lot worse. Always take into consideration what the family pays for you (food, utilities, little extras here and there etc.). If you want to get rich – meaning having a lot of money – fast, don’t be an AP. If you want to become rich – meaning lot’s experiences, meeting great people from other cultures – become an AP. Anyway, you don’t seem to be an AP any longer, but please don’t make such rude comments on a website that is meant to help. This is not for venting or generalizing.

Former Au Pair June 29, 2011 at 8:37 am

Sorry about up there: *YOUR* ridiculous salary

Melissa June 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Former au pair – you have a poor attitude and hopefully you are no longer an au pair. Hopefully you are now a grown up out in the real world, no longer making a ‘ridiculous salary’, and no longer having the burden of someone paying your rent, car payment, insurance, food expenses, utilities, and all the other incidental expenses like dining out and amusement park fees that host families subject their au pairs to.

WestMom June 29, 2011 at 9:22 am

I agree with most of the previous posts that Bettina can possibly make a world of difference in this family. The first step is a discussion with the parents to discuss how she plans to manage routines and discipline while she is on duty, and get the parents ‘approval’ (I.e.- buy in).

A few things might help: 1) organizing the daily routine in a way that the children are occupied (chores, activities, homework, etc). That way, the children have a clear plan for the day, with activities to look forward to. It also gives you leverage for good behavior (‘if we can’t finish cleaning the playroom together, we may not get to watch that movie’). Write the schedule on a board together, and post it where everyone can refer to it during the day.

2) I would also suggest planning some ‘personal time’ with a single child each day. This can help strengthen your bond with each child and build your ‘alliances’ (this may come handy one day). It also gives them their dose of special attention, which in return can tone down jealous outbursts.

3) I completely agree about the rules. In my house, we have the ‘family rules’ posted on the bulletin board. We re-do them every year when the new au pair arrives. We list both do’s and don’ts. The children get to determine what these are, and we determine consequences for breaking them. In Bettina’s case, the consequences might be different per child based on their age. 

4) Another idea would be to create opportunities for children to reflect and talk about their behavior. In our family we go around the table during dinner, and we each say our ‘pow’ and our ‘wow’ of the day (worst and best moment). This allows us to talk about what we did well as a family, and what could be improved.

Finally, I would not be so quick at judging this family. The parents probably work hard, come home tired and would prefer to let things slide than to argue all night with their children. It might not be the ideal approach but we all have had some nights like this. They also have FOUR girls, in a wide age range, each with their individual needs, but if they are anything like my 3 girls, each is filled with hormones, emotions, and drama. But once girls put their hearts and minds together, they are capable of doing incredible things. I see this as a great opportunity for Bettina, and wish her all the best.

ap July 1, 2011 at 10:44 pm

WestMom, I just loved your advice, especially number 4! I truly believe that families that have dinner together stay together. I also like the idea of letting the kids give their opinion on the “do” and “don’t” list – that makes them aware of their responsibilities and of the consequences that may come from their bad acts. In general, I just had the feeling that your family really cares about being a family in the best sense of the word, congrats :)

Tricia O'Malley June 29, 2011 at 10:08 am

I am a HM with 4 sons – ages 11, 9, 7 and almost 3. Some of what Bettina is experiencing we deal with in our home also. Our kids fight a lot especially now that the school year is over there is more freedom in their day. It is no picnic! My guess is that the HM and HD know that this is an issue and are trying different techniques to handle it. That is the struggle that we deal with in our home. Yesterday our AP got pulled over and ticketed for speeding (51 in a 35). She faults the kids fighting in the backseat as the distraction that led to her speed. I know firsthand that driving while dealing with screaming, fighting kids is no fun and can be distracting. I usually pull over and shut the car off after several warnings. That works wonderfully. Then I will cancel all plans and go home. Our AP is a great AP and is doing her best to deal with this behavior but is somewhat unsuccessful. I don’t think she is exercising her authority well and the kids are more loosely controlled with her. I have offered her some tips for getting them under control: 1). Don’t take any BS! 2). Plan the day so there is organization (4 kids is a lot to manage so you need to be ahead of the game) 3). Impose strict rules with consequences and rewards 4). Get the HP support. It is a work in progress but don’t blame the HP all the time. The HP and AP need to work together as partners. I think Bettina’s bigger issue is not feeling comfortable talking to her HP about this issue.

Calif Mom June 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Get her a copy of “Don’t SHoot the Dog” — it’s a book about training animals, of all kinds. Hubs, kids, hermit crabs, dogs, marine mammals. No fooling. Simple, scientificially sound, kind techniques. Written by a dolphin trainer mom.

That kind of dangerous behavior in the car must be stopped before there is an accident (whether it’s you or the au pair driving). Several warnings are too many. One warning that “It is too loud in this car for me to drive safely”, then driver pulls over without saying a word (the silence and not going anywhere while strapped in seatbelts really gets their attention, believe it or not). Driver sits there until the car is totally quiet, no matter if you’re late for camp or picking host up at the train or whatever. You sit wordlessly until it is totally silent and no one is kicking any seats (the kids wonder what in the world is going on when this happens and can freak out a bit because it’s so dramatically different from what they’re used to — it’s quite funny if you can keep your wits about you).

Once the car is silent, you turn around from your seat, make eye contact and ask EACH of them if you will now be able to drive the car safely. They will be stunned and agree.

I’ve only had to do this 2 or 3 times. I’m telling you, it works like magic.

Seriously, I don’t want to be a negative ninny here, but a car wreck turned my family’s life upside down–imagine a 6 yo with symptoms of PTSD from a wreck they weren’t even involved in–and I’d hate for your family to endure this. Modern life is hard enough without the added stress of an accident.

If it’s not safe to drive, you must just stop driving. No rush is that important. (off soapbox now, sorry to preach — this technique totally works and I feel strongly about the safety aspect of this situation, not just the obnoxious kids for obnoxious kids’ sake, though that drives me bonkers, too).

Gianna June 29, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I am wondering if these folks have an aupair as a cost effective alternative to camp.
I am not a huge believer in downtown but the physical workout of camp does tend to help many kids mellow out. Physical exertion does often induce a state of well being.
Four kids of different ages is lot for one person to handle. I am not too inclined to tag this family as the worst family to come down the pike. Much of the terrible behavior sounds like ” mean girl ” activity that probably does take place on a limited level in school: name calling, clique forming , etc. I don’t know how effective the LCC is in this situation but it seems to me that a mature woman who has raised children and is not judgemental could be extremely helpful in talking to the parents and helping the aupair put things into perspective, too. (If the LCC is not an experienced parent, it could make things worse ). In the end, if the aupair really wants to rematch , it might send a strong message to the parents and the girls. But I agree that the aupair might find herself in another family where the situation is not so very different. I do not take it personally when people stereotype American children. In this culture , it is not acceptable to beat children into submission as it is in some other countries. On the other hand, there are cultures where violence toward children is criminal and those kids are not running wild – they are usually well behaved. I wouldn’t be too quick to judge this family. It seems to me that although some serious changes must be made asap , culture shock is kicking in here big time. Another thought comes to mind. Is ADD-ADHD a factor, maybe. It manifests differently in girls and boys. Sometimes , parents take kids off medication for periods of time like weekends & school holidays.
I do think camp is a talking point.

aria June 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm

I think that Bettina COULD improve the sibling dynamic, but ONLY with the parents’ 100% support. Although she may spend a big chunk of time caring for them, the bottom line is that she is just their temporary caretaker, and the kids know that.

My honest opinion is that staying would be fighting a losing battle. The oldest is 11 and the youngest is 2. That’s a long time for the parents to be ‘dealing with the issue.’ The parents are probably not dealing with the issue (she said HD tells her to leave them alone when they fight!!) and I don’t think an AP staying for a year is going to change that. She might be able to make small steps, but I really think that the initiative has to come from the parents and without it, Bettina doesn’t stand a chance. I would rematch. You’ll just get more and more worn down and become unhappy, which will probably make the situation even worse. Good luck!

Bettina June 30, 2011 at 8:38 am

I talked to the au pair before me, and she told me that the kids showed the same behavior when she was here. And she tried to conciliate the fightings, which lead to that all of the kids’ the aggressions got directed to her. Which made her more unhappy. But she stayed the whole year, but at the end she regretted that she didn’t rematch when it was time for it. She told me to listen to my heart if there are problems like this.
I’m the third au pair, and both au pairs before me tried to change the situation, but I would be the first who would go into rematch – maybe it’s in fact a wake-up call.

I would like to add that the 5 year-old still sucks her thumb, and she is going to go into kindergarten this fall. I think it’s pretty bad, but during the time I’m here I never heard a single word from the parents to stop thumb-sucking.

hOstCDmom June 30, 2011 at 10:24 am

Only a side note, nothing to do with the larger, substantive part of your post/question/issue, and there is clearly a lot of negative dynamic going on this family—

but in general thumb sucking (intermittant throughout the day (not 99% of the time) and certainly at bedtime/during the night) by a 5 y.o. is not considered out of the ordinary in the US. Many parents would perhaps wish their child would stop (for fear that the teeth and palate will change and make more extensive orthodontia necessary) or make some attempts to encouage the child to stop, and Dentists would be encouraging the parents/child to have her stop — but many parents and dentists would take the “don’t push it, don’t harp on it, don’t make it a big deal” approach and figure she will stop on her own, or they make the occasional gentle reminder.

Thumb sucking is a very tough habit to break in a child (you can’t exactly take their thumb away!) and many children do it subconsciously and during their sleep (and you can’t get angry at them for the latter!!), so many parents pick their battles and simply wait for the child to outgrow it.

Calif Mom July 1, 2011 at 12:03 am

Totally agree; I wouldn’t single out thumbsucking as something to be addressed at this point. Wishing someone was strong enough to kill another sibling — that’s worth drawing out. What miserable habits/dynamics are at play here.

Is the family really all that great? What are the hosts doing for you that make you like them so much? They sure aren’t creating a great environment for their kids. I wonder how they deserve such praise from you?

Bettina July 1, 2011 at 8:48 am

Not all things here are bad, I also had very nice moments with the kids.

I can’t explain, they are nice, but I don’t think that they are “strong” enough for raising their kids “properly”.
I mean, they say all the time that I am “the boss” and the kids have to hear about what I say, but they don’t really cooperate with me. It happened more than once that I forbid something and then my 11-year-old called my hostdad and he allowed it! Not all the time, but it has happened a few times.
I think you’re right: I can’t really say why they are so “great”, it’s just that they have done a lot for me, but by thinking about this: it was their decision! They paid me a pool-membership for the summer, but that was because the kids go there every single day and I have to watch them, so I needed that. I also offered them to fill gas in the car because I used it a lot for my own things, but they said that I don’t have to worry about the gas.

Steff July 1, 2011 at 9:22 am

@Bettina – the way this last post sounded, maybe part of your problem is clear communication between you and hostparents –maybe you both need to get in the same page parenting–wise? Wouldn’t a start be actually talking with the host parents? (In that case, you haven’t already) Set clear expectations with them, as you should have from the start; i.e. telling both dad and mom that you expect for them to back you up in front of the kids?

I think for starters, you just shouldn’t ‘judge’ their parenting techniques. Sure, maybe they aren’t really working and you don’t see the “results” in the kids behaviors, but maybe those kids are just a big work in process –which they are, and at least in my opinion, a caregiver should be able to make the difference in said kids lives —if only for a year.

…Lastly, I think despite everything one should be grateful about anything and everything one is given. I don’t think your hostparents “needed” to give you all those things, and yet they did and I think you are right being thankful with them about those things.

In the end however, you are the only one who knows when too much is too much with that family and the kiddos, but I guess that because I have a brother who I *do* love, but also who to this day I still fight with quite sometimes, and to whom I’ve said very nasty things when we were growing up, I’d be willing to try to work through a situation like this. The less a kid like this needs is people giving up on them —at least in my opinion. But then again, I really don’t know the situation first hand, nor do I know how the kids *really* are.

I guess I can only really wish you luck, and hope you can make the right decision for you –but also for everybody else :)

southern HM June 30, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I am not sure if Bettina has spoken with the HPs yet regarding her experience and her level of unhappiness with the current situation. If not, I strongly urge you to speak with them BEFORE asking for a rematch, and allow for a trial period to determine if the situation can improve. We experienced a rematch situation that was incredibly stressful, emotionally, financially, etc. It was a different situation than the one described above- the reason for rematch (this was just a little bit into her extension year) was geographical- wanting a new experience- and trust me she was grilled by myself, LCC, and area director and no other reason ever emerged. Again, while the situation is different than yours, most host families deserve the opportunity to address problems and cannot read your mind. My sense is that our former AP regretted her decision in the end- she found a fancy zip code but matched with a family who routinely broke the rules, wanted a nanny/maid, and needless to say did not treat her like a ‘member of the family.’ Had I known she was unhappy with us, I would have bent over backwards to accommodate her, but was completely blindsided and felt let down by AP and the agency. In the end though, we matched with an awesome AP and I learned a lot about being a host mom.

Gianna July 1, 2011 at 10:21 am

You say you talked to the aupair before you ( and someone before that ).Were these aupairs with the same agency or did the family switch agencies maybe for the same reasons that you are so uncomfortable now. As this conversation unfolds, it seems to me that these adults are not really so wonderful ( as one poster suggested ). They bought you a membership at the pool because they had to do so, not because they are so nice. And they pay for your recreational gas ? That is nice but really, they have to do something or you would run off the farm. I am now inclined to agree with Calif Mom . Ask for a rematch. Be prepared for the parents to be very upset with you . Maybe they will try to make you feel guilty. I also realized that if you have been there for 2 months , then the kids were in school a good part of that time. Calif Mom is right. The longer you stay, the harder it will get to leave.
And, you have a long summer ahead of you.

Bettina July 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I arrived at the end of May and the kids had their last school week. So now they have summer vacation.
Today was a situation where I clearly said: No, I don’t want that any longer!
The oldest one was fighting with the 5-year old so badly, she almost ripped her hair out! I was so unhappy that I wrote a message to my hostmum that she, the hostdad and me have to talk tonight. I really tried to tell the girls to be nice and that I don’t want to hear mean things anymore, but they don’t care. The oldest one told me, that they all hate each other and that they not even supposed to be sisters. How aweful is that! I’m getting more and more unhappy about the situation. :(

Bettina July 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Sorry for the double-post. Yes, the au pair before me and the one before her were both from the same agency, my hostfamily didn’t switch agencies.

AupairAbroad June 30, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’m just into my second month as an au pair in Germany — even if I were just baby sitting back in the States, I wouldn’t sit through a whole year of this without saying anything! How the host parents handle their own kids’ behavior is one thing, but having an outside party, like an au pair, endure this extreme fighting is something entirely different. As a child care provider, you of course can’t change family dynamics, but during your shifts with the kids, there are techniques you could try in order to improve their behavior. Try making a chart and add columns for each girl. Whenever they are treating each other nicely, put a point under their name. This shows them it is possible to get along and gives them a visual goal to work towards; it can even be a game all the girls will want to cooperate in. This can also be done with coins in jars, or anything of that sort. Concentrating on desired behavior is key. Decide what you think the reward should be for accumulating so many points. When the girls’ are under their parents’ care — let them handle it — try to enjoy your time off…or try meditation.

newhostmom June 30, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I would again recommend asking the parents about their discipline technique, since this could vary significantly from family to family. Perhaps not ask directly what you should do when they exhibit the behavior you describe, but just ask them generally how they would like you to react when they do something unacceptable. For example (and we have younger kids, so some of this wouldn’t apply to families with older kids), we don’t use “time outs” or rewards for good behavior. So although the sticker chart aupairabroad recommends is a great idea for some families, it wouldn’t be something I would want our au pair to use, and I would love it if an au pair showed interest in the way we want our children treated.

azmom June 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm

NHM – i agree. we have young children as well and we don’t do time outs or rewards – we instead talk and look at needs/feelings/long-term issues. We went about having an au pair because some family choices prevent day care and we found that most nannies we’ve had aren’t on board with utilizing some of our parenting choices.

however, if what we do is NOT working, we would want to know so that we can assist in making changes, whether it bein approach or in overall philosophy.

newhostmom June 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Agreed – sounds like our families may have similar parenting styles. One of the reasons we like having an au pair is that she can see how we interact with the kids and model it. A live-out nanny doesn’t get the benefit of watching the parents interact with the kids, and so I think would have a harder time knowing how the parents want their kids raised. And in a daycare, of course a lot of not-absolutely-mainstream parenting ideas just can’t be followed since there are so many kids to keep track of in one class.

I love that one of my au pair’s questions when we matched with her was about how we interact with the children in terms of praise and discipline. Really showed me that she was interested in being a good caregiver and respectful of the fact that we are the parents.

On the flip side of that, we think it’s very important to support the “parenting” strategies of our au pair as well. My daughter only tried once running to me crying saying “au pair won’t let me do [whatever].” When she saw my reaction was that when au pair is on duty, she is the adult in charge, she didn’t do that again. We always support our au pair’s authority when the children are around. It’s actually been one of the harder things – to let our au pair handle tough issues and not second-guess her. There have been a couple of times, for example, that I’ve arrived home to find my youngest crying for some reason with au pair not comforting him. I asked her later and she said he had been hitting and she had told him not to hit and he was upset at being told no. Obviously if I had swooped in and comforted him and scowled at the au pair, that would not have been supporting her authority. I have to trust that she is disciplining and comforting appropriately and the fact that she sees on a daily basis how I handle discipline issues makes me feel more comfortable that she is using the same “gentle discipline” techniques.

Bettina July 2, 2011 at 8:53 am

I talked with my hostparents yesterday. My hostdad left work at lunchtime to come home to talk with me and the children after he got the message that I would like to talk about a big problem and that I am thinking about a rematch.
Anyway, I was totally surprised that he came home so quickly. We also talked with the kids, and they were shocked when they heared that I want to leave if they don’t stop their behavior. They told me that I am the best nanny/au pair they ever had.
My hostdad also told me that they don’t want me to go, because they think I’m already a part of the family and that we have a good connection to each other. Of course they can’t force me to stay when I’m unhappy, but he asked me if I would give it a try, and that we need to communicate more.
I’m thinking about a treat-system for the kids. Everytime they say mean things they get a red cross or a sad smiley, and for nice things they get a happy smiley. At the end of each week the child with the most happy smileys can choose a treat, like a favorite food or a favorite place to go or something like this. And maybe we set up rules during the time I’m on duty.
I hope this will reduce the extreme fightings. I mean, I can’t stop them fighting completely, but at least they stop saying “I hate you” oder “I wish you would be dead”.
Let’s see how things develop. At least I’m happy that I talked to my hostparents and I feel way better now.

Allison July 3, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Hi Bettina,
Using a reward system is a great idea. But I would be careful with giving a prize to one sister instead of the other. That may cause more fighting. You may want to use points and if they earn a certain number of points together, by cooperating and not fighting, you can treat them to a special event, like a movie or ice cream night out. Talk to your host parents about places the girls like to go, and take them. Your host parents should be supportive. Good luck,

CAmom22 July 4, 2011 at 11:53 am

Bettina, I’m so glad you talked with the HP and that they sounded really supportive. Based on that I think it is worth giving it a while longer to see if the dynamics improve and then you can make your decision. Let me just add one observation. You noted in an earlier post that the 11-yo periodically would go to HD to get something when you had already said ‘no.’ And that HD would allow it. If you have not discussed that with your HP I strongly urge you to do so. It is entirely possible (likely?) that HD did not even realize that you had previously already said no. But this is something the HP need to be aware of. If you are “on the clock” you should be the one in charge and HP’s response to a daughter’s request should be “what did Bettina say?” Daughter can then respond “I didn’t ask” or “she said no” and HP can then determine how to proceed. Long way of saying you and HP need to discuss the issue of authority and that they can’t just say that you are in charge — they need to show they kids they mean it and let you have that authority.

Penn AP Mom July 2, 2011 at 7:05 pm

you might have the treat be something they can/must share with their sisters, thus modeling good behavior too.

Anonamomma July 4, 2011 at 7:05 am

Another tip I have used is “Team xxxx (surname)”

Get the siblings to perform a task as a team such as clearing the table “Team xxx will receive one gold star for clearing the table – an extra gold star is on offer is you can say one nice thing about a member of the team” (For getting into the car – the biggest member of the team can get a gold star for helping a smaller member of the team – but one gold star for the team)

I found that this approach is great for changing the way the kids see each other – team-mates rather than competition)

Good luck and keep us posted.

Bettina July 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

I figured out rules together with the kids. Or actually, they wrote down rules on their own and I just added some. We wrote them on bright-colored sheets of paper and put them on the wall where everybody can see it.
There was a little problem this morning and I called my HD, because he suggested earlier that when I have a problem with the kids or if they misbehave, I should call him. I did today, and 10 mins later he was home from work to talk with the kids. It’s good to know that I have the support of him. My hostmom also appreciates rules and the treats, but she isn’t as strict as my HD. I hope the rules will help to behave and I will wait until school starts in the mid of August and see how things will develop then.

Calif Mom July 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I’m so glad you talked to them and are trying some new things! Good for you!

I agree with posters who suggested not to just pick one winner each week. You need to build teamwork not competition!

We use Team [Surname] all the time, and it really rallies them to work together. You can also use “Beat the Clock” for tasks that everyone needs to do — this takes the power of authority and puts it on something neutral, so YOU can’t be accused of playing favorites! Cheesy games like “Let’s all get the living room picked up before mom and dad come home — can you imagine their faces? They will be so suprised! Let’s do it really fast, before the next song is over…. and GO!”

And then talk up what a good job they do to the parents.

Simple, and maybe the older kids will roll their eyes, but I guarantee if the 5 year old gets high fives from her dad when he comes home, the older kids are going to feel a twang.

And I do think this group is a great candidate for the quarter jar. Every time someone calls somenoe else a name, or says something mean, they have to drop a quarter in. It really works….

SA.Au pair August 31, 2011 at 9:44 am

hello everyone,ive read pretty much all the comments-and was hoping you could advise me-Im staying in the Netherlands Au Pairing for a family of two boys 8 and 9.THEY are HORRIBLE!!!!they are rude and disrespectful,and the little one even hit the gran with a stick,ive been here a month and i cant take much more-the boys dont speak english only Dutch(which i never got told in the application)the Ouma is here constantly and undermines everything i say-so much so that the boys wont listen to me-they are constantly fighting-physically and call each other names.Not to mention the fact that the parents have gone away and left me with the kids and ouma and none of them speak english..so im left here trying to communicate with the tiny amount of Dutch i know-and im so depressed-I stay in a small farmwith no one my own age or near my age aroound ,im lonely and isolated and miss my family-I use to love looking after children until i met these to nasty gremilins-who have no respect for their parents,ouma or themselves-what do i do??

Au Pair in Italy February 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

I am so sorry Bettina! I understand exactly what you are going through because this is exactly the same dynamic that exists within my host family. There is a little girl (9) and a boy (7) and they HATE each other with a passion. Insults, verbal and physical abuse, trying to get one another into trouble…it really is disturbing to observe.

Honestly, I blame the parents for their children’s poor behaviour. Neither are ever around and seem to prefer to be away from their ‘nightmare’ children as much as possible. As a result the children are starved for affection and will do ANYTHING to get it. Also, I believe that the little boy is special needs but the parents are taking too long to get him diagnosed! (he really desperately needs one on one time with a specialist) They are rude to their parents, even hitting their parents, saying bad words to them and throwing epic temper tantrums multiple times a day always when the parents are dealing with them.

Just like with you, the children are respectful towards me. They love me and get love in return and it has taken me many months of patience to get them to behave like ‘normal’ children while I am around.

Here are some things that have done that created improvement:

1. Divide and Conquer – I know that it is hard to do with multiple children, but I try to organise as many playdates as I can with other children or separate activities. Each child must have special time with you where they are made to feel important and valued. Usually while one child is at a friend’s house or activity I take the other child to do their favourite thing (library, cafe, park) and we catch up on exactly how they are doing in confidence. The little girl once told me “You aren’t like other adults. You don’t think that I’m a stupid child and you listen to me.” I think that statement says it all.

2. Consequences- My two know that if they are disrespectful to one another while I am around, they are in for serious trouble. I take away their privileges (such as tv, video games and toys) when they are rude to one another. They learnt quickly that their bad behaviour will not be tolerated.

3. Not Everything is Equal- Before I arrived, these two did EVERYTHING together, when one got a toy, so did the other. They had baths together, they sleep in the same room. Basically it is no wonder they hate each other so much, they are always in each other’s faces. I, of course, did away with the whole creepy joint bath thing immediately and made a simple curtain divider for their room. I also made a chore list that the children can choose to participate in or not. The more chores they do, the bigger the rewards and more privileges they get. They have gained more independence as a result and I no longer hear the complaints of “it’s not fair!!!” when one of them gets more tv time. my response is always “If you want the same amount of time as your brother/sister, do all of your chores next time.”

4. Try to Get Parents on Board- Unfortunately in my case, all of my good gets undone on the weekends and vacations when I am not around. The parents simply do not want to follow my simple techniques that will ultimately help their children develop into healthy adults. The father did try some of the techniques when he saw how well the children were responding to me and I did notice that he was making progress, but sadly for whatever reason he stopped and the children continue to disrespect him when I am not around. I honestly think that both kids would be almost ‘normal’ by now if the parents tried to change their ways as well!

I read your updates and while it seems that at least the parents are listening when you tell them you are unhappy, I’m not sure that they are prepared to make the changes in their own behaviour that are needed to help the children. This job can be very difficult because you cannot help but develop a bond with the children and worry about their future when you are gone. My advice is to remember that you are an au pair and not the children’s mother, ultimately it is up to the parents to raise their kids and not you. You can try to help, but if you are getting upset over it, it is not worth your mental health. I hope everything works out for you!

Au Pair in Italy February 11, 2012 at 9:53 am

SA Au Pair- Oh my goodness!!! I hope that you got out. What a selfish family to put you in a situation like that. I hope that you moved on to a better family!

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