What if you Au Pair thinks your child might need professional help?

by cv harquail on June 17, 2011

Our au pairs get an up-close and personal view of our families.

Sometimes they see things we don’t see, maybe even things we don’t want to see for ourselves.

Because au pairs interact with our children when we parents are often not around, and they spend longs days with our kids, they may notice things about our children that might surprise us. Au pairs may see developmental issues, emotional issues, new patterns of behavior, new things learned, new frustrations, and so on.

We hope to hear most of these things in our one-on-one meetings with our au pairs, or at the transitions when they go off duty and we’re back in charge. But what happens when there is an issue about a child that’s hard to bring up? What about when your au pair feels s/he needs to tell you that something more serious might need our attention?

Would you shoot the messenger?


As Kennedy writes:

I’m 22, an American and I Au Pair for a pretty cool family in Germany. I’ve been with them for over 6 months now and I only have 2 months left with them. Things with them have not been perfect but they are nice people and always willing to work with me. They speak almost perfect English and so do the 4 children. Boy 14, Girl 12, Girl 8 and Boy 6. The HF works full-time and the HM works part time but has many activities outside the home.

For the most part the family seems to like me. At the beginning I told them I thought I needed to rematch. Three things were going on:

  1. They lied to me about living arrangements.
  2. They don’t follow the German Guidelines for how many hours an Au Pair should work and what duties she is suppose to do.  The biggest issue?
  3. The youngest child has violent outbursts and has other serious behavior problems.

We worked through the first two issues through compromising and it worked out fine for both of us. But we still have some communication issues.

And as I’m coming to the end of my work here I’ve come to the conclusion that the youngest child might have some type of disability that either they did not tell me about or has not been diagnosed. I’m afraid for him because after 7 months it’s obvious to me his violence is not a phase.

The parents blame me for his outbursts, which I think is unfair because I am often the receiver of the violence. For example-when he does not want to go to Tennis he will throw things around the house. He has bitten me when I kept him from attacking his sister. (I had to tell the parents if he ever bites me again I will have to leave this family the next day.) Plus he has other issues with paying attention in school, speech, ect.

That leads me to wonder if he has some type of undiagnosed disorder that the parents are just ignoring? Their parenting style is to “never use negative re-enforcement to correct bad behavior”. Or maybe he is just crying out for more attention from his parents. I’ve worked with children for many years before becoming an Au Pair. I’ve taken several psychology courses in college and high school but of course this in no way makes me an expert. But I believe something may be wrong.

Personally, I care a lot for this family and I want the little guy to get help if he needs it.

My Question for Mothers and Fathers out there is:

How can I broach such a delicate subject with the parents when we have communication issues? Because I will be leaving soon, I may have a window during which I can tell them, but avoid bearing the brunt of their anger, denial or concerns.

I believe some of these communication blocks happened because they do not value my opinion. I am not as educated as they are. But I’m not stupid. I’ve been in college, traveled and I know children. This boy’s behavior is not normal.

How can I make them see that without them “Shooting the messenger” so to speak?

Any advice would be lovely. I’m really looking to see this situation from a different angle.

Should the Au Pair talk with the parents about their son's anger?

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If you think that this au pair should discuss their son’s anger with the parents-

  • How should she bring it up?
  • When should she bring it up?
  • What can she do to prepare herself, and her host parents, for the conversation?

Image: awry from onenineteen


Taking a Computer Lunch June 17, 2011 at 11:23 pm

There are times when HF don’t tell APs that their child is ADHD, has a mental illness, or is autistic because they don’t won’t to go through hoops to get a willing AP (your case is different, but in the US HF are legally required to disclose that they have a special needs child prior to matching with an AP, and to sign a document – this is a State Dept. requirement and not an agency one). Needless to say, not all families do. The family may know that something is up, and are hoping that it will get better without intervention.

Chances are, if the child’s behavior is out of control as you say, you’re not the only one who notices it. The child’s teacher, tennis coach, or other adults in his life may recognize it. If you can’t broach it with his parents, what about his teacher. “I’m feeling frustrated, and need your expertise to develop strategies to work with X when he is out of control. Or a simple, “How did #4 do today? Was he able to keep his temper under control?”

I will say that two of my APs have thought my typically developing child had special needs. AP #2 thought he was hyperactive. I knew he wasn’t, and encouraged her to walk home from preschool with him (about 20 minutes by his 4-year-old feet), take him to the playground, and keep him outside as much as possible on nice days. Later, when she returned to her native country and worked in a residential home for children with mental retardation and mental illness, she apologized to me – once she saw a child that was truly hyperactive she realized he was just being 4 (albeit one who needed to exercise a little more than others).

AP #5 thought same child was holding his bowels – he wasn’t (but he was failing to recognize when a bowel movement was coming – ew!) It turned out that when his classmates teased him for the odoriferous emanation, he learned to control his bowels quite quickly. I taught her how to recognize the signs that he needed to use the toilet and to order him to the toilet.

You don’t say how old this child is, but have you tried asking him in a quiet moment what is going on and how to help him to be nicer to you and his family? Does he need a longer warning that he’ll need to stop doing an enjoyable activity and get ready for tennis? Some kids find transition extremely tough. My typically developing child will talk quite lucidly about his meltdowns after the fact (few and far between, but he wouldn’t be a kid if he didn’t have them).

The bottom line – the child may be mentally ill. He may need help. It’s not your job to break it to his parents directly, but it is possible to do so indirectly. “I’m having so much fun with 1, 2, and 3, but 4 is having a really hard time. I know you think I’m not doing my job well, but have you better ideas than I how to get him to tennis without meltdowns? What is your strategy? You might also provide a diary to them of all of the kids’ behavior, which might bring to their attention that #4 is having a tough time. You might even note which strategies you’ve applied that work for #4.

(In the U.S. we have generally failed children with mental illness. There is a stigma about children who misbehave, and generally those of us with children who we can control through boundary-setting, find it difficult to deal with children who seem not to understand boundaries. We misunderstand their parents as permissive, when in reality the parents are often floundering because nothing they have tried works. In the end, if the parents reprimand you, the easiest solution may be to apologize and say “It’s true, no matter what I do, I can’t get #4 to behave, while #1, #2, and #3 are doing beautifully. What tips to you have?”)

Gianna June 18, 2011 at 6:59 am

I think this post has wonderful insight. I have one area of disagreement. I am not keen on the idea of the aupair approaching the child’s teacher on her own initiative.
I think that might be taken as inappropriate and we ( at least , I – I am speaking for myself ) do not know the cultural mores in Germany well enough to know how this approach could be interpreted. For example, the teacher might have the same level of frustration with parental denial and document the conversation with the aupair in order to advocate for intervention. That could create a very uncomfortable situation. If and when this child is professionally evaluated ( and maybe he already has been evaluated ) the child study team might ask for input from the aupair. That would be a good time to be honest. In my of my kid’s pre-school classes, a child was having difficulty behaving and the school social worker told the parents to fire the aupair and get a full time nanny on the premise that the child had too many people coming and going in her life ! The parents pulled the child out of the school
and I have no idea if they fired the aupair. The last tip in the post is outstanding to my mind : asking the parent’s what ideas they have. I also think that they do not really think it is the aupair’s fault – idf they thought that they would have let you go. But it is easy to blame the aupair ( or the teacher or whoever they use to avoid a very painful situation ). And I love the part about people learning later in life that
some children aren’t as bad as we once thought they were.

German Au-Pair June 18, 2011 at 7:34 am

I agree. I work at a school and I cannot see a teacher honestly talking to an au pair. Officially the teacher wouldn’t even be allowed to. Of course there may be teachers who are thankful for the au pair’s input but officially they are not to discuss matters like that with anyone but the legal guardian.
Besides, if a teacher noticed this behavior in school, you can be sure they’ve already adressed this with the parents on a parent-teacher-meeting or even by phone call or a written note.
So either this problem does not occur in school or the teacher has already told the parents about this. I don’t know one single teacher in an elementary school who wouldn’t.

The stigma for mental disabilities here is probably the same as in the States and some parents just choose to ignore it and keep saying “It’s just a phase” (or in this case “maybe it will get better when this au pair is gone”.)
I don’t see you doing anything about this, as sad as it is.

used to be an AP June 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm

I’m a teacher in Germany as well, and I would not talk to an AP about the child, because I wouldn’t be allowed to.
The problem with mental disabilities in Germany also is that as soon as those children finish elementary school, they often have to go to a “special needs” school, which in most cases ruins the chance of the student to ever get a good job. This is of course not true in all case, but in most. So maybe that’s a reason why the parents don’t want to see it.

hOstCDmom June 20, 2011 at 8:53 am

Also, in the US, federal privacy laws governing education, children, their school records, special needs, IEPs etc. would legally prohibit a teacher in a public school from discussing a child with an AP (or even a non-custodial parent) without the custodial parent/legal guardian’s consent. (Also, in practice, most private schools enact policies that mimic the privacy regulations of a public school.) A parent would likely have solid legal ground for action against a teacher/school if a teacher were to violate such regulations (I’m not saying that a parent *should* take such action, nor that I would pursue the issue legally, but rather that the regulations are of a legal and serious nature, so a teacher would be really flouting them and not taking his/her professional responsibilities and ethics seriously if they were to discuss a child with the child’s AP absent the parents explicit permission to do so.)

aria June 19, 2011 at 1:26 pm

I was in this exact same situation when I started my AP year. I had matched with a family in Europe and within a week of arriving, I was in shock, and the biggest reason was the older child (though having to wash Mom and Dad’s dirty underwear didn’t help). When we exchanged emails, they told me I would only have to drive the kids to and from school and regular dance classes, that sort of thing. My first evening, they dropped the bomb that actually the older child went to 3 different doctors a week and I would be driving her to each one. I was completely blind sighted. They sat me down and very cautiously tiptoed around telling me that she had some issues, nothing that was uncontrollable, but that I would have to help her with- without ever having mentioned any of it before I arrived.

After 3 weeks, I couldn’t take it. I really hate to say anything bad about children- I adore kids- but she was out of control. Her younger brother was a sweet heart, but easily led into mischief by his sister. She cursed, spit, hit when she was angry. She lied, manipulated, and was generally unpleasant to be around. The parents were completely unresponsive. Dad always made excuses for her- ‘it’s just a joke, she meant no harm.’ I secretly video taped her once convincing her little brother to tell me I smelled like @$$ and showed it to Dad, who finally didn’t have a good excuse for her.

Long story short, I decided to leave after about a month but still went about collecting ‘evidence’ in my favor. I hung back at school one day to speak to the little girl’s teacher and simply asked her if she ever had problems with her. The teacher promptly replied that she had- the girl would curse, lie, hit, steal, and bully the other kids in the class, and the teacher had told her parents. From her reaction, I could tell she had gotten the same reaction as me. I went to the teacher planning to present what she said to the parents when I gave them my notice, but first I told my dad my plan and he said exactly what Gianna did- if he were the parent, he would find me going to the teacher on my own inappropriate.

So I didn’t tell them and I eventually left, even though I’m still not sure I agree. Teachers probably have the most contact with the kids besides parents and au pairs- if an AP has a problem with a kid’s discipline, I don’t see why they shouldn’t try to tap all of the available resources to either- get back up, like I did- i.e. proof that the child is misbehaving with another authority figure besides me, or to try to get help for the kid, if the AP is planning on staying. Just my two cents.

German Au-Pair June 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

If a teacher’s opinion about something like this is not only shared with “just an au pair” but also used as back up for proving the parents how something is wrong with their child that could cause some serious trouble for the teacher.
It also will most likely ruin the parent-teacher relationship and the teacher will lose every bit of influence he or she might have had. I’ve sa child change schools as soon as the teacher voiced concerns in that direction. Also the parents tried to get the teacher in trouble by telling the principal very untrue stories abou the teacher.
Just imagine what could and would happen if it turned out the teacher gossiped with an au pair!

You are right, the teachers are the next best go-to-person because they spend a lot of time with the child but I’m pretty sure that at least in Germany a teacher would not be allowed to discuss that with an au pair. Maybe some would say something like in your case but it could end up pretty bad for every party involved of the parents really feel betrayed by that and choose to take actions. And by every party I also mean the child.

Carlos June 20, 2011 at 12:08 am

I see myself asking the teachers how is the kid doing… :/
I guess it’s a matter of how the au pair gets involved with the family. I’m the family guy so I guess I’d be doing that =/. I don’t think all the teachers think the same … or do they?

mouse June 20, 2011 at 1:25 am

I think there is a big difference on whether you are in, germany, USA, Denmark, Spain etc.
I’m from Denmark, and the teachers and the parents have an “information book” between home an school. In this the teachers will write down messages to the home, it can be: “your child forgot to do his homework, didn’t behave, bullied/hit another person.” And then the parents will have to sign each message, so the teachers can see the parents have been reading it. Parents can also comment on the episodes. If there have been sickness and they didn’t got to do their home work. But an Au Pair would never be able to sign as a parent.
Also in Denmark, the children don’t go home after school, they have some sort of juniorclub where they are until late afternoon, when parents got home. So we don’t have this relationship with teachers. But the adults in the juniorclub always (at least in my case) tell the parents how their child was, when they came from school and the rest of the day, and this will also be shared with au pairs. So it’s a big diffrence from country to country. Here it’s normal to talk about children having a hard time, and you try to solve it.

Just a little note :)

Personally I would ask the teacher in a kind way, and tell the teacher that you NEED to know – No one said the teacher had to mentioned in the talk with the parents

hOstCDmom June 20, 2011 at 8:47 am

I can say as a HP I would be extremely angry if my AP went to a teacher to discuss my child. IMO, and in the way an AP integrates with our family, it simply isn’t the role of the AP. The AP may well be treated as a member of the family (but of course we all know that the definition of ” a member of the family” differers from HF to HF), but the AP isn’t a parent, and isn’t on par with a parent in my children’s life. I am the AP’s employer and if she went “over my head”, so to speak, to a child’s teacher, or doctor, or coach etc. without first consulting me I would consider that reason for immediate rematch. However, I do make clear to each of our APs that I am in charge of such communication and interaction with teachers, coaches etc. and my AP doesn’t take my children to/from school – I do – so she would not have any natural interaction with the teachers; and I would never send my child with the AP to the doctor —- thus, *our family’s APs* seeking out such people to communicate about our children would be extremely odd.

German Au-Pair June 20, 2011 at 10:34 am

It’s not a “party of the family”-issue IMO. Honestly, my mum would also be extremely angry if I went and discussed my brother with his teachers without telling her. There are some thing that are the parents’ job only and while I would always voice concerns to the parents (no matter of my parents or my hostparents) I would not go over their heads.
I would chat with his teachers when picking him up about how he was doing today and I would also do that as an au pair if the opportunity occured. (Would you resent that, too? )
But talking about how the day went and if there were any problems this day is not the same as talking about a general problem in the child’s behavior.

German Au-Pair June 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

Sorry, of course it’s not a party but a part :D

Carlos June 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I agree with you… and another question for you hostcdmom. Getting back to this topic, would you feel bad if an au pair asks you something about your kid’s behaviour? or suggest that the kid might need a diagnose, not that they must have one like if I’m already giving the diagnose and everything. Just by asking you if you can consider the posibility… will it make you angry with your au pair?
I believe everything can be solved with communication, but is good to know what other families think and how to avoid those things with them.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 20, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I wasn’t attempting to suggest that she whistle-blow on child #4 to the teacher, merely ask the teacher if she had tips to deal with aggression, etc. At my son’s (American) school, they have a behavior plan in place, because a lot of children live in poverty. All the children know how they are expected to behave in school and often can hold it together there (but fall apart at home). When parents/caregivers know what the school’s behavior plan is, and are capable of implementing it at home, children often do better because they can anticipate the same expectations.

When my typically developing child gets out of control, which happens from time to time, I have 2 recourses, which often depend on my own stress level. 1) Ask him if he is permitted to behave this way at school and what would happen to him if he did (and offer same consequences) – my rational adult response and 2) take away his eyeglasses and not give them back until he apologizes (irrational but effective adult behavior as he is obsessive about reading and cannot read a word without his glasses). Both take about the same amount of time for him to recover, but are dependent on my mood.

In my experience, caregivers of children with mental health issues/attitude issues/behavorial issues tend to get tired and often respond with #2 – irrational but effective adult behavior. The trick is to get some tips that allow the caregiver to stop negative behaviors before they start and if the parents are not interested/capable/willing, then the caregiver has to seek recourse – not necessarily by unburdening to the teacher/coach/etc., but by speaking in generalizations. If the teacher/coach/etc. has been experiencing the same issues they might “get it,” but if they’re good they’ll talk in generalizations, too.

Carlos June 17, 2011 at 11:55 pm

This is a great topic… I went through something similar.

I’ve been giving home school classes to kids since many years back and I’ve detected issues with some kids with whom I just cannot work with, such as an attention disorder or psycology issues with the parents. It’s somehow funny because I’m giving the classes to the kids in my living room and my mom is a psycologist and she tells me everything she sees just by looking at the kid and it’s something I’ve been noticing since I started teaching them.

What I do on those cases is to talk to the mother or father very gently and tell them that her or his kid might need professional help. Here are some of the guidelines:

“Mrs. Smith, I know you brought me your kid because he/she needs to improve on this subject that I’m teaching to them but I’ve been noticing some details that are not helping me to work with them. I honestly can see some improvement with your kid but also my mom, who is a professional psycologist has noticed about those details also which are (INSERT DETAIL). I already talk to her and she said she’ll be more than happy to give you an appointment and for your son for this price ($) so she can give you a better diagnose but don’t worry, I can keep teaching your kid as long as you want but if you feel like you want to see better developement of your kids mental health I strongly recomend this option.”

So what do you think?

This one time I recommended a school for low-learning kids and the mother thanked me A LOT! she didn’t even know there were schools for special need kids :/

mouse June 20, 2011 at 1:31 am

I think it’s mainly a good idea. But you also have to be aware that it’s not all parents who “likes” to hear the truth.

But I think many au pairs / and other people who provide some kind of child care, will get a bit frightened that they would loose their job. And how to tell? But it’s a very good and calm example you gave.

But in general it’s a very good thing you did, especially when you can have back up from your mom. That’s a cool card to draw : )

Carlos June 20, 2011 at 2:12 am

You’re right, not everybody likes to hear that. I’ve had both cases… LOL

azmom June 20, 2011 at 10:25 am

Carlos- all good until you basically set up an appointment. For a parent who may be defensive, it comes across that you’re setting up clients for your mom.

And your last sentence, “…but if you feel like you want to see better developement of your kids mental health I strongly recomend this option.” is EXTREMELY aggressive and negative.

Carlos June 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I’m sorry… now that I read it “mental health” sounds different …
I guess in spanish it sounds better…

I’ve posted many things and I’m always been told that I’m insensitive and aggresive towards Host Families… but you also have to consider that I don’t have a 100% english and I’m struggling to find the words to translate from spanish to english.. please try to understand me, I’m not a monster :/

azmom June 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

I don’t think you’re a monster, just trying to help how you may come across. I am extremely blunt and can tell you in my job I’ve been told at times that I need to “lighten the blow” – this is one of those times when I can see where it means. Yes, you’re stating fact and your opinion, but when you say “if you’d like to see better development….” it can be made like this “if you don’t listen to what i recommend, you clearly don’t care about your child” – :)

take care.

mouse June 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm

It’s always hard to talk with parents about issues like this.. Especially if they are one these “It’s-just-a-phase-parent” But you have to break it somehow. I don’t know the German au pair system, so I really can’t advice on what to do.

I work in a nursery, and I see these kind of parents everyday! I see these children a whole lot more than the parents do. We see how they develop and what they don’t develop in. We can see, that children who have a difficult time expressing their feelings often bites. And we of course have to prevent them biting, hitting etc. So we sit down with them when we can see, they get frustrated. And try to put some words on their feelings like: “I can see you get angry because X took your toy” or like in Kennedys letter “I can hear you don’t want to go to tennis, and you might have had a bad day. But we have to go” – It’s very important that your voice is calm.

How to deal with the parents, ask them what you should do, to prevent meltdowns. And follow these directions. Then If you can see it’s not helping, then talk to them again. And say “I have done everything you said I should, but it’s getting better” Do a diary like “taken a computer lunch” said.

If you have some kind of local cordinator – talk to them, ask them what to do.

Hope you get to solve it : )

My 2 cents June 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

Stay out of it. As much as you want to help, and you think this child may need help, and those on here think this kid may be abnormal, the host parents have made plenty clear they do not want or care about your opinon. If they are in denial, they are in denial, and only something or someone taken far more seriously can wake them up. That’s not you. They’ve made that clear.

Enjoy your time still left in the country. If you don’t want to enjoy your time left, ignore my advice, broach the topic, and see what happens next. It won’t be pleasant that I can predict. And it won’t change a darned thing for this kid which would be the whole point of you trying to help. You will not help. If anything, it will lead to more household anxiety and frustration and aggravation which will have a negative impact.

Melissa June 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I agree with My 2 Cents to stay out of it. I applaud the au pair for caring enough about the child to post this question and solicit input and I feel for the difficult situation she is in. However, given that she does not have great communication with the HF, I don’t see how this can go well. Even in an ideal situation, in which the au pair has a great relationship with the host family and can easily communicate with them, this is a tough topic to talk about. When I think back to our most beloved au pair, who we thought of like family and whose opinion I very much valued, I think I would still have a tough time hearing that type of input from her. Even though an au pair does spend a significant amount of time with a child and knows that child extremely well, they are still very young, have not had children of their own, and most likely have limited experience with behavioral or mental issues in children (taking a few psychology classes or working for short periods in childcare settings is very different than a teacher, child psychologist or behavioral specialist with 15 years experience, for example).
The original poster has managed this long and only has 2 months to go. I would suggest just letting it go, or taking the suggestions others have made about asking the parents for their input on managing the behavior.

AnonHM Europe June 21, 2011 at 9:31 am

I agree that the AP should not talk with the parents about it. After all, it’s not some third world country where the childs future will be damaged if not being helped immediately. I know that in Germany you have to go to see the doctor for typically children-development on a regular basis. If the parents don’t, the authorities will step in. So the doctor will most likely be informed. The teachers in kindergarden and grade-school are trained and educated to speak to parents about issues like the AP describes them – as soon as they believe, the child is not typically developped. And they are supposed to realize if there is an issue like this. I can hardly believe, that the AP is the only person to notice his “unnormal” behaviour.
Maybe the parents didn’t inform the AP on purpose – they might have their reason for acting like this.

Manjari June 22, 2011 at 7:23 am

I had a 6 year old babysitting-kid that could tell you the names of
ALL french cities and villages (no joke, he could have explained
the way from Paris to Marseille, mentioning every village that
you have to pass), could solve math-problems from his 11years old sisters homework,

while at the same time he was not able to put on his shoes or use cutlery, was unable to play with other kids or make any friends and started crying whenever we had to leave the house to do the food-shopping or pick up his sisters.

When he sat in front of the TV he was rocking forwards and backwards all the time.

I tried to talk to his mother about it and asked her to give me informations in advance (when do we have to buy food, when do we need to pick up the girls) instead of a quick call so I could prepare the 6year old to these trips.

It was no use. She did not see/did not want to see that her son needed (just a little bit) help to have a better life. :-(

Carlos June 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Sounds like a small case of autism… there are different types… at least you were able to have a conversation with the kid… there are people that can’t even do that :/

That’s sad.. :/ that the mother didn’t want to listen to you..

Manjari June 23, 2011 at 7:10 am

To be honest, the word “autism” also came to my mind during the first weeks in this family. But I am no doctor or teacher or something like that, I would never have dared to use this word while talking to the mother.

Things improved a little for the now 8 year old boy. He is taking music lessons now and his grandmother does the homework with him. He is still struggling with little things and does not have any friends but he feels better since he is able to play an instrument. :-)

Steff June 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Honestly, in my opinion this is one of those cases when you should just keep your mouth closed. For one, no parent wants to hear negative input on their child (even when it’s there -and perhaps even when they know it’s there) but seriously, let alone want them to hear it from a caregiver that is…well, young, unexperienced, and really have no way to know if the kid *really* needs professional help, or is suffering of X disability etc. Let that to the doctors, to the people who really know, and well, to the parents. Because even when we care 100% percent about our kids’ needs as APs, we are that, their au pairs -not their parents, so I really don’t think we get the right to meddle in that kind of situations.
The last thing you want to do is offend your host parents, and I believe without the proper words, timing and so on, that’s what you’ll do if you sit with them to discuss what you think is the kids’ mental health or whatever.
Just what I think….

{–I’m all in however, in asking & asking & keep asking the parents for ‘better ways’ to handle the kids in a day-to-day basis if things with him/her aren’t really working out }

southern HM June 23, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Agreed. It is inappropriate to diagnose host children, and crosses the line to refer them to your mother for psychological services. An earnest interest in your host children’s development is a wonderful quality, and as others have said, asking for feedback/input on managing difficult behaviors is a great idea.

Carlos June 23, 2011 at 8:03 pm

That’s what I do :/ I refer some of my clients to my mom so she can give a diagnose. I’m not inappropiate, some people see it that way, other people thank me a lot.
It’s different in every case as it is on diagnosing your host children which is way different than noticing an AAD or any other thing that’s not helping the kid with their performance at school

D2Dad June 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

It seems that the minority in the poll are the most vocal in the comments.
As a parent I would appreciate being informed of the behavior. Let me know what the child as done as well as how the Aupair has responded. But save the interpretation or diagnosis of why.
If I as a host father I do not take action on addressing the behavior and it’s causes, the negative impacts will be long term, dealing with unaddressed developmental or mental issues, and short term, having to rematch. Aupairs should not have to suffer from ineffective parenting.
Unfortunately, it may take going through some Aupairs to make most (but not all) parents question the whys or causes of their children’s behavior.

Taking a Computer Lunch June 27, 2011 at 10:11 pm

We recently had to take our typically developing child to a psychiatrist (wasn’t our AP who brought the need to our attention) and I must say we went through a couple of weeks of denial. Our typically developing child has been through more than most his age – The Camel (the older of the two, severely retarded and medically fragile) had major surgery in May and spent 9 days in ICU. She was near death and DH and I had some quiet moments with the attending physician. Our son, recovering from the death of a beloved grandparent last Fall, was reeling from his sister’s illness. However, DH and I weren’t “well” enough to see it until The Camel came home from the hospital. And there it was, staring us in the face. (The Camel’s gift to her brother has been parents who are attentive to changes in children.)

It takes special parents to deal with the illness of ANY child, but poor mental health carries a huge social stigma. While the AP may say, “I’m having trouble with X and I’m not have trouble with Y and Z,” or “I think X is going through a difficult time right now,” the parents may not hear it and may well blame her for not being strict enough, loving enough, attentive enough… Indeed, mental illness may present itself as bad behavior.

The reality is, when a child (or adult for that matter) is mentally ill (or “behaviorally challenged”) there is little a caregiver can do beside do her best to make life as routine as possible.

The good news for us is that our child is expected to recover, and we have been given tools to make him feel more safe in the world (and they are working). However, I have three mentally ill nephews as well as a mother who will take medication for the rest of her life. The Camel has obsessive-compulsive behaviors for which she is medicated. Believe me, the world is much more forgiving of The Camel for her mental retardation and imperfect body than they are of my nephews for being mentally ill (and part of that has to do with the fact that The Camel is not in a position to cause much harm).

My AP had a friend who recently went into rematch (of course I only know the story from the AP). Her young charge was difficult and his mother not quite up to parenting (meaning the AP put him to bed every night because he was up for hours when his mother tried). The teacher called a meeting, and told the mother there were signs of mental health issues, to which the parent quipped, “Not in front of my au pair.” The AP was released soon afterwards. No parent really wants to hear that their child is different, and the purveyor of bad news is often the target of the parent’s initial anger.

My advice – if the AP only has two months left – ride it out and let it go. Make the difficult child feel as secure as possible. He will need to be told that the AP’s departure is not his fault. The best she can hope to do is intimate that there are problems with him and not with the others to the parents and to solicit their advice. Meanwhile, try setting a timer half an hour before the tennis lesson, and again 15 minutes, and then 5. It might help him self-adjust and get ready for the change in his environment.

Good luck. And remember – no matter what the parents’ tell you, it’s not your fault. It’s no one’s fault. Like any other disease, it just happened.

Va aupair July 28, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Well it happened to me that my boy was always distracted, he was always throwing toys, kicking everything, has serious difficulties to sit still while eating, never follow instructions and his excuse always was.” i didn’t hear you”. Once one of my au pair friends told me that her girl’s teacher talk to her about ADD and she told me about that. I really related this girl with my boy and started finding out more about ADD. I was analyzing my boy and I found a great place on line where they post about ADD in kids. I was so afraid to tell my host mom but the kid was driving me crazy. I was brave and in a nice way I told her that I just suspected that the boy was having troubles because of his behavior… My host mom told me.. breathing dept ” well my husband and I have ADD too” but we don’t want to medicate him… what I loved was that they not were mad at me and that they didn’t deny that the boy had this issue… i think that denying is the worst thing to do as he will be the only affected, because he obviously needed help. My boy is in treatment right now and they thank to me to be concerned about the kid’s well being.

Aupair in Germany July 29, 2011 at 6:41 am

Without having read every single one of the previous posts I just wanted to quickly offer my opinions.

I’m also in Germany as an au pair for 5 kids, the oldest of whom is also a 6 year old boy. He’s been prone to such outbursts as well – shouting, no, screaming so lout and long that I’ve several times thought he’d throw up or stop breathing (one time he actually did stop and say he couldn’t breathe anymore), being violent, sometimes towards his younger sisters but mostly towards me, throwing things, spitting, scratching, kicking, hitting and sometimes biting too and to be honest at times I’ve found it really scary.

It was worse when I first got here – apparently it is every time a new aupair comes (he loves the old aupair so much that of course everything the new girl does is wrong and stupid and she is DEFINITELY not the boss) but as he got used to me being here (4 months or so) it’s gotten better. But only a little bit. By that I mean he still has outbursts but not as often.

It seems to be quite a common problem here in Germany – I’ve noticed that in many of the families I’ve gotten to know the children come in contact with some very over-indulgent people (in my family it is NOT the parents – they are very good with the kids) such as grandparents that the kids don’t see very often, and people who aren’t related (household helpers and the like). These people often give the kids whatever they want and the kids come back from visits with them behaving TERRIBLY.

In my family the boy starts school this year and in he pre-school doctors visits it was mentioned that he may have what they call a ‘blockage’ in his neck – basically like a twinge in his neck that hurts sometimes and could cause his violent outbursts. So he went to a doctor who seems to my non-German eyes to be something like a chiropractor for kids, and he ‘removed’ this blockage and since then I’ve noticed that the kid is better. Not perfect – I’ve still got scratch marks on my hands and arms from his last outburst despite the fact that this doctors visit took place about 2 months or more ago, but better.

The reason I’m saying all this is that maybe it might be easier for you to approach the parents with a solution, rather than a problem. I don’t know if you speak German or English at home with them, but either way, I think this could help. If you were to approach the parents and explain to them that you’re still worried about the outbursts and that you’ve found something that might help (whether it’s this or another solution), that might be received better that just saying “your son needs help” which, I believe, has already been said.

Also, just a tip with your ‘parenting’ technique (aupairing technique?) – I’ve found that VERY strict boundaries combined with LOTS of positive reinforcement work well (i.e. “If you do that one more time you have to go to your room” – When he does it one more time he then HAS to go to his room even if you have to carry him there kicking and screaming – they learn real quick. On the other hand “you ate all your lunch today – really good job. Lets play something special today”). I’ve also found that treats in the form of lollies DON’T work, especially as sugar aggravates this behaviour, but also because they do something bad, say sorry and then look at you and say “I said sorry all by myself you have to give me lollies now” Not a good idea!

Good luck!

Au Pair in Italy February 11, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I am in a similar situation with the 7 year old boy that I look after. I personally think that he is special needs and has emotional problems that require extra attention and the help of a specialist.

He basically pretends that he is a baby…literally. He speaks in baby talk, cannot perform even the most basic functions alone (tie his shoe laces, close doors, hang his coat up etc…), he has severe difficulties in school; he does not know the alphabet, cannot really write and has major problems reading. No matter how many times you tell him something, he never learns. He seems disconnected with his life and prefers to speak in baby language to his toys rather than interact with his sister and I. He does not understand that his actions have consequences and seems to have no shame (he has defecated in the bath and will willingly humiliate himself in public for attention.) He lies, 90% of what comes out of his mouth are lies. When he does not get his way he pretends to cry and tells me stories about how mean his parents are and when he does not get his way with me he tells them stories about how mean I am! Oh yes, recently I have discovered that he has started stealing from his parents! In short, he is a nightmare child but honestly, I don’t think that it is his fault. It is more that he seriously needs help and is not getting it.

When I first arrived here, his mother mentioned in passing that every single Au Pair has had problems with this child (a fact that she neglected to mention during the interview process…if it had been I would not have taken the position, I am NOT a specialist!) On one of the first days of school, his teacher approached me and told me that he is the most difficult child in her class and asked for my help trying to improve his performance in school. She told me that she was going to recommend that he be evaluated for learning difficulties.

I obviously also raised my concerns with the parents who kept saying “oh he’s just a little boy!” Just a little boy?!!! I have a 3 year old sister who functions at a higher level than he does, this is obviously a lot more than that! Anyway, aside from raising my concerns, there is nothing more that I can do.

It has been 8 months since I arrived and I am still waiting for this poor child to get diagnosed so that he can get the specialist help that he deserves! I am also feeling sorry for the next Au Pair (who will arrive in 4 months) and wonder if I should tell her the truth about this family. (I know it’s not his fault, but honestly dealing with him is a nightmare. I care about him and he does have good moments, but he is very frustrating to work with in general and I would describe myself as being very patient.) Honestly, if I had known the truth, I don’t think that I would have picked them as my family. Like I said, I don’t feel like I have the training needed to look after special needs children and this little boy deserves someone who understands how to help him!

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