“Go sit in the corner.”
Over the holidays, someone told me that they’d heard about an au pair who was told by her host mom to “go sit in the corner” as punishment for doing something wrong with the kids.
I was appalled.
What did that host mom think she was doing, disciplining an au pair as though she were a 6 year old!
But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit to myself that we probably all discipline our au pairs, in one way or another, when they break our written and unwritten rules.
I’ve disciplined au pairs by taking away specific privileges, by not being flexible or generous when they’ve wanted something, and by pulling back my warmth and friendliness.
(Yes, I admit it. I’ve gotten intentionally less nice when an au pair has broken a rule. I am small and petty. Sometimes.)
When is it legitimate to discipline your au pair?
It’s easier to imagine discipline being ‘legitimate’ when a rule has been broken — it’s clear that something s/he did is wrong.
When clear rules have been clearly broken, we can find a punishment that fits the type of disobedience. For example:
When the car has been driven too much over the mileage budget, it makes sense to take away off-duty car privileges for a while.
When an au pair spends her time surfing the web when he should be running after the toddlers, it makes sense to turn off the internet between 9 am and 4 pm.
Random punishment is ineffective.
When I’ve found myself ‘disciplining’ an au pair (or for that matter, a friend, a sibling or a spouse) interpersonally by being less flexible and less giving to them, I’ve recognized that this behavior (while temporarily feeling justified) is usually more about retaliation than about shaping her behavior in a positive way.
And, when I’ve refused to fold her laundry because she ate the yogurt I’d intended for lunch, I’ve realized that this random resistance is also pretty ineffective.
Punishment must fit the ‘crime’
Unless someone knows why a privilege has been withdrawn or someone is acting more cooly, it’s hard for them to make sense of it. The other party usually won’t see it as related to (or in response to) their own behavior. I just end up looking stingy or unkind (and I *hate* to look stingy or unkind. Don’t you?)
But what should we do when an au pair breaks the rules?
When the rules s/he’s broken are unwritten or unspoken, but rules nonetheless?
What is the right way to discipline an au pair?
Your thoughts wanted.
Image: Naughty Senji!, from Nomadic Lass on Flickr Some rights reserved