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Top Tips for Hosting Au Pairs
You spent a lot of money and time interviewing and matching with the "perfect" au pair for your family. She is arriving in a few weeks and you think you are now "off the hook" and can relax! Not so fast!
Before you retire your vigilance, read the following Top Ten list of Do's and Don'ts when hiring an au pair and take that extra time to make sure your au pair is off to a good start. Even if you consider yourself a seasoned host parent, you may find a thing or two of value in our list that you may not have considered before!
#1. DO make her feel welcome when she arrives.
- She will be nervous and will naturally look for signs that she is indeed special. Make certain her room is warm and inviting, with a fresh coat of paint and her bed has been made with new and "youth oriented" sheets and quilt. Let your children know she is to be treated with kindness and respect right from the start. At home, have a special dinner waiting for her and the family. Place a Welcome Basket in her room, let her go to bed early and let her sleep in the first day.
- Do make certain you have arranged for the day off so you can take her around town and show her where the post office is, the child's school, the park and the shopping center. Spending quality time with your au pair after she arrives is the best compliment you can give her, and allows time for you both to bond.
#2. DO set limits and rules from the start and in writing.
- Make up a notebook for her that includes all the necessary information she will need to do her job. Numbers of doctors, your office and cell phone numbers, emergency contacts, relatives and neighbors' numbers, school number and the list of all the other au pairs in the area, including the counselor's business card.
List all of her duties and responsibilities and how and when you want them done. Show her how you want the children's rooms kept and how often you want her to wash their clothes and linens.
Tell her how you would prefer her room to be kept, but don't push it - it is her private space and other than not allowing food in the room, let her keep it as she wants. This notebook will become her "au pair bible" and will be especially critical for her success in the beginning of her year.
Include your curfew during the week - many parents do not want to do this, but it is important that she understand you need her to be fresh and rested each work day. Include rules about visitors coming into the house (no males allowed) and rules about eating in the living room, etc. and rules regarding the use of the car.
#3. DO explain how to use the appliances and computers in your home.
Don't assume she will know how to run American dishwashers, washing machines, etc. Placing typed directions near them or in her book is highly advisable. Tell her not to use bleach in the wash! Your au pair may confuse bleach with laundry detergent and ruin your child's clothes. She will feel terrible and so will you! Make sure you show her how to set the air conditioning in the summer and where you want to keep the heat set at in the winter. Many au pairs will turn these up during the day and you may wonder why your heating and electricity bills have suddenly spiked since her arrival!
#4. DO make sure you assist her in selecting college courses.
You are responsible for paying for course work (up to $500 a year) and you need to take charge and guide her through the available options. If you are not sure, call your counselor and get the information on the local universities and colleges that your program accepts credit from.
Au pair agencies require registration at accredited schools, so make the college you and the au pair choose is on the list your counselor provides, otherwise you may end up wasting your money, the au pair will not receive any "credit" and she will have to start another course all over again.
#5. DO set rules and guidelines for the computer, house phone and the cell phone.
- We recommend a cell phone for the au pair since you will be able to reach her and the children, otherwise you will have to wait to call her when she is at home. Adding another cell phone to your existing account is often very inexpensive and worth every penny! Let her know what your server's prices are for long distance calls and make sure you put a limit on her minutes. Explain that if she goes over the "limit" she will have to pay for the extra charges.
- Also, let her know she should NOT be on the phone or using the computer during the time she is caring for your children. If she does not have her own laptop or you didn't provide a computer just for her, and she is allowed to use the family computer, make certain you tell her the rules.
- Tell her to use good judgment when surfing the Internet and since your children can access these same sites later. Also, have a conversation with her about blogging on the internet. You don't want her using your family name and address on the Internet and you don't want to see any negative or embarrassing stories about you and your family on any blog. Blogging is very popular among young people today, and au pairs are no exception.
#6. DO explain your family's rules about TV Viewing & the Internet
If you do not allow your children to view TV during the day, make sure she understands this and also make certain she is not inviting the kids to watch R or PG rated movies with her - this happens more often than you may think. Providing a TV with cable in her bedroom will allow you and your au pair alone time and privacy. Do explain what TV programs and child videos are allowed in your home.
Internet: make sure you are clear about surfing the net and write down your rules! Example: You will not "blog" about our family online. Many au pairs now have personal blogs they share with family and friends back home - you might be horrified to know what your reveals about your personal habits, financial troubles and your relationship with your husband and neighbors. Ask her and check the blog before you give her permission to use your full name, etc. and no street addresses please!
#7. DO set a specific time aside each week to pay her and to review her childcare responsibilities.
- Try and compliment her even if she had a rough week. After the compliment, let her know what you are not happy with and make helpful suggestions. Ask her if she wants to discuss anything she may be unhappy or unsure about. Always support her when she is right and your children are in the wrong - it is important for your au pair to know she has an advocate in your home.
One of the top reasons good au pairs leave a family is unruly and misbehaved children and parents who allow these children to run roughshod over the au pair.
If you don't support your au pair's attempt to get your kids in line, she will find another family who will!
#8. DO help your au pair plan activities for the children.
You know what your kids like best and what is available in your town. Make sure you tell your au pair and support her in terms of time and money to do these activities. Provide art supplies and appropriate games to play when they are housebound due to snow or rain. Plan and set up projects for family birthdays and holidays (making cards, cut-out turkeys for Thanksgiving, decorating for Halloween, etc.). Help your au pair organize for a fun and productive day each and every day of the week.
- Keeping your au pair and the children occupied is a smart, proactive way to prevent boredom that often leads to bad behavior. Busy children and busy au pairs don't have time to get into trouble. They will have fun together and they will bond and their overall level of satisfaction will increase - isn't that what you want after all? Happy children? If so, make sure your au pair is happy.
#9. DON'T "sweat the small stuff" and give your au pair credit that she will learn from her mistakes.
- She came halfway around the world for you, so give her the opportunity to settle in and get it right. Encourage her when ever you can. Reward her when she does a great job (2 Broadway tickets will be received with great pride and delight) and she will keep trying to please you!
- Avoid small confrontations - but keep communication open. Don't let small things get to you and sometimes not saying a negative thing is the best decision. You must remember your au pair is young - 18 is the starting age to join the au pair program. That is young!
- Be a role model and show her how you want things done, how you want her to handle the kids, etc., and try to tone down the "parent" inside of you when dealing with your au pair. She will respect you more and like you a whole lot more too!
#10. DON'T tell her that you think her personal hygiene needs improvement!
- If she is not bathing every day or washing her clothes once a week and your children are reluctant to cuddle with her because she "smells funny" call your counselor. Let her have a talk with your au pair and she will most likely explain American's obsession with cleanliness. Your au pair may not wash her jeans every week, because in her country, hot water is expensive. In addition, she may only have one pair of jeans and she and doesn't want to wear them out by washing them too much!
- Europeans often do not bath or shower everyday, but she must understand she is in America now and she has to fit in with our customs and ways of doing things. The counselor should have this discussion rather than you since she may be mortified to know that her family thinks she "smells bad."
- The counselor can approach this problem by explaining she always has this talk with new au pairs, etc. This way the au pair can save face and get on with becoming "Americanized" by showering everyday and washing her clothes weekly and without the humiliation she has to feel every time you look at her.
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