Before you place the care of your children in the arms of an au pair for the first time, it’s crucial for the well-being of both your children and the au pair to prepare your family for the initial visit. Be clear about your family’s needs and expectations and listen closely to the au pair’s needs and expectations.
With thorough preparation, a mutual understanding and a relationship built on trust and openness to someone new caring for your children, you can provide the best experience for your children and the au pair when leaving them alone for the first time.
In order to prepare the au pair for the first time he or she stays with your children, it helps to learn more about this individual. The Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation recommends asking the au pair about her childhood and how she was raised to bring up children. Once you learn about her family environment, share how your family operates.
Clear up any questions about how you want your children fed, bathed and prepared for naps and bedtime. Be specific and communicate any family rules about eating sweets, using electronics and watching appropriate television shows and films. Although you and the au pair may have different views, these moments of sharing, clarifying and boundary setting provide an opportunity to learn from each other, according to the Norwegian People’s Aid Foundation.
Before the au pair arrives, it’s important to inquire about his or her expectations with your family as the host. How long does she plan to stay? What are her long-term plans? In addition, discuss her background in childcare, likes and dislikes when it comes to family activities and what she hopes to gain from the experience.
When your au pair has arrived, arrange family meetings to help her feel comfortable and like she’s a part of the family’s decisions and activities. Ask her to offer a list of expectations for your family, too, so you can work on building a relationship of trust.
“A loving and caring au pair will compliment the family’s values, beliefs and parenting style,” says Natasha Eldridge, founding partner of Eldridge Overton Educational Programs, a New Jersey-based educational services firm. “Hiring an au pair who mirrors these qualities may be challenging but not impossible.”
When clarifying expectations, Eldridge recommends parents keep an open mind regarding views on childcare. “Parents should consider that the au pair will have a different method of providing care to the child than the parent, but the au pair’s method may be equally as beneficial,” she says. “Children will often take time to develop trust in an adult, so parents should provide ample time for the au pair and child to bond in order to foster the development of a strong relationship.”
Reap the Benefits
As a former au pair and an intercultural trainer, Lisa La Valle-Finan says an au pair can benefit significantly from this specialized care. “The benefits for American kids are exposure to another language and culture – which they rarely get,” says La Valle-Finan. “The most important benefit is a global mindset, which impacts the long-term prosperity of our country.”
According to La Valle-Finan, children who are cared for by an au pair are afforded more opportunities later in life. “It expands their personal horizons and opens up a world of personal and professional opportunities,” she says.
Beyond the benefits of global exposure, challenges do exist. “Challenges are usually cultural clashes, particularly if the family or the au pair has not had any pre-departure cross-cultural preparation or follow up sessions,” says LaValle-Finan.
Parents can prepare themselves and the family for an au pair by seeking educational opportunities prior to the first visit. Take part in global education workshops at a local college or community center to learn customs, information about the au pair’s home country, religion, food culture and cultural traditions that will make your au pair feel at home and your children more open to the experiences he or she can share.
“If matched properly, an au pair can be a great benefit to the entire family,” says Eldridge. “The child has the benefit of bonding with an additional caregiver and children need as many role models as possible, regardless of age.”