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Establishing Ground Rules With Your Au Pair
Are you considering or preparing for an exciting new addition to your family — an au pair? When you're looking for affordable, reliable child care that fits in with your daily schedule and your work life, welcoming an au pair into your home offers so many benefits for you and your family — from built-in care for your children to developmental cultural exposure and the opportunity to form new friendships.
Did you know more than 17,000 new au pairs are placed in American homes every year? To receive child care, build positive international relationships and promote cultural exchange, thousands of American families choose to bring young women and men from all over the world into their homes. For a year, host families and au pairs bond in a mutually beneficial relationship of shared household and child care responsibilities. By the end, many come away with rich friendships and cultural experiences they'll remember for a lifetime — in fact, 93 percent of au pairs and 92 percent of host families would recommend the program.
While you're preparing for your au pair to arrive, your family is probably excited, but you might also be anxious about a few details. Will your family and your au pair get along? How can you make sure she respects your household rules while also making sure you respect her? To establish a strong foundation for a positive experience with your au pair, you should lay out ground rules, expectations and communication from start to finish. If you're looking for a little au pair help to get you started, here's our advice on setting au pair house rules and beginning your experience positively.
How to Set Clear Expectations for Your New Au Pair
You're trusting your au pair with a critical job — taking care of your children and helping you with your household when you're at work or taking care of other tasks. While you've done your due diligence in finding the right program sponsor and selecting the au pair who meets your needs, you still need to set household guidelines, rules and expectations so she knows how things work in your home. To optimize the relationship between you, your new au pair and your children, follow these tips for transitioning and keeping the experience positive:
1. Prepare Your Children Beforehand
When it comes to adjusting, your au pair isn't the only one who will need to get used to a new arrangement. If you have children who are old enough to understand, make sure you explain the situation to them beforehand and even ask for their input. Tell them you'll be welcoming a new friend who will play with them, care for them and take them places like an older sibling. It might be a good idea to ask what qualities your children are looking for in their new caregiver or what they'd like to do together so you can request certain activities from your au pair — like taking time each day to go to the park, play with toys or read together. It's also important to tell your children to respect and listen to their au pair like they do to you.
2. Set and Show Your Ground Rules
As soon as your au pair begins, familiarize her with the basic rules of your household, including where things go, when tasks need to be done and how you feel about specific issues. Explain when bedtime is for your children, what their schedule is before school, when you'd like the children's laundry or dishes done or what your rules are for shoes in the house.
You might think you're being more welcoming if you give your au pair freedom to do things the way she likes, but it is important to provide her with some framework — and the way you want her to take care of your children or your house is an essential part of that. Don't be afraid to gently point out your pet peeves. When both you and your au pair are clear on your needs and expectations, everyone will be happier.
3. Model the Behavior You Want to See
When it comes to how you interact with your children and run your home, it's crucial to show your au pair how she should handle everything. If your children are picky eaters, for example, or have trouble going down at bedtime, show your au pair how to handle stubbornness or bad behavior the way you would. Demonstrate what incentives work, what your routine is for getting the little ones out in the morning and what foods to cook for your children. Every little detail is important for making your kids comfortable and making sure your au pair cares for your children the way you would.
4. Keep a Clear Stream of Communication
Even when you explain expectations at the beginning of your au pair's stay, it's crucial to keep communicating during your whole time together. A great way to make sure your au pair stays on top of your rules and schedule is to write out and print a schedule of your child's typical day, along with a list of rules or reminders for her to reference from time to time. It's also a good idea to regularly have parent/au pair meetings where you can catch up on how things are going, discuss concerns or ask questions. Encourage your au pair to come to you with any questions, concerns or ideas at any time. Work together!
5. Include Your Au Pair in Your Family
Unlike a babysitter or employee, your au pair will be living in your home, helping you take care of light household tasks and — most importantly — taking care of your children. To encourage closeness between your family and your au pair and make the experience more positive for everyone, treat your au pair like part of the family. Invite her to eat meals together with you and your children, include her in family events and grab her a coffee occasionally to show you care. Making sure your arrangement works for everyone is all about mutual respect and caring — and treating your au pair well from the start will set the stage for a happy home life together.
Au Pair House Rules You May Need to Consider and Tips on Setting Them
While your au pair's main job is taking care of your children, she will be living in your house, so making sure you're on the same page with house rules is especially important. Every home is different — especially for someone coming from a different culture — so you should establish ground rules as soon as your au pair arrives to avoid any confusion and set clear expectations. Here are a few au pair house rules you should address to encourage harmony at home:
1. Car Use
As a visitor in America, your au pair won't have her own means of transportation, so it's essential for you to establish car rules early. While allowing your au pair the use of a car isn't required, it will help her become better integrated in your area, feel more independent and have more options as a member of the family. Decide whether you'll use separate cars or share one, whether she can drive to take the children places, who will be responsible for paying for gas and whether she can use the car for personal excursions.
2. TV and Computer Use
Just like you, your au pair will want to keep in touch with her family and relax in some of her free time — and she may or may not have her own laptop to use personally for emails, Skype, checking favorite websites and watching movies. If your au pair doesn't bring her own computer, make sure to decide whether you can lend her some time on your own home computer or laptop and tell her when she can use it. You should also set aside some TV time for your au pair and let her know when and where she can watch. Offering these little luxuries will make your au pair feel more comfortable and more at home with your family.
3. Phone Use
To keep in contact with your au pair and make sure she has a means of getting in touch with you, as well, it's a good idea to provide your au pair with an American cell phone. Whether you purchase a pay-as-you-go phone or add another line to your family plan is up to you — just make sure you communicate with your au pair about when she can be on the phone and what her calling and texting limits are, if any.
4. House Guests
While some families might be comfortable with their au pairs bringing friends over during their free time or inviting visiting family to stay, others may not want strangers coming in and out of their house. Make sure you set your own rules regarding house guests and be clear with your au pair about your preferences. If you do allow guests, how late are they allowed to stay? Are overnight guests allowed? Be specific with your rules and make sure your au pair knows where you stand when she starts.
5. Use of Appliances
Whether for herself or your children, your au pair will probably need to cook and use appliances like the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer. Do you have specific rules regarding your appliances, when you use them and how? Make sure to communicate them to your au pair. If you want to keep your washing days to once or twice a week to save water, for example, or you don't want the stove on when you're not home, tell your au pair what you expect. If it's important to you, don't forget to clarify details about shower usage, adjusting the air conditioning or central heating and other home concerns.
When communicating with your au pair, you want to be both respectful and clear about your expectations. Here are some tips for enabling better communication and laying out tasks for your new au pair:
1. Demonstrate How Things Work in Your Family
It's important to lay a groundwork of rules like the ones we suggested above, but don't just instruct your au pair on how everything works in your home — show her. Spend some time orienting her with the house and your family when she first arrives, and continue to be available to explain and reinforce tasks whenever you can. Your au pair will learn best when she's immersed in your family and offered occasional help.
2. Set up a Regular Routine
If you offer your au pair a daily or weekly structure to follow, her transition into your family and her duties will be much smoother. Tell her when your children need to be up in the morning, when and what they eat for meals, when to take them to school, what days they have special activities and when you'll be home from work. Integrate her into your schedule by making her a part of it and explaining beforehand what tasks need to be done at what times. Once she falls into the routine, you won't need to constantly tell her what she must do — she'll know.
3. Ask for Input
Remember, you should treat your au pair like part of the family — and that means being open to mutual communication rather than only doling out instructions all the time. Check with your au pair regularly to see how her routine and her duties are going, and ask her if there's anything she has to suggest — show her you value her opinion. When she's comfortable communicating with you and you're comfortable letting her decide what works best in certain situations, everything will go more smoothly.
4. Explain the Task and the "Why" Behind It
Whenever you communicate a task or a house rule to your au pair, make sure you explain your reasoning. When your au pair understands your parenting philosophy, your family goals and the reasons for your rules, she feels more like a part of the family and can help you work towards your positive vision for your children.
5. Be Kind
Above all else, remember to show your au pair the compassion and kindness you would want someone to treat your own children with — even when you're dealing with conflict or explaining your ground rules. Your au pair is new to both your family and your country, so welcome her warmly and make sure she knows you're happy to have her. When she feels safe, secure and appreciated in your host family, you've already succeeded in the first steps to a positive au pair experience.
Find a New Au Pair With EurAupair
When you're searching for convenient, affordable child care and an immersive developmental experience for your children, an au pair is the answer you need. Welcoming an au pair into your home offers you the best of both worlds — and EurAupair can introduce you to the world's best au pairs. With 30 years of experience organizing intercultural exchanges for ambitious au pairs and families in need of flexible child care, we'll provide you with a culturally enriching experience you'll never forget. Contact EurAupair today for more information about hosting an au pair. We can't wait to hear from you!