Changing countries, homes and families can be a rewarding experience, but there a few things a new Au Pair should think about beforehand. Acknowledging that working as an Au Pair will come challenges, means that you have a realistic understanding of what you will face. Thinking about the potential problems or hurdles that you may have to deal with helps plan and prepare for the experience.
The 5 most common hurdles that an Au Pair has to consider and find ways of managing are:
1. Dealing with homesickness: When moving in with a new family, you will inevitably be reminded of your own. This can cause the feeling of homesickness. What can you bring to your experience to help you deal with this feeling? What aspects of your culture can you share with your host family to make you feel more at home? Are there any common phrases or greetings you can teach to the children to help you feel more at home?
2. Doing things differently: Your family will have certain ways of doing things that they prefer and you will be expected to fit in with this. By all means suggest improvements that might make life easier, but it will be your job to support the parents and the choices they make in bringing up their children and to find ways to support their parenting style when you are caring for their children. Before you arrive try and find out more about how your host family does things, this will help you prepare for the experience and will help you think about how you can support the family in the best way.
3. Managing your time: a big hurdle to overcome is the sudden responsibility not just for yourself, but having responsibility for various activities and tasks that need to be done at a certain time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a family’s routine, but if you employ some basic organisational techniques you will start to feel more in control and know what needs to be done when. When planning your experience, ask your host family if they can share their timetable or schedule with you in advance so you can begin to think about how you will get yourself organised to get it all done. Use systems that the family already uses or create your own schedule, timetable, lists or other tools to help you stay on track.
4. Dealing with mess and tantrums: Your main job is to look after the children in the family. Children can be wonderful to work with, but don’t forget they can also be very messy and it will be your job to clean up after they have eaten, completed activities, been ill or fallen over in a mud puddle! If you have never changed a nappy in your life, or looked after young children, you will find the mess a new experience! Have you ever tried to convince a 10 year old to do their homework? Have you thought about what happens when a child says ”no” to something reasonable you have asked them to do? How are you going to deal with emotional meltdowns and tantrums?
5. Cooking and cleaning: Do you like cooking and preparing food? You might be responsible for preparing after school snacks, or school lunches. You might also be preparing food for children who will eat anything or children who are extremely fussy. Have you thought about what makes a good nutritional snack that young kids would want to eat? And don’t forget the previous point – young children generally make a mess when eating, so being prepared for this is critical to preparing to be a great Au Pair.
These are just some of the hurdles you will have to jump. Picture yourself doing the task – what else can you think of that you might need to deal with? By thinking about potential challenges, and coming up with strategies to deal with them, the first few weeks with your new host family will be easier to manage and you will find the experience much easier to embrace.