You may have spent hours on the phone, chatted via email, connected on snapchat, or had multiple video calls before you chose your Au Pair. You may have carefully documented everything you discussed in your Au Pair/Host Family Agreement. You may have spent time orienting your new Au Pair and writing a detailed manual. However, sometimes, despite the best of plans and the best of intentions, things can go wrong. How you deal with it and recover is critical as it will help build or erode the relationship you have with your Au Pair. You need to consider your style and how you will manage discussions around things that require improvement, better engagement or a complete change in approach. An encouraging manner is likely to build your relationship, and improve communication, whereas using a big stick is likely to cause resentment and a less than transparent and open relationship.
If you notice something starting to go wrong, or doesn’t quite feel right, address it straight away. Don’t dwell on it, second guess it or hope it will get better on its own. In Australia, you only have a short time with your Au Pair, so you want the time together to be as best as it can be and for everyone to enjoy the experience. For Au Pairs who haven’t had very much experience, a guiding hand in the early days will be appreciated and will help them understand the role and responsibilities from day one. You will be setting them up for success and creating standards for you to intervene if required.
Derailing behaviours and ideas for getting back on track
Some of the issues you may encounter might include a lack of maturity, a lack of understanding or naive approach to the role, a lack of willingness to fully engage or the inability to build a good relationship with the children.
Some ways of dealing with a lack of maturity this can include reorienting your Au Pair to the expectations and standards expected and agreed on. Starting a conversation using the Agreement that you both worked on and signed is a great way of addressing any issues of concern. Sometimes a gentle reminder that the Au Pair is not living up to the agreed standard is enough to get them back on track and remind them they need to show more maturity and responsibility. Other ways include gentle encouragement to take on the responsibility of an Au Pair, remind them it’s an opportunity to step up, but to also remind them they are not on their own. They should be encouraged to try things out but also talk to the host mum or dad who can give pointers and tips to build up confidence, which in turn helps develop maturity. Give your Au Pair feedback, let them know when they did something great and what made it great. Gentle praise and feedback about where a job has been done well helps build confidence.
For Au Pairs that socialise too much or aren’t good house guests (maybe they keep their room untidy, leave towels all over the bathroom floor or get home at all hours) then a reorientation to the role of an Au Pair, using the Agreement, or just having a discussion can remind them they aren’t just there to have a holiday. Party time can come after the placement has finished. If staying out late starts to impact on the performance of duties or the relationship with the children, consider discussing a weekday curfew.
Your Au Pair may have a romantic or naive view of what it is to be an Au Pair, perhaps they avoid certain jobs, do others half-heartedly or complain about being asked to do certain things. This is where the Agreement can really help and is a good conversation starter. Communication is key. Ask them why they don’t want to do a particular thing, explore and discuss it. There may be an issue that can be resolved or a different way found to achieve the same goal. If it’s just sheer laziness, again use the agreement and consider discussing ending the relationship. Perhaps the Au Pair would be happier too but don’t feel like they can start that conversation and don’t want to break the commitment they have made and may fear repercussions or embarrassment.
If your Au Pair is not engaging with your children in the way you would like, then talk to them. Give them some suggestions for some activities you know the kids enjoy doing, give some tips on managing your kids and how to bring the best out of them. And of course, talk to your children, ask them what they think could be done better, and maybe even ask them to show some kindness towards the new Au Pair and help them settle in – your Au Pair and children are a team of sorts, so it’s up to you as coach to guide, suggest and then let them play and work together. Observe from the sidelines and add in some encouragement and expert tips where needed.
If an issue is more severe, and the relationship appears to be damaged beyond repair, or illegal or unethical behaviour is occurring, then you may need to use the provisions you detailed in your agreement for terminating the relationship.