Host families: How to tell your au pair what to do

5 simple tips for giving tasks to your au pair

A refrigerator door with magnetic letters that spell "To Do".

Maybe the most important reason why families decide to have an au pair is their wish to make daily family life a little bit easier to manage. So what can you do to help your au pair  become the helping hand that you're hoping for?

Here are 5 tips for giving tasks to au pairs so that they can become the family team member of your dreams.

1. Let your au pair see quickly and clearly how things work in your family.

A new au pair has so much to learn when she or he joins a family. It's everyday life for you, but it's all new for the au pair.

  • Invest some time in orienting your au pair during her first week with your family. It will definitely pay off.
  • An Au Pair Handbook that answers questions about standard routines in your family and the au pair's regular duties in the household can help tremendously to bring your au pair quickly and successfully up to speed. 
  • Your Au Pair Handbook should also include tips and information to help the au pair find fun ways of enjoying your community in his/her free time.

2. Set up clear routines for regular family life where everyone knows their role.

Clearly defined routines for everyday tasks make things clearer for all family members. When routines are clearly established, then tasks are performed with less effort and family life in general becomes less stressful.

  • Identify regular activities related to the children and the household (for example, packing school lunches, helping with homework, weekly appointments, etc). 
  • Put these regular activities into a schedule that everyone has access to (on paper or electronically). 
  • Make it clear to your au pair exactly what her or his role is in the various routines.

3. As host parents, you are the "big boss". Your au pair is a team leader.

One way to think of your au pair is as a team leader in the family organisation. This reduces your daily parenting workload and frees you up to dedicate yourself to the most important matters inside the family and outside in your professional life.

  • The parents are the "top management" who set up general goals and structures.
  • Your au pair works together with you to realise these goals and maintain these structures by interacting positively with your children. 
  • You are not there to micro manage things but to provide a structure where the au pair can spend time happily and creatively with your children.

4. Explain the "why" of tasks so that your au pair feels like (s)he has a real stake in the activity.

When we know the "why" behind any activity, it's much easier to engage fully with the work that is involved. Many of your au pair's tasks relate to the needs of your children. Talk with the au pair about those needs and how the au pair's activities together with the children are beneficial for them.

  • Give your au pair some background about your parenting philosophy so that they can share in the family goals more fully. 
  • Give your au pair a clear impression how specific activities with the children relate to your positive vision of good family life.

5. Asking for input from your au pair often works better than simply giving orders.

As your au pair gets fully integrated into family life, she or he becomes an expert on how your children are doing at the present moment. It can well be that on many days she is spending more time with the children than you do yourself.

  • Use that knowledge and empower your au pair to bring her best potential into her au pairing activities.
  • Instead of simply telling your au pair what to do (particularly for problem solving), ask the au pair what he or she thinks might be the best way to handle a situation.
  • Show your au pair that you value her or his opinion. Your au pair will appreciate the fact that you take her or his input seriously and you might even learn some important things about your kids that you weren't aware of. 
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