Start by recognising that it is a new situation
Hosting an au pair in your family is a whole new situation for all of you. All of a sudden you have a new member in the family. In addition, the au pair is not a child but rather a young adult who will have her or his own way of looking at things, while still being at a stage in life where they have lots to learn. On top of this, the au pair's main task is to take care of your most valuable treasure: your children.
As a host family, you should take the lead and ensure that communication occurs. For some families it is easy to take this step. For others it may not come so naturally. Remember that you need to take the initiative. Accepting that you are in a new and unknown situation is the first step. Only then can you start to learn how to deal with it and how to enjoy all the new possibilities that it offers.
How to communicate effectively with your au pair
There isn't a magic recipe for this, but there are certainly techniques you can learn that will help you manage communication with the young adult you are about to host.
Lisa, an experienced host mum, has shared her 6 top tips in a video for communicating effectively with your new family member so that you and your au pair can have a great experience together.
How to communicate effectively with your au pair with AmericanAuPairHostMom | AuPairWorld
Communicating with potential au pairs prior to the au pair stay
Have you already thought about what your family wants from the au pair experience and also about what sort of a family you are? Think about these questions and try to present the answers clearly in your family profile. Look for au pairs that have compatible personalities and interests with yours. This way, you are more likely to select the right au pair for your family. Don't be afraid to reject applications from au pairs who simply do not match your family's character and interests.
When it comes time to interview au pair candidates, ask as many questions as possible. As Lisa recommends, conduct the interview process in a number of smaller interviews. This will help au pairs not to be so nervous when speaking in a foreign language in a video call.
If you are a Premium Member, you will have received our Family Handbook. Use it as a basis to present your family to the au pair.
Communicating with your au pair during the au pair stay
During the au pair stay, there are certain moments or situations were communication is of utmost importance.
Onboarding and first weeks
Pay extra attention during the first days of the au pair stay and ask your new au pair frequently how she/he's doing. Have a welcome package prepared for them, including the family handbook, but also let the au pair know you are directly available for any and all questions that come up during this first orientation period.
Especially during the first weeks, take a tolerant and empathetic approach to your au pair. If they make a mistake, tell them that you are okay with it right now and explain how you would you like things to be done in the future in a friendly and constructive way. It is also important that you as a family learn how to tell your au pair what to do.
Understanding your au pair's fears
Put yourself in your au pair's shoes. Think not only of language barriers and cultural shock, but also of them wanting to make a good impression on you. They are facing many insecurities and inevitably will have the fear that you may not be satisfied and will want to terminate the au pair stay. Try to be reassuring and supportive during this first period of uncertainty as your au pair gets orientated.
Think also of money issues. Au pairs usually do not have that much money on the side, so try to reimburse expenses for any family shopping they've done quickly and do not forget to pay their pocket money promptly.
Vacations and free time can also be a problematic topic. Au pairs meet new friends and they make plans to discover the country, etc. which may not always fit with your plans. Schedule working times and vacation well in advance so that your days off are coordinated. Of course, something may pop up for you or for your au pair, but let the au pair know that generally there should be enough warning so that you can each depend on clear working times and availability.
Find out about how you can understand your au pair better.
Different families and different cultures inevitably have different approaches to discipline for children. Let your au pair know how you want your children to be disciplined and what your priorities and preferred disciplining techniques are. Let him/her know what discipline options are available (rewarding system, time-outs, etc.)
Reinforce the au pair's decisions in front of the children so that children's respect the au pair's authority as well. Should the au pair do something with the children that you don't agree with, find a moment when the children are not present and talk about it then. Don't undercut the au pair in front of the children.
Young adults may have difficulty saying no. They may hesitate to decline requests from your children to play, even though they actually are scheduled to have free time. But au pairs certainly need time off like everyone else to do their jobs well. That's why you as a host family should take the lead and set the necessary boundaries to protect the free time of your au pair.
Ask for and give feedback
It is important that you do not simply assume that everything is going well for your au pair. Ask instead. Maybe there's something your au pair doesn't quite dare to say and he/she just needs a question or a little encouragement to speak about.
Remember to give and ask for feedback as well. This will certainly help to improve your and your au pair's relationship. In connection with giving feedback effectively, this article can help you learn some useful feedback techniques to help keep your au pair motivated.
Communication with your au pair in conflict situations
Many people's first reaction is to avoid speaking directly about a conflict, but this won't make a problem disappear. Often it just makes the situation worse over time.
If something bothers you, tell your au pair.
If it is a topic that will require some time to speak about, plan a meeting with your au pair so that you don't discuss an important matter ineffectively and in a rush.
Concerning the problem itself, describe your view of the matter and give some recommendations to improve the situation. Listen closely to what your au pair has to say about the situation also. Take a positive problem-solving approach to the situation and be specific about how the problem can be fixed.
Last but not least, choose your battles. There are some things for sure that are really important for you and need to be regulated. Other issues may be more "superficial" and be things that you can simply learn to accept. The au pair, as a young adult, still has a lot to learn in life. She or he (like all of us) will not be perfect. Nagging your au pair excessively about small matters won't help the relationship. Learn to let things go.
Solving problems during the au pair stay in general shouldn't be seen as a negative crisis. Family life always includes some conflicts and dealing with them constructively helps everyone to learn and to grow.