Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

6 Traits of an Amazing Au Pair

Having worked with host families and au pairs for over 5 years, I have had many opportunities to see wonderful matches where the host family and au pair end up truly caring for each other like family, and I have also seen matches that haven’t been as wonderful.  While each match is unique with its own set of pros and cons, there are some common au pair traits that seem to help ensure success.

An interest in children:  I know that it has been said that you don’t need a burning love for children in order to be an au pair, but you do need a general interest in them.  Potential au pairs whose main concern is what there is to do in the area and how much time they will get off generally don’t get chosen to be the au pair.  Families want to know that their au pair has a genuine interest in children and their well-being.  Let’s face it; most au pairs are alone, in the house, with the children, all day long.  If the sound of a child’s voice grates on your nerves like nails on a chalkboard, then this probably isn’t the right path for you.

This goes for after arrival, too.  If an au pair acts interested in the children and their activities when communicating with them before she arrives, but then doesn’t have time for them once she arrives, the family feels deceived  and wonders what else the au pair has misled them about.

Truly successful au pairs are the ones who take their job seriously and are invested in the children.  They get down on the floor and play trucks, they have tea parties, and they read the kids the same book over and over and over again.  In a nutshell, truly successful au pairs are the ones who do the things with the children that the parents would do if they could be home.

Patience: Anyone who thinks that working with children all day is easy, hasn’t ever done it.  It takes patience for crying, sticky fingers, messes, crying, toys everywhere, homework battles… oh and crying.  Au pairs need to be prepared that most days will be pretty good, but some days will be very hard.  Patience on the hard days will be rewarded when the children put their arms around you and tell you how much they love you.

Flexibility: There are certain rules put in place to protect the au pair and host family.  It is very important that those rules are followed, but there also needs to be some flexibility.  Sometimes schedules change.  Sometimes parents are late.  Illnesses happen and life is sometimes just crazy.  If an occasional bending or breaking of a rule happens, then you need to talk to your host family about it in a casual way.  If your host family repeatedly disregards the rules, then that is another issue entirely and should be discussed with your agency.

Interest in the family: Most families really want their au pair to be a part of the family.  If the au pair is distant or spends little of her off-duty time with the family, the family feels that she only matched with them to get to come to a new country and not because she wanted to participate in a cultural exchange program.  I worked with an au pair once who would go up to her room as soon as her shift was over, and wouldn’t come out for the rest of the evening.  The family would ask her if she was hungry for dinner or wanted to do activities and she would decline and then sneak down after everyone was in bed and go find something to eat.  Needless to say, this match didn’t work out.

The best matches are the ones where everyone really cares for each other.  This is demonstrated when the host family invites the au pair along to different activities or does extra things to help her feel at home, like introducing her customs into their household.  I once had a host family who had a traditional German Christmas for their au pair.  This helped her feel loved and accepted.

Au pairs show their appreciation by pitching in and helping when it isn’t required.  Just because you aren’t on duty doesn’t mean you can’t help with the dishes or play with the kids or attend a child’s recital.   Now this doesn’t mean that au pairs should spend all their free time with the family.  It is important for them to get out, explore, and meet people.  It is very important to find the balance between the two.

Initiative:  Families don’t want to have to tell au pairs to do every little thing.  If the baby needs changing, the families want the au pair to go change him.  If the kids have homework to do, the au pair should make sure that happens on time.  If the kids are bored, the family wants the au pair to come up with activities to do.  You are in charge during certain hours of the day, so take charge.  Make sure the children are well-cared for and engaged and if you are off-duty still be attentive to the children’s needs, like you would as a member of the family.

Maturity:  There is a reason that au pairs must be at least 18 years old.  Families are not looking to bring another child into their home; they are looking for an adult to help make their lives easier.  Successful au pairs are the ones who take responsibility for their needs and happiness.  If you have a problem, don’t expect your family to solve it for you.  First, you will need to research your options (the internet, your agency and fellow au pairs are good resources for this), come up with some possible solutions, and then go to your host family and discuss with them what will work best.  They are there to help you, but not solve your problems for you.

Now, I know I have just focused on what qualities are important for an au pair.  There are just as many qualities that are important for host families to have, the most important being dependability, compassion, appreciation, and trust.  In my experience, matches that have these qualities are amazing experiences for everyone involved and result in life-long friendships.

Amazing Au Pairs, Candidates, Learning is Fun

May 9th is Europe Day

What is Europe Day?

“Europe Day (9 May) celebrates peace and unity in Europe. The date marks the anniversary of the historical ‘Schuman declaration‘. At a speech in Paris in 1950, the French foreign minister, Robert Schuman, set out his idea for a new form of political cooperation in Europe, which would make war between Europe’s nations unthinkable.

His vision was to create a European institution that would pool and manage coal and steel production. A treaty creating such a body was signed just under a year later. Schuman’s proposal is considered to be the beginning of what is now the European Union.” Source Europa.eu

The original founding nations were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany.  Now the EU has 27 members: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Teach kids more about Europe day and the European Union:

Play an online matching game with all the flags of the EU.

Learn more about the European Union with this fun quiz.

Collect Euros in the fun online game.

In honor of Europe Day we are highlighting some of our Au Pairs from the countries that make up the EU.

Andreja from Slovenia

AndrejaCrnic3After a successful first year with a family of four children, Andreja is looking forward to spending more time in the USA. She is confident driving on US roads and has a 7 year driving record in Slovenia. Before becoming an au pair, She has excellent English, is knowledgeable in First Aid, CPR, and Water Safety. She also holds a degree as a swimming instructor.

 

 

Soraya from Spain:

SorayaOrtega3Soraya is 26 years of age with 5300 childcare hours.  She has 3100 hours from caring for children under the age of 2.  Soraya gained her childcare abilities from babysitting several children over the years.  In addition, she has experience teaching dance to children after school.  Soraya is an excellent swimmer and certified in CPR and First Aid.  Check out her video.

Interested in a Spanish au pair?  See the others we have available.

 

Carolin from Germany:

CarolinHCarolin has 2000 hours of childcare experience and has been driving for a period of 3.5 years.  She gained her childcare knowledge from working in a daycare center caring for children ages 2-6. Carolin has experience with children that have minor physical and learning disabilities and is currently studying to become a nursery nurse.  She describes herself to be a responsible, warm and creative caregiver.

See our other German candidates.

 

Ieva from Latvia:

Slide 1Ieva is 23 years old with 5300 childcare hours, 1600 of which are from caring for children under the age of 2.  She gained her childcare experience from being a nanny, volunteering in daycare centers, and working as an au pair in Greece. Ieva is fluent in three languages and has excellent English.

 

 

Jessica from Italy:

Name:  Jessica Tiziani                              Age: 25Jessica is 25 years of age with 1600 hours of childcare experience from babysitting and being an au pair.  Jessica has very good English and has been driving for 5 years.  She describes herself to be a patient and responsible caregiver who is knowledgeable in First Aid.  Jessica is willing to care for children with both physical and learning disabilities.

 

Stephanie from the Netherlands:

StephanieMentink3Stephanie is a Professional Au Pair with over 8000 childcare hours, 4000 of which is from working with children under the age of 2.   Stephanie has excellent English and Swimming abilities and is knowledgeable in First Aid.  She loves to plan activities for children and get them excited to be involved!

Check out our other Dutch au pairs.

 

Lemonia from Greece:

LemoniaB1

Lemonia (Leni) gained her experience in childcare from working in a daycare center, babysitting, and caring for younger family members. She is 25 years old with very good English skills and a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry/Biotechnology.  Leni describes herself to be a patient and trustworthy multi-tasker.

Interested in Greek candidates?  Here are some others.

 

Julia from France:

JuliaFranceJulia has good English and speaks a total of 4 languages.  In addition, she is an excellent swimmer and has been driving for 2 years.  Her references describe her to be a patient and responsible caregiver that has many ideas to keep children occupied.  In addition, they say she has experience helping with homework and preparing meals for their children.

 

Rodica from Romania:

RodicaPaduraru1Rodica is 23 years of age and has been driving for a period of 5 years. Rodica has very good English and enjoys playing interactive games with the children she cares for.  She feels that the au pair program is a chance to combine two of her passions: travelling and childcare.

Check out our other Romanian candidates.

 

Jennifer from Sweden:

JenniferHiltunen1Jennifer has over 1000 hours of childcare experience from babysitting and interning in a primary school.  She describes herself to be a caring, sensitive, and creative caregiver that has a high capacity to manage stressful situations.  Jennifer is 23 years old with excellent English.

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

Performing a Balancing Act: What it Means to Live Like a Member of the Family

AupairLiving like a member of the family… that’s easy, right?  It means spending time with them, but how much time, and when?  Is there a certain amount of time that is expected?  What if the family has plans?  Should the au pair go to?  What if the au pair doesn’t want to go?  Au pair’s aren’t supposed to do heavy housework, but wouldn’t a member of the family pitch in and help clean?

Obviously there isn’t an easy definition for the cultural exchange component of the au pair program where the au pair lives with the family like a member of the family.  Each family is unique and each match is unique so there is going to be a transitional period where host families and au pairs are feeling the situation out.  Here are some hints that might help that adjustment.

Personal Time vs. Family Time: Au pairs and host families are going to want to spend time together, but also time apart.   It is important for families to still have time together without their au pair, just like it is important for the au pair to have time to relax as well as explore the U.S.  No one can say for sure what the perfect balance is, but if the au pair is spending all of her/his time in their bedroom or out with friends, then that is not meeting the intent of the program.  On the other hand, if the au pair is spending all their free time with the family, then he/she is not getting out and experiencing all the opportunities that are around.

Housework:  Au pairs are not supposed to be doing housework that isn’t child-related (they are not maids) but they are also suppose to be pitching and helping out like a member of the family.  This is a hard balance to find, but it is important.  A good way to look at it is if the family is working, the au pair should be helping, too.  So if the host parents are making dinner, then the au pair should offer to help or entertain the kids.  She/he should also offer to make dinner sometime or clean-up after dinner.  Working together is a great way to feel closer to each other and learn about each other.

Vacations: One of the wonderful aspects of the au pair program is au pairs can travel with their host families and help them out.  It can also cause some confusion because schedules are off and roles are less defined.  If a family needs their au pair to travel with them, then they still have to provide them with room and board and a schedule for their on-duty and off-duty time.  It is a good idea to discuss the different needs that the family will have ahead of time so everyone understands what the expectations are.  If the family doesn’t need the au pair to come, then they need to provide provisions for him/her while they are gone.

Dining and Activities:  A great way to spend time together is for host families to invite their au pair to the different activities they have planned, whether it be a simple dinner out to something that is more of a special occasion (say a sporting event).  If they are inviting the au pair along, then they should be prepared to pay for her/him, like he/she is a member of their family.  If the family doesn’t want to bring the au pair, that is fine, but they need to make sure she has the resources to make her own meal at home.  On the other side of the coin, host families need to be sensitive to the fact that au pairs will sometime decline an invitation.  They might have plans or just want some time alone.  Like was mentioned before, the important thing is to find the right balance for each match.

Just like most relationships in life, communication is the key!  When host families and au pairs can be open and honest with each other, then they can find the right balance.

Want to learn more about the Au Pair Program?  Contact Au Pair International or view some profiles on our website.

Amazing Au Pairs

Childcare for Children with Autism – Finding Someone You Can Trust

According to the Talk About Curing Autism website, “More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined”.  They state that as of April 2012 1 in 88 children have autism compared to the CDC’s December 2009 report of 1 in 110 children.  Obviously this is a growing issue that presents new challenges to families.  One major concern for working families is child care.  Many child care facilities feel they cannot meet the needs of these children and parents are left feeling frustrated and hurt.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports “Thirty-nine percent of the parents of children with autism spectrum disorder reported that child care problems had greatly affected their employment decisions.”

KidsHealth offers these tips to people caring for children with autism.

  • Follow the child’s routine, especially at bedtime or mealtime. Kids with autism prefer structure and can get upset if routines are different from what they’re used to.
  • Ask the parents about the child’s favorite toys so you can play with them. Go slowly. One tactic is to sit alongside the child and mimic his play. That might attract his attention and lead him to join you.
  • Special toys can help you encourage the child to cooperate. For example, you might say, “If you brush your teeth, you can play with your toy car.”
  • Don’t be offended if the child decides to play alone or limits interactions with you. This is part of the disorder.
  • Maintain a calm environment. For example, skip a trip to the playground when you know a neighborhood gathering is likely there. Avoid bringing your friends or other people the child may not know into the home.
  • Go slowly when it comes to physical contact. Find out from the parents how their child reacts to affection. A quick hug or light tickle could set off a child with autism.

 

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Celeste is an au pair from South Africa for a family in Arizona with a child with autism.  She has shared her experiences with us.

Did you have experience with special needs or autistic children before you went to your host family’s house?

I had worked as a high school teacher back in my home country for two years.  In a school environment you deal with a lot of different children.  I have a special needs friend and family members with dyslexia, but other than that I can’t say that I have experience in working with special needs children.  I was aware of the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy, and I also knew that I would gain a lot of experience and personal growth in working with this family.
2.       What did the family do to help you get to know their children?

They gave me a neat family handbook with information on each person’s personality.

3.       What is challenging about working with children who have autism?

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One needs a lot of patience and understanding, and I think the most challenging for me is that a lot of the things they do and the way they act will sometimes seem like its naughty child behavior.  But truth is that they act in certain ways we don’t understand because of things they’re struggling to cope with and because the understanding of social cues doesn’t come natural to them.

4.        What do you love about working with children with autism?

I love that every day is a challenge.  I love how much I learn each and every day, not just about them and autism, but also how much I learn about myself.  They helped me look at the world in a different way and appreciate that I have health and friends.  I love how they find things fascinating that we overlook every day.  It’s fulfilling to see how they make progress every day and how far they have come.  They are remarkable kids and I’m very proud and feel very privileged to be a part of their lives.

5.       Do you feel you make these children’s lives better?  How?

I feel that they make my life better.  Being with them every day is fun and they put a smile on my face.  They get really excited and enthusiastic about things they’re really interested in.  Even just hiking or baking brownies.  I guess I make their lives better by showing them love and understanding and by helping to teach them live skills every day.

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6.        What activities do you like to do with them?

We like to go hiking, play at the park and swimming.  S. enjoys painting, singing, dancing, reading and playing dress up.  They like to play “Just Dance” on the Wii.  A. loves to talk and watch videos about the weather, fireworks and explosions.  He also loves to sit outside when there’s a storm coming and watch the clouds and lightning. The boys really enjoy to do science experiments and to make their own crystals.  J. likes to swim, watch cartoons, play board games, read and help me bake cookies or brownies.  We also enjoy going to the Children’s and Science Museums together.

Au Pair International has au pairs with experience with children with autism.  Check out some of their profiles.

 

Maria G.

Marypaz A.

 

Au Pair Advice, Host Family Questions

HF Q’s: My new au pair is about to arrive. What should I expect?

Congratulations on getting your new au pair!  What an exciting time.  It is a good idea to have realistic expectations so your match can get started off on the right track.

Arrival – As excited as your au pair is going to be chances are she is also going to be wiped out.  The regulations state that au pairs cannot be responsible for the children during the first 3 days after arrival so that they can have time to acclimate to your home and the US.  It is a good idea to use this time to help her to get to know your home and family.  Don’t plan anything too big during the first few days and give her a chance to settle in.

Driving – Even the best of drivers can be intimidated by driving in the US.  Our roads and vehicles are bigger than they are used to and many countries don’t have the same standards of driving.  We recommend all au pairs get a US drivers license but many can drive on their country’s license.  Be prepared to ease your au pair into driving and don’t get frustrated if she doesn’t pick it up right away.

Homesickness – As you can imagine being away from friends and family isn’t easy for anyone.  Add to that being in a different country and speaking a different language and it can get quite difficult.  Encourage your au pair to get out and meet people.  Starting on her education is a good start, but there are a lot of other possibilities.  Churches, international student organizations, meet up groups, rec leagues and ethnic restaurants are good places to meet new people.  Your Area Director will have some ideas for your area.

A good piece of advice is to treat your au pair how you would want someone to treat your son or daughter if they were staying with them.  If you always keep that in mind, then you won’t go wrong.

 

*** ADVICE TO AU PAIRS***

Remember that while your host family, Area Director and agency are here to help you, ultimately your happiness is up to you.  You have an amazing opportunity to gain so many new and beneficial experiences.  Take advantage of every chance you get to learn and grow.  Remember that you are here to 1) help make your host family’s lives easier, and 2) learn about the US.   Don’t be surprised if families in the US raise their children differently than you are used to.  Find out how they want you to assist them in raising their children and then follow their lead.  Finally, although it will be an adjustment at first, if you give it your best you will have one of the greatest experiences of your life.

Fun Stuff

Au Pair Adventures – Caren’s cute kids!

Caren, an au pair in New York, takes care of 5 year old twins: C and S.  This is Caren’s story:

“My host family has two boys.  They are twin 5 year olds. C is 1 minute older than S. The boys need to go to the potty before going to school in the morning or going out with their parents. C takes a very long time to make a poop poop, and he always refuses to sit on the potty after a few minutes. He comes out and said in a very sad voice, “I can’t make a poop poop, Caren.  I don’t want to make a poop poop.”  At that time, S will go the toilet and check the poop poop and speak like an adult. “C, that’s not enough. Try again. You need to believe in yourself and then you can make a big big poop poop.”  They make us all burst into laughter.”

Caren has another story that shows why she loves being an au pair.

“S once said to his grandmother, “Grandma, I fall in love with someone.”  His grandma was so surprised and asked,”Who?”  He said “Caren.”  And grandma asked him how much he loves Caren, he said, “I love Caren from the earth to the moon and come back to the earth – that much.”

Host Family Questions

HF Q’s: Should I get a male au pair?

Ultimately that is a questions that only you can answer, but there are a lot of benefits to getting a male au pair

  1. Having a male in the house.  We have had single-mom and single-dad host families get male au pairs.  The single-moms like having a man in the house to give their children someone to look up to and the single-dads often feel more comfortable with another guy in the house.
  2. Easy-going personality.  Most of our male au pairs are really easy-going and they don’t let much upset them.  They also tend to be fairly independent, which can be very nice for a busy family.
  3. Grateful for the opportunity.  The amount of families wanting a male au pair is very small, so most of our male candidates are very happy for the opportunity to speak with an interested family.  Many agencies don’t even offer male candidates, but we at Au Pair International want to give everyone a chance to find a family if they meet the requirements.

I suggest being open to the possibility of having a male au pair.  We have had host families who originally never even considered getting a male au pair, but then saw a profile on our site and decided to give a male au pair a chance.  They said it was the best decision they could have made.