When you first start as an au pair, issues may arise that you aren’t ready for – such as, what if your host child rejects you? Most au pairs have a vision of what their first encounter with their host family will be like. They dream of the host children hugging them tightly upon arrival, instantly bonding over some sweets from their home country, and immediately becoming a big sister or big brother type of figure in the host family’s home.
While these experiences certainly exist, your situation will likely be something different. Your host child may be shy, resistant to change, or present you with difficult behaviors at first. This is very normal and not something you, as an au pair, should internalize or feel guilty about – this common occurrence is not a reflection on you. Here are a few tips for au pairs dealing with difficult kids.
If you are the host family’s first au pair…
Try to keep in mind that having a new person living in the host child’s home is a new and strange experience for them. When you’re an au pair, first-week anxieties in your host family’s kids are hardly unusual. Your host children may not be used to another grown-up sharing personal space with them, being around for dinner or bedtime, and taking up part of their parent’s attention. Adapting to a new situation can be hard, especially for a kid. Having empathy and remembering they are young and may not have the capacity to fully understand why these changes have taken place is important.
Consider talking to your host family about it and asking your host child questions about how they feel about these changes. For example, “I know it’s different having me drive you to ballet instead of Mommy. How does that make you feel?” Also, remind your host children that you are their au pair, not their parents, and can never replace their mom or dad.
If you are replacing a former au pair…
A year can feel like a lifetime to a young child. If you’re replacing an au pair who has spent a year or longer with your host family, your host child will likely need some time to process the change. They may compare you, grieve their former au pair’s absence, and feel like they can’t have the same wonderful relationship with another au pair.
Because you are unique, don’t try to copy everything their former au pair did, even if they remind you of it all the time. Your relationship with the host family will be different, and it can also be just as special. Make an effort to participate in lots of family activities and get to know your host kids’ personal interests. Ask them lots of questions and learn about the activities and games they enjoy. If possible, ask the former au pair for advice to help you become successful, especially if they themselves were not the family’s first au pair either.
Try not to take anything personally. It can take time to form a strong bond with your host children, especially during the first few weeks. Some children may act out during this time. This is completely normal! Remember to talk with your host family about how to address discipline, especially during this challenging transition.
If you feel like you don’t measure up right away, keep trying. The most rewarding experiences can also be the most challenging at first. Being respectful, empathetic, and kind are ways you can ensure you’re doing the best you can to build connections with your host kids.