Welcoming Your New Au Pair

Fall is almost here! That means color-changing leaves, pumpkin spice everything, and a cornucopia of options to welcome an au pair to your family. This season is an opportunity to turn a new (orange) leaf with your new au pair. Here are some ideas to help you welcome your new au pair!

The first few days

What do you want your au pair’s very first impression to be? Au Pair USA’s wise team of Local Coordinators, or LCs, has great advice on the subject.

Cara from Georgia says,

I have a host family that adds personal touches to the room for each au pair. For this au pair (image below), they printed pictures from her Facebook page and added Star Wars posters because the au pair is a huge Star Wars fan. This is affordable and simple yet shows that they have taken the time and effort to know something about her and make her feel comfortable upon arrival.

An au pair's bedroom, decorated with Star Wars pictures.
Add personalized touches to your au pair’s room, like photos or posters. Image courtesy of Cara Harper

Other advice from LCs:

  • Take them out the first weekend to a local grocery store or shop from their culture, if possible. It’s nice to see foods from home and a great chance for them to get something, like their favorite tea or candy, to share with the family as a connection point!
  • Female au pairs always seem to buy hair dryers because of the voltage and outlet differences in the U.S.A. My most recent new host mom gift wrapped a hair dryer and had it waiting for the au pair. The au pair was thrilled!

However you welcome them, when your au pair first gets in, remember that the first day is considered a travel day. The next day,  the “Home Orientation Period” begins. During the first three days of the Home Orientation Period, your au pair shouldn’t be the only responsible adult childcare provider, even for a limited time. This sort of soft landing will allow them to become acquainted with your family, new surroundings, and au pair duties. It’s also a good time for au pairs traveling from other time zones to adjust to time differences.

Your Local Coordinator will contact your au pair within 48 hours of arrival and will also meet with them and your family within the first two weeks to see how things are going. 

Help them build a friend network

As your au pair settles in, your LC will contact your au pair monthly to ensure that the placement is going well. They will also hold meetings for the au pairs in a local area. Having this interaction with their peers is a great way to help au pairs build friendships. (Find out more about how cluster meetings have safely continued while social distancing here!)

Eight au pairs sit socially-distanced in a circle in a backyard.
Six feet apart, but close at heart ❤️ Image courtesy of Tracy Hanover

Cluster meetings aren’t the only place to encourage your au pair to make friends while adhering to safety regulations. Au pair Anita was bummed to not be able to leave her house during lockdown, so she embraced technology! She found Facebook groups a great help: the social network has groups of users based on a wide variety of interests and occupations; Anita was even able to find Facebook groups of other au pairs to chat with. Groups also exist for nationals of certain countries, fans of particular sports teams, etc. Encourage your au pair to look for groups that match their interests!

Help them through culture shock

Au pairs experience culture shock to varying degrees; some hardly notice it at all, while others can find it very difficult to adapt to their new environment. Many may not attribute their problems to culture shock. Whatever the case may be, understanding these issues and why they happen will help you support your au pair. 

Be prepared to offer a bit more support and understanding when you observe culture shock symptoms. Communicate with them, help them stay busy, and support their efforts to make friends in their new communities. In general, help them try new things, and try to appreciate the cultural differences they encounter!

Support their English speaking

Diving into English language learning is one of the ways to counter culture shock. However, the language barrier between you and your au pair might be frustrating at times.

Your au pair probably wants to improve their English during their stay. But they may be too bashful to consistently try to use a new language. You can cajole them to speak English with a few different tactics. Remind them:

  • Make it their goal to speak English confidently and all the time.
  • You do not mind if they make mistakes. 
  • This may be their best opportunity to really improve their English dramatically. Take every opportunity to practice and learn.
An au pair, a host mom, and a host child sit at a dining table.
Meal times are a great opportunity to practice English! Image courtesy of au pair Michele.

Set expectations and communicate

Many host families compare their relationship with their au pair to that of their younger siblings. And just like your little brother or sister, your au pair will be looking to you for guidance. You should be prepared to set a variety of expectations for your au pair, and support them during their time with your family.

It’s human nature to say “yes” when someone asks if we understand – even if we don’t. This is especially true when we are feeling embarrassed or under pressure, which your au pair may feel at first. You will tell them a lot of important information about their duties, your kids, the household, driving, the local area, and so on. You will rely on them to follow your instructions, so tell them to be sure to ask questions if they do not understand something. 

Quality time with your au pair may be hard to find unless it is scheduled. It is a good idea to schedule a weekly meeting with them to touch base. Set aside 20-30 minutes to check-in with each other. You can discuss things such as: 

  • The upcoming week and the children or family schedule;
  • What you think is going well caring for the kids;
  • What issues or challenges they are having with the kids and what you recommend;
  • Discuss your schedule or any upcoming plans you may have.

What comes next?

Remember that Au Pair USA is always here to help! In addition to being able to speak to your LC, you can always peruse our blog’s advice! Here, for example, are some more tips for safely venturing out post-lockdown! And it’s never too early to think about the future. Learn more about the possibility of extending with your au pair!

Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace was previously the Community & Digital Content Manager for the InterExchange Marketing team. He received a Master of Science in Global Affairs from New York University, and worked with the State Department and two New York organizations with missions to introduce young people to multiculturalism and international relations.