Helpful Hints for a Successful Placement
1. When you have decided upon your au pair/ mother's help it is vital to maintain regular contact, at least by email, from that point until their arrival. Tell them what your family members are up to, and assure them that everyone is looking forward to their arrival (even if they are sad that the current/last au pair is leaving). Basically give them lots of reasons to be keen and eager to come and live/ work with your family, so that they don't have any last minute change of mind!
2. Your au pair should book their flight (which they normally pay for) as soon as possible. This is a good commitment from their side.
3. Start planning what they need in their bedroom to make it pleasant for them. Is the bed comfortable? Does a double take up too much space? For our first au pair I bought a single bed that can fold up into a seat if required (Ikea). It's a good bed, which it has to be for longer term use. They need a desk and chair as they are expected to attend a language school, or some classes and they need somewhere where they can store their clothes. Give them a TV and an internet connection (WIFI is perfect) Maybe repaint the room if necessary, maybe put up a picture or two? A bedside light is important and a bedside table is great too if there is space. Can you allocate space for them in the bathroom they will use? If not, then make sure you ask them nicely to keep their things in their room, but they will need at least a hand towel in the bathroom.
4. If you can get together a small welcome/information pack for them, with a map of the area, leaflets about what to do in the area, transport information, language course information, then that would be great.
5. Supply them with a sim card. They can probably use this in their usual phone. Put £10 on it and ask them to make sure it is regularly topped up, as you always need to be able to contact them and they always need to be able to make calls (to you or emergency services) particularly if they are ever alone with your children. Do stress that this is essential. Make sure they programme in your home and mobile numbers and any numbers of friends/neighbours, schools/nursery who they should call if they can't find you in an emergency. Write these numbers down on paper too. Make sure the au pair can memorise your address. Explain how to make an emergency call and what to do in an emergency. Make sure you all have her mobile number and the school/nursery does too.
6. Write down broadly what they are expected to do, when should they start work, when they can stop, what they should be doing during those hours. Stress which part of that is flexible. Be clear also on what food/drink they can help themselves to. Normally snacks like chocolate and crisps they would pay for themselves, whilst normal breakfast, lunch, dinner and a normal amount of fruit should be on you.
7. Write a list of house 'guidelines or do's and don'ts' This could include details of what happens on Mondays to Fridays in your house. You might need to add details of how to work the dishwasher/washing machine, shower, tv etc. How to lock the front door properly, setting the alarm etc. Explain all the things that are important to the running of your house and how they can help, like unloading the dishwasher or hanging out the washing without being asked.
You may prefer to give your au pair some written information and then just do a lot of showing and explaining, so that they are not overwhelmed by a whole list of rules! However, they should not be scared by these details, they are simply the newcomer who does not yet know how you like things done. Do not expect TOO much of your au pair. They are young women (or men) who have usually not yet run their own households. They are usually still learning how to clean and cook properly, but most are keen to learn and do their very best. Give them plenty of guidance, and remember they are there to support you, not take over completely as housekeepers.
8. You do not need to tell them everything in the 1st day - take your time, otherwise it will be too much for them to remember. The first days are also key to making a good impression (you need to make a good impression on them too – so that they don't run away!) There will be plenty of time to turn them into someone you cannot do without!
9. Always remember to give and take. From their side they are here to have an enjoyable time, learn English, see how it is to live in another country/family. Not slave away at all the tasks you don't want to do (tempting as it might be!) On the other hand they are here to support you in all the normal tasks you do, or do them for you.
10. The au pair wants to become your friend. This does not happen overnight, friendships are built over time, out of mutual respect and looking after each other. But when you do become true friends with your au pair, they will do anything for you (and you for them!)
11. They do want to be part of the family, but this does not mean they want to be with you 24/7. They should enjoy being with the family, then they should enjoy having time to themselves or going out making friends.
12. Do everything you can to help your au pair establish a social life. If they have friends who they can go out with then they will be happy. If the au pair is happy they will want to stay, if they want to stay they will make sure they are doing a good job – and that you are happy with them! We put our Au Pairs in touch with each other, but there are also au pair groups on Facebook and other social networking sites. If they join these they will hopefully find someone in their area, with whom they can meet other people. They need to get networking asap, even if it seems a bit scary for them, help and support them with this.
13. It is very important is to manage the relationship your au pair will have with your children. Talk to your children before your new au pair arrives, about this nice person who is coming to help you and to play with them. Explain that it is very important that they are nice and respectful to the au pair and that they should do what the au pair asks. Tell them though, if they have any concerns about the au pair, they should tell you and to never keep any secrets from you ever. Handle this with respect to your children's ages.
If you disagree with something the au pair does, try to tell her when the children are not around. They must see that you have respect for the au pair, because otherwise they will have no respect for them and not do as the au pair asks, which is ultimately not helpful to you and not pleasant for the au pair!
It is a common problem for au pairs that children will not always do what the au pair asks of them. Help them work out strategies to get the children to be obedient. Think what the au pair should say to a child who is not responding, will they lose a star from the star chart? Will Mummy be told? Will they have 1 less story at bedtime? Less pocket money? Or on the carrot side, what happens if they do do as they are told, quickly, will they get an extra book at bed time, or longer in the bath, or their favourite dessert? If you do not want your au pair to raise their voice, then tell them how to handle your children so that they do as they are told. Praise your au pair for being patient! (In our house we operate with 'Au Pair points'. Au pair points are rewarded by the au pair for good behaviour (or taken away again for bad behaviour!). A certain level of points leads to a reward.)
14. Always try to pay their pocket money on time. This is a big bug bear amongst au pairs (I am informed). If they have worked overtime, pay them more. Never pay them less. We suggest paying on Mondays for the week ahead (in advance). That way, they have money as soon as they arrive and also if you do happen to be a day late in paying them, then you are not 'technically' late.
15. In preparation for their arrival, we suggest putting a bunch of flowers in their room, and maybe a small box of chocolates. Giving them a bottle of water with a suitable glass is also nice. Make sure the bedding is fresh and in good condition and allocate them a couple of nice towels. If you can lend them some enjoyable English books, then I am sure they will appreciate it, and it helps them improve their English too!
16. Do offer to include your au pair in some family outings. They will probably join you a few times during the first weeks and then when they have found their feet and their friends they are more likely to do their own thing during their time off.
17. Do give your au pair as much notice for babysitting/change of hours as possible. But do warn them that they need to be a bit flexible as you are a family not a company and they are part of the family not an employee.
18. Explain to your au pair that during their working hours they can answer their phone and make quick arrangements, but that they should not otherwise be on the phone whilst they are looking after your children.
19. If there is something that you are not happy about concerning the au pair, think carefully about how to speak to her/him about it, so as not to offend them. But do make sure you talk about things, as any unresolved problems will lead to bad feeling and then further problems. Assure your au pair that they must tell you if they are unhappy about something, as maybe it's possible to change that element. Good communication is essential, negatives and positives. Maybe fix a regular time and place for both sides to discuss any problems, this might not be necessary when you have known them for longer.
Do ask us at any time if you need more guidance here.
20. Make sure your au pair is always clear about what she/he should be doing or not doing, that is the key to success. In the early days you will be telling them a lot, and repeating yourself. But after a couple of months they will know what's what and you will probably only rarely have to explain or remind them of something. Remember, with their English being less than perfect, they might not necessarily understand everything the first time (and they probably won't speak up on every occasion when they have not understood you – often they don't even realise that they haven't understood properly.)
21. Do give your au pair positive feedback and encouragement, it will motivate them to do even better.
22. If any of your children have difficulties warming to your new au pair take action. Obviously this will be upsetting for the au pair, so do explain that this is normal behaviour. It does happen, because the children sometimes feel that the au pair is there to replace their Mummy, not just help their Mummy. Organise activities which your au pair can do with that child, which the child particularly likes to do, be it playing their favourite game, reading their favourite book, going to the park, making their favourite food, or baking their favourite cake! Explain that your au pair being there means that you will have extra time to play and spend quality time with them yourself!
23. Explain to your au pair about keeping themselves safe, particularly if you live in a large town/city. Tell them to travel back with someone else etc. Make sure you have a system which ensures that no one is locked out at night (as once nearly happened with us – now whoever is out has to leave a large sign on the door to say so and remove it when they return home).
24. Do bear in mind that your au pair might feel a bit homesick at the start. They will soon become part of your family, but initially even the most out-going au pair might feel like a stranger, in a strange family, in a foreign country, and the agreed to many months ahead may feel rather daunting!
25. Most of all! Enjoy your heavenly au pair. Don't feel guilty if having your au pair now means that you can put your feet up occasionally!!
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