What does it take to be a good Host Family? Is your family missing the mark or have you gone through multiple Au Pairs who weren’t happy? Assuming you did a great job recruiting and selecting your Au Pair, it may be necessary to reflect inward and analyze your actions and/or inactions to determine if your are responsible for the dysfunction or problems. It might not be that you chose the “wrong” Au Pair.
The most obvious way to avoid some of the pitfalls that Host Families experience is through honest communication. The Host Family must be upfront and descriptive with their Au Pair during the selection process in order to avoid “shock and awe” during the first few weeks after the Au Pair’s arrival. You will need to know a fair amount of background information on your Au Pair in order to be an understanding Host Family. Remember, you are not only a second family for your Au Pair, but you are also her employer and coach. Yes, I said “coach.” For the first month or so, you will be her coach as she is adjusting to a new culture, living arrangement and job.
As the Host Mom or Host Dad, how you treat and manage your Au Pair will have a huge impact on how well the year goes. Here are some things to consider:
Things we cannot easily change: Physical Environment
For most Au Pairs, their immediate physical environment is important (i.e. having a nice bedroom, a private bathroom, a tv in their room, WIFI access etc…). Tell your prospective Au Pairs about the environment you will be providing, take photos or video and send maps. If you live an hour from downtown, tell them! If you exaggerate or make things appear rosier than they are, you are setting your Au Pair up for disappointment and this never ends well. After your Au Pair’s arrival sit down and have a chat about how she feels in her new environment. Is there anything that makes her feel uncomfortable? Be sure to listen. Even if there are things that you cannot change, she will appreciate that you cared enough to ask. Build a positive relationship with your Au Pair by showing her you care.
Training and Instructions
Did you effectively prepare your Au Pair for the job that lay ahead? Did you create a Handbook and give your Au Pair a schedule to assist her in the first few weeks? Did you spend time with her modelling the family’s routine? The path to success involves breaking the job down into smaller parts. In other words, give her training and instructions. Don’t assume she will just figure things out. Build your Au Pair’s confidence by encouraging the perception of her capabilities.
Motivation, Satisfaction and Performance
Everyone is motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Your Au Pair’s motivation, satisfaction and performance is directly influenced by how you treat and reward her. Find out what motivates your Au Pair. Ask her about her past experiences or jobs and get her to tell you about times where she felt unappreciated or undervalued. This might give you a good idea of the type of worker your Au Pair is and what motivates her.
Motivation through Consequence and Positive Reinforcement
Some Au Pairs are motivated by the feelings of accomplishment and pride in a job well done. Others are motivated by days off, extra bonuses or gifts of thanks. We all need to feel valued. How have you displayed to your Au Pair that you value her? Is it possible that the way in which you were trying to display or show appreciation was not a way in which you Au Pair felt value? Remember, you are likely from a completely different generation that your Au Pair and the things that may motivate you are not necessarily the same things that will motivate your Au Pair. Whereas you may perceive value in the opportunity to make extra money (extra babysitting for example), your Au Pair may believe there is more value in time-off. Make sure the rewards you offer your Au Pair are ones she values, otherwise the rewards serve no purpose and will not contribute to your Au Pair’s motivation.
Micromanaging and Autonomy
Are you trying to plan every minute of your Au Pair’s day and are you hyper-critical of how she completes a task? Showing your Au Pair that you trust her and believe she is capable of making good decisions is important. Remind yourself and your Au Pair that you hired HER over others for good reasons. If you are the type of person that has a difficult time handing over the reins to someone else, you are going to have to learn to take a step back. You hired your Au Pair to be with your children and take on small tasks while you are away from the home and therefore you are going to have to relinquish some control.
All Things Equal
Are you paying your Au Pair equitably and offering her reasonable and agreed upon working conditions/hours? Au Pairs have a vast network and if you are overworking your Au Pair and not compensating her for hours worked (minimum wage at least) it won’t be long before she begins to compare her situation to that of other Au Pairs. If your Au Pair perceives her situation to be unfavourable compared to her Au Pair friends then she will feel cheated and her motivation and job satisfaction and performance will bottom out. It won’t be long before she starts searching for a new family. Make sure you are following the Labor Standards of your province. Obviously all Au Pair jobs are not equal, but you will level the playing field if you are at least following the rules.
Make sure you are sitting down with your Au Pair and talking about successes and failures. If your Au Pair is struggling with the morning routine or has reached a roadblock dealing with a child’s difficult behaviour you need to know about it and help her find solutions. This is where the coaching I mentioned earlier comes into play. If you help her succeed you will build a stronger relationship with your Au Pair. She needs to trust that you will be there for her, to teach, coach and mentor.
Canadian Au Pair Solutions believes in building strong Au Pair/Host Family relationships. Our Memberships are not just for families who are new to the Au Pair childcare solution but also for families who may have tried hiring an Au Pair in the past but for one reason or another been unsuccessful. Our reference guides and documents assist families prepare for a successful Au Pair experience. Let us know how we could help you.
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