10 Tips for Au Pair Survival
By Olivia Brett (Editor)
Sometimes being an au pair is just overwhelming! Here are my top 10 tips for not only surviving, but also enjoying the experience.
1. It’s all about tactics
What’s your plan of attack? Be prepared with a mental list of the most important things the host parents need you to do by the time they get home, and then plan what time you will do them. It might help the kids behave better too; if they’re used to having a bath at 6, they probably won’t cry about it as much (hopefully.)
2. Realise that things won’t always go to plan….
Sometimes you have three missed calls from the host mum, the dinner is late, one kid is covered in paint, the other kid is screaming he wants more chocolate whilst banging his head against the wall…and the dog’s done a poo in the bathroom. That’s ok. Whether or not the host family understands, it happens.
3. …But be able to cope anyway
Although after a bad day it’s tempting to either:
1) Dramatically run out the door as soon as the host parents open it
2) Start shouting at them about their uncontrollable children
It’s probably better to talk to them in a calm way about what’s happened and make a plan with them for how to fix things. Chances are the parents don’t know how difficult the kids can be with you.
4. Discipline isn’t just the naughty corner
Praise good behaviour in an exaggerated way and ignore things you don’t like. It’s a method proven by child psychologists! When the 5 year old shares his chocolate with his sister, tell him how good he’s being, give him a cuddle. When he spits, or recites all the bad words the knows, ignore it. He wants your attention! (If he’s being violent don’t ignore it though, he needs to know that’s not ok.)
5. Have an escape plan
At the end of a Wednesday you probably just want to switch off from work, maybe have a relaxing evening of wine, ice cream and skyping friends. In reality, if you live with the family you may end up with a number of lovely alternatives including : a 2 year banging on your door because he needs to “faire caca”, sitting on the sofa wondering if it’s ok to put the tv on, getting asked by the kids to play barbies, accidentally and very awkwardly walking into your host mum’s dinner party….the list goes on. How to avoid this? Make plans with other au pairs, go to the cinema on your own (that’s ok in Paris I promise) and tell the family in advance so they know you’re safe, stay at a friend’s house….just escape, you need your space!
6. Dealing with the most difficult part of the job
…The parents. Some host parents are great! But many others, sadly, are not. Many don’t realise that shouting at you isn’t ok, asking you to become a femme de menage isn’t acceptable, and that forgetting to tell you about babysitting when you had plans is more than slightly annoying. The language barrier is tough but it’s probably best to try and talk it out in a civilised way. That worked for me! If, however, it gets really bad – think about changing. Not being paid properly, 12 hour days and no gratitude? No thanks.
7. Enjoy Paris
Let’s be honest, as much as you like children (..ahem…) you probably came to Paris for the experience of living in Paris. Make the most of it in your time off and then work won’t seem so tough.
8. Enjoy the job
It’s not the most glamorous job being covered in cake mix, playing dress up or cleaning marker off the walls, but you can always convince the kids to play games that you prefer (cache-cache is actually quite fun). Plan activities that will get everyone out the house, the time will go so much faster. Every child is cute sometimes, find out what makes them act nicely (activities they like, games, attention, books with pictures) and do more of that!
9. Learn French
It seems obvious but many au pairs actually never get to a high level of french. Talk to people in bars and cafes, find some French friends (yes, it is possible…honestly). Even if you’re supposed to be speaking to the kids in English, understanding some French will make daily life so so much easier.
As long as the kids are safe and the parents are happy – your job is done!
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