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New au pair finding it hard to engage with child

(17 Posts)
MrsDibble Tue 10-Sep-13 22:33:54

My new au pair is very quiet, and is finding it difficult to engage with my very vivacious daughter (4 nearly 5). Sometimes I work from home, and so it is important to me that au pair can keep daughter engaged so that she doesn't keep coming to seek me out. When I am not there I want my daughter to be happy with her.

The au pair is very sweet and pleasant (she is actually 24 so I hoped would be more confident) but seems very shy indeed. I realise that language is often a problem at the beginning because she is not our first au pair. She is going to start English lessons soon.

She can be very silent and if I am there doesn't really say much to DD. When I brought my daughter downstairs for breakfast this morning (with the idea that the au pair would deal with breakfast) she sat there silently while I tried to explain to dd that she needed to stay with the au pair.

Can anyone suggest any tactics for helping her get over this and engage more?

We have had a good chat with her (husband speaks her language, French, fluently and I speak enough to get by) and she thinks she can cope and will be able to improve things.

She explained that when she has looked after children in France it is not expected for her to suggest and lead activities with the children but just mind them while they play. We have explained that this is not how it will work here, and that she needs to start an activities, whether it be crafts, baking, playing outside or with toys etc. and make it interesting. Obviously my child will sometimes say what she wants to do, and does have alot of her own ideas, but this will not always work and I would expect an adult to take the lead. She thinks she can manage this, but I wondered if any one has similar experiences or can give me any suggestions to help.

I did give her a list of things my daughter enjoys at the beginning (and in a letter following a Skype interview) so I have not just thrown her in at the deep end. They did go swimming together this afternoon (speaking of the deep end) which seemed to go well.

I am also pregnant with second child, whilst working at an often difficult job, so I need all the help I can get!

RussianBlu Tue 10-Sep-13 23:02:57

Maybe she just feels self conscious and is very quiet only when you are there due to her shyness?

NomDeClavier Wed 11-Sep-13 09:01:02

I suspect what she says is true and she doesn't actually have the foggiest idea what to do. In France children are certainly expected to play by themselves from a very early age and although an adult might engage with an activity occasionally to be an additional player in a board game or bake with them, the majority of the time they'd be amusing themselves so she will be unused to working with a child who needs this much attention (not that the attention your DD needs is unusual for the UK, but it's unusual for the AP). This also means she probably doesn't know how to play with or interact with a child playing, and once your DD starts an activity she'll think 'okay that's it, child amused for 15/20mins' without realising your DD likes to chat or have the AP do whatever it is alongside her sometimes.

This means you're going to have to draw up a fairly comprehensive plan/list of activities. You can find all kinds of inspiration on Pinterest here and here are good boards. It may also make it easier to segment the time so she has a routine or structure to follow and therefore doesn't start baking 5 minutes before dinner.

Do stress that this timetable is an idea and if your DD has a different idea she should do that instead. So an example for a full day might be after breakfast they do a craft from a list you've found, then play outside/go to the park/go swimming, then prepare lunch together, then play a board game or read some stories or have a pretend tea party, then do some baking or painting or play dough or other 'messy activity' then clean up and so on... But if in the morning your DD decides that instead of a craft she wants to play dressing up then they should do that instead. Does that make sense?

Is your DD at school at all? What kind of hours is your AP doing with her?

MrsDibble Wed 11-Sep-13 09:35:13

yes, that's very helpful, thanks. useful to know that this is probably the norm in France. Last au pair certainly started off being a lot stricter than I would like, and that also accords with my experience of French families.

She won't be doing many full days (if any) because DD is starting school tomorrow.

So the AP will mainly be doing mornings (7-9am ish) and after school (3.10 until we get home which varies).

I do think she is also self conscious because I have been there though, but I will be working from home some afternoons in future.

A big part of it is that DD likes to chat alongside whatever she is doing and that is why she is getting bored and coming looking for me. She is an only child at the moment, and will be alot older than her the new baby when it comes, so it is a bit different to having two children of similar age who can play together with the adult sorting out squabbles etc.

NomDeClavier Wed 11-Sep-13 09:42:09

Things really should ease up once school starts. She'll only have to provide an activity or two because the rest of the time will be taken up with fairly functional tasks, and as they establish a relationship it'll become easier for the AP to chat with her as they do an activity or set DD up with something at the kitchen table while she gets on with something else. Then if you need full day care at the October half term etc she'll have a better idea and you'll feel more comfortable giving a level of guidance she needs about activities.

Bonsoir Wed 11-Sep-13 09:46:22

As others have said, I agree that there is probably a significant issue of different cultural expectations and your au pair needs to be coached very significantly to interact with your DD in a way you deem acceptable.

kronenborg Wed 11-Sep-13 11:00:27

we had a new (and our first) au pair starting 4 weeks ago - and we had the same problem.

our au pair is polish, and hasnt had an au pair job before - she is also significantly younger (19). her interactions with the children were very suboptimal - long periods of silence, and essentially being in the same room as the children, but not properly interacting.

we made our expectations clear from the interview process, and set these out again upon her arrival with us. we put a lot of effort into coaching her on how to interact with the kids, gave her ideas and so on...but unfortunately she hasnt shown any improvement, and we are maxed out on the time we can devote to helping her.

for this, and a number of other reasons, we have decided to cut our losses, serve notice, and go about finding another au pair.

all a bit nerve wracking really - you always wonder if its going to end up being a case of "better the devil you know" - but from our point of view, THE most important skill an au pair has is the ability to have a positive and healthy interaction with the children. we figured cutting our losses early, although a difficult decision to make, would probably be the best option for everyone in the long run.

MrsDibble Wed 11-Sep-13 14:06:13

Hi Kronenborg. Sounds as though your priorities are the same as ours. We haven't given it 4 weeks yet though, which seems a reasonable interval - ours has only been here a week and a half so far.

I'm hoping English lessons will help.

Things do seem a bit better today since we had a chat and so I am quite hopeful.

Hope you find someone good, Kronenborg!

Bonsoir Wed 11-Sep-13 14:14:28

There are strong cultural predictors of the ability of au pairs and nannies to interact with the DC. Different cultures/nationalities have different skill sets when it comes to child raising and domestic work.

My friends with Philippina nannies/housekeepers say how brilliant they are at keeping the DC clean and safe, not so brilliant at doing anything with them.

Metrobaby Wed 11-Sep-13 15:24:48

I don't believe the ability to engage with children is due to cultural or age differences at all. I've hosted a few APs from various European countries and I find that it really is about whether an Au-Pair has a natural rapport and endless patience with children. Unfortunately, I've found this quality difficult to find.

IME, most APs will be the type to just sit and watch silently - thinking as long as they are keeping the children safe that is enough. Some even look bored, or prefer to leave the dc in front of the TV or any other electronic entertainment whilst they go up to their room. I also think if an AP is like this at the beginning, they are very unlikely to change. The APs I have had who really engaged with my dc, have been that way since day 1 - they don't need to be told or look to me for play suggestions nor have to rely on the TV etc for entertainment. They have also been far and away my best APs and integrated well within our family.

Unforutantely I have not yet figured out how to identify a natural at interview stage. I only can identify this once they arrive. If any others have any tips however, I'd be very interested.

hettienne Wed 11-Sep-13 20:28:29

You might need to adjust your expectations a bit - you are paying for a babysitter, not a nanny. Minding her while she plays, watching TV together, trips to the park is more realistic than lots of interacting and engaging activities.

andrea29 Wed 11-Sep-13 21:37:14

Agree with the last post. Au-pairs don't normally have much experience with interacting and engaging activities with children. I think what you describe is more like a nanny job description.

DalmationDots Wed 11-Sep-13 22:07:51

I think you need to give her a sort of timetable to get her going. Be very specific so she knows exactly what is expected. Over time she will feel more confident and hopefully interacting without needing the cue of the timetable.
e.g. 7:30am help DD get dressed in her uniform, brush her hair and tie it up
7:45am get DD some cereal for breakfast, help yourself to your breakfast, clear away into dishwasher
8am DD's teeth and shoes
8:10am leave house, walk to school, check with DD that she has everything. DD likes to play 'I spy...' on the way to school.

3:10pm collect DD from school, walk home - ask about her day and if there is any activity or game she would like to do after school
3:30pm DD to change out of uniform, she may come and see me in my study while she eats a snack of 1 apple.
3:45pm please make sure DD is away from my study so I can work. Please bake the cakes with DD, I have left the recipe on the kitchen table. DD knows where ingredients are kept.
4:30pm Ask DD to choose one of the following: watch TV, play in garden, play a board game, play with toys. Please play and chat with her.
5:30pm give DD her tea of sausages and mash
6pm I will finish working and come out of my study and take over DD.

It may make things seem regimented and boring but she probably feels lost and a bit unsure of expectations when you are also around. If while you're working you shut the study door and make sure it is very clear to DD that AP is in charge and you are not to be disturbed, this will help. AP need space to not feel watched and to feel in control.

MrsDibble Thu 12-Sep-13 20:49:05

Thanks for all of your help, but in fact things are improving a lot.

As mentioned we had a chat the evening after I posted, and in particular husband emphasised that she shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes in English. This has helped.

I don't agree that an au pair is just a babysitter - they are clearly not on the level of a nanny, but they do need to have a good relationship with the child. What I wanted was for her to talk to my child while they were playing or having breakfast etc, and she is now doing this a lot more.

I don't think we need to have a list of exactly what activities they should be doing at any given time - I want them to be able to be a bit spontaneous - but I've given her some more suggestions (there was a list of things dc likes to do in my original "instructions" together with timings for school pick ups etc).

Going to the park etc is ideal, but weather has been awful.

Mimishimi Fri 13-Sep-13 03:37:16

Yes, I don't think you should expect the au-pair to necessarily engage a lot with your daughter in terms of activities (beyond facilitating things like trips to the park etc) but you should expect her to make sure that your daughter is safe and well-cared for. Some people just are not chatty and it's not necessarily a bad experience for your daughter to learn that young ( as long as the AP is not sulky etc).

MGMidget Fri 13-Sep-13 09:11:48

I too look for au pairs who can engage with a child. I try to improve the likelihood of success by recruiting those who have a reasonable amount of experience with children backed up by a checkable reference. Given that an AP is expected to be treated like a member of the family it ought to be normal for them to engage with a child in the family not behave like a rather distant babysitter who turns up for a one-off babysitting evening.

Her language skills are probably holding her back from engaging in the chat with your daughter. Even with APs whose English is quite good I have found there can be a tendency to switch off from some of a child's general chat which is just 'noise' to them since they find it hard to understand. However, if she is motivated to learn English this is a really good way for her to learn as she needs to listen carefully. You could try encouraging her to ask your DD to repeat things she doesn't understand. It may also be a good exercise for your DD to improve the clarity of her speech to make herself understood. My DS is 5 and he has learned to express himself very well to APs which has been good for him generally.

A few suggestions to try:

Your DD is probably the right age to play some simple board games. This can be a good way to get the two of them playing together without the need for the AP to engage in complicated conversation once she knows how to play the game.

Arts and craft activities may also work well as plenty can be done/shown without needing too much discussion. You DD can chat and the AP can make approving/supporting simple comments and show her craft materials/demonstrate things to her to give her craft ideas.

If your DD likes music/singing and the AP doesn't feel too self conscious singing, maybe she could teach her some children's songs from her home country (assuming she knows any or can research them on the internet!).

Domesticette Fri 13-Sep-13 11:09:30

I've added 9 aupairs over 6 years. Most were excellent, some coasted along and 2 needed a nanny themselves. An au pair is supposed to be like a big sister..with responsibilities. My best girls became very good friends to my children, would initiate play and chit chat. The worst were uninterested and wanted to fill their cv with something to give the impression that they did something. If th y are too quiet it isn't great for your child. I would only put up with it if they were very good in other areas such as tidying up. If they are not good at either role, I would seek a replacement.

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