However, there are certain characteristics an au pair should have, or in the very least strive to have or emulate, in order to make their placement a successful and fulfilling one.
1. Ability to communicate openly and effectively
This is easily the characteristic we emphasize the most here at International Nannies & Homecare Ltd as one of the most important an au pair should have.
It is important to communicate with both the children in your care and their parents to ensure the children are safe, healthy, and happy. A great way to set the precedent for open and effective communication is to sit down with your host family during the first week of your contract and discuss things like: household rules, bedtimes, mealtimes, and techniques the parents use to teach and discipline their children. If there’s ever anything you’re unsure about as far as taking care of the children, just ask the parents!
A mantra you’ll hear over and over throughout our au pair orientation and follow-up consultations is when in doubt, just ask. If you make a conscious effort to communicate, the odds are that you will avoid further conflict and confusion in the future.
Your host family chose you for a reason, which means they are counting on you and trusting you to make decisions in the best interest of their children.
The last thing they’ll want to do is tell you to do every little thing! This is why it’s important that you think ahead, take initiative, and be proactive with your decisions! And if you make a decision that doesn’t work out, try a different technique next time or ask your host parents for suggestions. There is nothing wrong with asking for help; that in itself is part of being proactive!
The more confident and proactive you are, the more confidence your host parents will have in you, and the more likely you are to have a successful au pair placement!
3. Common sense
Another part of being proactive is using your common sense.
For instance, when the children have finished their lunches, clean up after them, or, if they’re old enough, have them help you by bringing their dishes to you so you can wash them or put them in the dishwasher. If it’s raining outside (as it so often does here in Vancouver and other parts of Canada), make sure the children put on their rain jackets that day. Or, if it’s a sweltering summer day, make sure the children don’t leave the house without sunscreen!
Again, if you have any doubts about what the proper action is to take in a situation, just ask! Your host parents will be grateful you did.
4. Common courtesy
In the same vein as common sense, practicing common courtesy is a great way to build trust and rapport with your host family.
As an au pair, you will have the opportunity to not only work for a family and take care of their children, but also be included as an extended member of the family, and being a part of a family comes with its own set of responsibilities.
One example of common courtesy might be helping your host family clean up after a family dinner, or offering to help fold laundry or do other chores after the children have gone to sleep, even (and sometimes especially) when you’re not working. Offering to lend a helping hand and remembering that you are a guest in their household can go a long way towards creating a positive relationship with your host family.
As an au pair, you are there to be on a team with the parents, as far as taking care of the children and ensuring their safety and entertainment goes.
There’s a reason you have to be at least 18 years old to become an au pair; families don’t want another child in their home to look after, but rather a responsible, mature adult who will work with them, not against them, in the care of their children.
Being a team player, just like being communicative , proactive, and practicing common sense and common courtesy, are all incredibly important characteristics a good au pair should have.
We believe that the more aware we are of each of these characteristics, and the more we strive to emulate them, the more likely we are to have a positive and fulfilling time as an au pair. This does not mean that we expect our au pairs to be perfect! Part of being human is just the opposite: being imperfect.
We all make mistakes, and each au pair inevitably will make a few mistakes and have to deal with the consequences and try and improve for next time. But that’s okay.
All we can ask is that you try your best. It’s all any of us can do.