Typical problems with au pairs. Find out what can cause problems with an au pair and how to solve them!
Read more about “Problems with the au pair” here.
Do you have problems with the au pair? Life with an au pair is not always perfect. However, it is rare that au pairs and host families have real issues. Usually, you have to deal with small problems that are mostly caused by inexperience on both sides, or because you don’t always know right away what to do. The most important thing is to talk to your au pair if there is a problem. Most bigger problems in your life with the au pair actually come from not talking about smaller things right away.
One of the typical problems between au pairs and host families is that they have different ideas about managing the household and taking care of the children. The host family thinks the au pair is making a mistake, but the au pair can’t possibly know how you want them to go about something if you don’t say it. Therefore, after the first few weeks with the au pair, you should all sit down and talk to get potential problems out of the way as soon as possible.
For all the different problems between au pairs and host families, there are no perfect solutions. Every au pair and every host family is different. However, there are some common problems between au pairs and host families. In the following we will address them and offer possible solutions.
Problem: we feel uncomfortable and unhappy with the au pair.
Reason: you have put up with something for way too long instead of talking about it!
Solution: talk to the au pair! Explain that you have noticed negative vibes in the house and that everybody seems to be unhappy. Ask the au pair if something is bothering them. Encourage the au pair to talk openly. Sometimes, you only have to make small adjustments so that the au pair and ultimately you as well will feel happy again. If you notice a problem, you shouldn’t wait too long to address it. If the au pair does something that really bothers you, talk about it right away. Ask the au pair to speak their mind freely, too. The au pair should feel comfortable coming to you if there is a problem.
Problem: we are not happy with the work of the au pair
Reason: you have been too vague about what you want the au pair to do. You haven’t communicated your ideas and wishes clearly, or the au pair didn’t understand them. You probably expect too much from the au pair.
Solution: state clearly what you expect the au pair to do in your house and how you want the au pair to complete each task . If you think the au pair doesn’t speak the language well enough yet to understand it, show the au pair how to do the work and then do it a couple of times together. The au pair will see how you like to do things around the house and will remember it for the future.
Problem: our au pair doesn’t talk
Reason: your au pair doesn’t feel comfortable speaking a foreign language or your au pair is homesick.
Solution: talk to the au pair as much as possible during the first few weeks. Ask the au pair questions that are easy to answer. This will help your au pair to open up and encourage them to speak in the foreign language. Ask if it is okay for the au pair if you correct mistakes. Try to help your au pair to meet other young people and to make friends and make sure the au pair is taking language classes.
Problem: the language. Our au pair doesn’t seem to learn the language at all.
Reason: the au pair doesn’t have the opportunity to speak to adults in the foreign language; the au pair is shy; the au pair isn’t taking the language classes seriously.
Solution: speak to your au pair only in your language! Go through with it even though it seems hard at first. Show your au pair the objects you are talking about or draw them. Even if you talk about your day, do it in your language. When you eat together, you could come up with a new ritual where everybody has to talk for a couple of minutes about their day. Ask your au pair to do the same. With this ritual, you will not only see how your au pair feels, but you will also see how fast your au pair’s language skills improve.
Problem: our au pair doesn’t care about our children
Reason: if you ask the au pair, you will see that this is not true. The au pair does care about your children but is too shy to say something wrong, especially if the au pair doesn’t feel comfortable speaking a foreign language. This makes it hard for the au pair to get along with your children.
Solution: as always, talk about it with your au pair. Be honest and tell the au pair that you think they don’t care about your children. Tell the au pair what your children like to do, what their favorite games are and what you expect the au pair to do with them. Show the au pair your children’s favorite toys and explain what other activities would be fun to do.
Problem: our au pair doesn’t help around the house
Reason: your au pair doesn’t speak the language well and has not understood what to do exactly, your au pair is not used to helping with chores; your au pair did understand what to do but is not sure HOW to complete the task.
Solution: create a weekly plan where you write down all the tasks that you expect the au pair to do. Go through this list together with your au pair, and talk about every single task. Don’t just talk about the tasks, show your au pair how to do each task!
Problem : our au pair is homesick
Reason: your au pair is far away from home, family and friends; the au pair hasn’t found any friends in your town yet and is bored.
Solution: distraction is the best cure for homesickness. Whenever you go somewhere, take the au pair with you. It doesn’t matter if you’re just going shopping or to the dentist, every distraction helps if your au pair feels homesick. The more distraction the au pair has, the less homesick they will be. Remind your au pair that they could go to an au pair gathering in your area to meet other au pairs from the region and make new friends.
Problem: our au pair uses our phone a lot
Reason : your au pair is bored or homesick and wants to talk to friends and family back home
Solution : au pairs and host families argue a lot about the phone bill. Make it clear from the beginning if and how often your au pair can use your phone. If you allow the au pair to use your phone, be very clear how much you are willing to pay for the au pair’s phone calls. Be firm! If the au pair wants to use the phone more, the au pair will have to pay for the additional costs. If this doesn’t work, show your au pair a public phone from where the au pair can call back home.
Problem : our au pair often gets phone calls late at night
Reason: there is a big time difference between your country and the au pair’s country
Solution : explain to the au pair until what time you allow phone calls. Write it down in the house rules that you give the au pair after arrival.
If there is a big time difference between your and the au pair’s country, you might want to think about allowing later phone calls on weekends. If nothing changes and your are still bothered by late-night calls, answer the phone and explain calmly to the caller that your family doesn’t appreciate phone calls at this hour.
Problem : our au pair doesn’t meet new people and doesn’t have any friends
Reason : there are no young people where you live; your au pair is shy and has trouble meeting new people
Solution : if you found your au pair through an agency, contact the au pair agency. If it is a good and competent agency, they will probably be able to give you a list of phone numbers of other au pairs that live in your area. Some agencies organize regular au pair gatherings. If so, ask the agency when and where the next meeting is planned.
In bigger cities you can often find international clubs that organize au pair meetings. Search together with your au pair for such a meeting. Also, taking language classes at an institute is a good way for your au pair to meet new people. Make sure to sign the au pair up for language classes as soon as possible.
Double check the au pair’s working schedule that you came up with. Does your au pair even have time to go out and meet new people? Does your au pair have a bus or subway ticket? If not, using public transportation to go somewhere might be too expensive for the au pair and it would mean spending most of the pocket money on transportation.
Make suggestions! What could the au pair do? Maybe there is a sports club in your area where the au pair could meet other young people. You could even help your au pair to become a member.
Problem : our au pair doesn’t give us any privacy
reason: the au pair room is not comfortable; the au pair might think that not spending time with the family is impolite; free time and working hours are not clearly separated; the au pair doesn’t have a computer, TV or radio in their room.
Solution : be honest and tell the au pair that you need some space. Look carefully around the au pair’s room. Ask yourself if the room is really comfortable. If the room doesn’t have a TV, we recommend getting the au pair a TV so the au pair won’t have to watch TV with you in your living room.
Ask yourself if you have done enough for the mobility of your au pair. If you live in the country and it is expensive to get to the next big city by public transportation, you should buy a monthly ticket for your au pair or offer your car. In our experience, many au pairs simply cannot afford to pay for public transportation.
Problem: the au pair doesn’t know how to handle money
Reason : your au pair is still young and probably doesn’t know how to handle money yet
Solution: if you realize that your au pair has money problems, we recommend paying the pocket money weekly instead of monthly. The au pair is still very young and might be earning money for the first time and might not know how to save money yet. Actually, many adults have the same problem. If you transfer the pocket money into the au pair’s account every week, it should solve this problem. Keep in mind that you have to transfer the money into a bank account if you want to get a tax deduction.
Problem : the au pair always has people over that we don’t know
Reason : you haven’t set the boundaries clearly and haven’t set any rules about having somebody over; the au pair is used to having people over at home, so is doing the same at your house.
solutions: talk to your au pair about the rules you have in your house for having friends over. Ideally, the au pair can find these rules in the house rules you gave the au pair after arrival . It is very common that au pairs visit each other on weekends and like to spend time together or have sleep-overs. A host mom explains how they handled the situation at their house: “We worked out with our au pair that she had to introduce her friends to us when they came over for the first time and give us some general information about them before that.” Just be open to your au pair about the visitors in your house. The more the au pair tells you about them, the better. Ultimately though, it is your decision if you want to allow the au pair to have friends over at your house or not.
Problem: our au pair always parks our children in front of the TV
Reason: your au pair doesn’t know what to do with the children; your au pair doesn’t know yet what your children like and what not.
Solution: explain to the au pair how much TV your children are allowed to watch and also at what time they can watch TV. Tell the au pair that you don’t want your children to sit in front of the TV all day. If it helps, mark the shows that your children are allowed to watch in the TV guide.
Problem: our au pair stays out until late at night and is tired and grumpy the next day
Reason: your au pair is not aware of the responsibilities that come with the job and doesn’t know where to place their priorities.
Solution: if this problem comes up, it is very important to talk to the au pair about it. Make it clear that the au pair has to take the work seriously and that helping you with your children and around the house are the au pair’s top priorities at the moment. Explain that you don’t feel comfortable leaving the au pair with your children and the household if the au pair is tired all the time. Set a curfew and establish on which days the au pair can go out and on which days the au pair has to stay at home.
Problem: our au pair smokes even though the application said that the au pair was a nonsmoker
Solution: talk to your au pair about this. Ask why the au pair lied about smoking in the application. Tell the au pair that nobody can smoke around your children and that you don’t want anybody to smoke in your house. Ask your au pair to smoke outside.
Problem: our au pair doesn’t respect our privacy and goes through our things.
Reason: apparently your au pair is a very curious person.
Solution: you need to address this problem! Let the au pair know that you are very upset and that you cannot tolerate this behavior. Your private life is exactly that – private, and the au pair has to respect this. The au pair has to stay out of your closets! The au pair has to understand that you don’t want anybody snooping around in your private things. To make it even clearer, you could ask your au pair if they would like it if somebody went through their things.
Problem: our au pair eats too much candy
Reason: some au pairs need some time to get used to the food in a different country. Ask your au pair what food the au pair doesn’t like and try to consider this when you prepare the meals.
Solution: if you come across this problem, talk to your au pair about being a role model for your children. If you don’t want your children to eat candy and the au pair does it all the time, the au pair is hardly a positive role model for your kids. Ask the au pair to stop eating candy in front of the children. Suggest that the au pair eat the candy in the au pair room after work.
Problem: we don’t get along with the au pair
Reason: the general terms between you and the au pair are not clear enough; the au pair agency didn’t consider your wishes when looking for an au pair for you; you didn’t spend enough time looking for an au pair or didn’t choose carefully enough; you didn’t ask the au pair the right questions.
Solution: don’t give up right away when you notice bad vibes between you and the au pair. Sometimes, these things need time. Think about what is important to you and what it is exactly that bothers you about the au pair. Usually, you can solve these problems by talking to the au pair. Really try to work on the problems with the au pair. The au pair is still young and you need to be patient. If talking doesn’t help and you are not able to come to a solution, you might want to consider an au pair change. If you and the au pair are very different and really don’t like each other you will keep having problems. If this is the case, it is better to have a miserable end than endless misery; end the working contract with the au pair, or sign a dissolution contract.
Problem: our au pair has a relationship and neglects work
Solution: unfortunately, this is a common problem between host families and au pairs . Love is a beautiful thing, but if you notice that the au pair’s new relationship is affecting your au pair’s work, you should talk about it with the au pair. Tell the au pair that your are happy for their new found love, but also make it clear that the au pair’s first priority should be the work in your house, and that you expect the au pair to be responsible. Ask the au pair to focus on work during working hours and to enjoy being in love in their free time. It helps if you let your au pair’s partner into your life. Invite the boyfriend or girlfriend over for dinner. This way, you get to know them and it will help tighten your relationship with the au pair. The au pair will see that you care about their life.
If you are very close to your au pair, ask about contraception and offer your help. If you have a female au pair, also talk about avoiding pregnancy and birth control.
Problem: our au pair is messy and leaves things lying around the house
Solution: if your au pair is messy, it means more work for you. We recommend putting all the things that the au pair left scattered around the house in front of the au pair room. Usually, the au pair gets the hint. If nothing changes though, talk to your au pair and see what you can do about it. Tell the au pair that being orderly is important to you and that you expect it from the au pair as well. Considering that the au pair is supposed to be a positive role model for your children, you should not ignore this problem.
Problem: our au pair has too many appointments
Solution: is your au pair always busy, or has an appointment whenever you need a babysitter? Get a big family calendar with a lot of space to write in it. Put it in a central location in your house. Or – if you and the au pair have a smartphone – you could use Google Calendar instead. Write down all your appointments. Ask your au pair to write down theirs too as soon as possible. This is an easy way to know in advance everybody’s upcoming appointments, and it makes it easier to plan ahead.
problem: our au pair wants to change host families
Reason: the au pair thinks the problems with your family cannot be resolved; your au pair wants a different setting; your au pair feels overwhelmed.
Solution: just like you have certain ideas and expectations, so does the au pair, and it could be that your au pair imagined staying in a completely different family setting. In most cases, if an au pair wants to change host families it is because au pair and host family don’t get along at all, or because the au pair is completely overwhelmed with the new life and the expectations of the host family.
Changing host families usually doesn’t happen over night. So, after your au pair expresses the wish to change host families, you will still have to live together under the same roof for a while.
Make the best of your remaining time with the au pair. It is always better if the au pair confides in you and is open about wanting to change families than staying and neglecting the work with the children and around the house.
In this section, we have talked about the most common problems host families have with au pairs. Obviously, it is impossible to tackle them all. Also, we would like to stress that taking in an au pair doesn’t automatically mean that you will have problems. Rather, we wanted to offer some guidelines and quick solutions for problems you might have with your au pair. The idea is to give you some general advice on how to deal with problems quickly and effectively. The advice we have given here for solving problems with au pairs is proven to work.
As always, when dealing with problems, we recommend treating the au pair respectfully and being open-minded. Act towards the au pair the same way you would want somebody to act towards your own child. Always double-check if your expectations are not too high. Look for solutions and keep in mind that the au pair is a guest in your house and not a maid.