It is well-known that children learn from those who they spend time with and value. Therefore, spending up to 45 hours a week with your host children means that you are a huge role model in their lives. Your host children look up to you for guidance and reassurance and so it is important that you set a good example for them at all times. This being said, if your host children sense that you are not enjoying the time you spend together, they too will begin to feel negatively about the time you share. To be the best au pair you can be, it should not only be the children who are having fun—it should be you, too! You must love the activities you are doing. So here are a few tips to make your working hours as much fun as possible for both you and your host children …
Heading into a 10-hour work day without any plans of what you are going to do will make the time drag by, so it is imperative that you spend some time preparing. Speak to your host parents about what needs to be accomplished throughout the day and work around that. From there, check out neighborhood trails, use Pinterest for arts, crafts and baking ideas, talk to au pairs in your local area and on social media and find activities to keep everyone happy, including you. Spending 30 minutes of your own time planning what you are going to do the following day will make your day go smoother and it will be much more enjoyable for everyone.
Everyone enjoys knowing what they are doing and when things are happening, so even if your host parents don’t give you a schedule to follow whilst you’re working, create one yourself. If your host children are of an age where they are able to follow schedules themselves, this will also help give them some ownership over their time and they will know what is expected of them at what time. Write in all the essential things first — activities and events that are always part of the day, meal times and quiet times, etc. Also put time limits on all the fun things too—arts and crafts, playing outside, dress up. It is alright if these things run longer or shorter than initially planned but it’s beneficial for everyone to know that an activity isn’t going to be continuing indefinitely.
Your host family had the choice of thousands of au pairs but they chose you. Why did they choose you? It was probably because you displayed qualities and interests during the matching process that they would like you to expose their children to. Therefore, you don’t always have to let your host children take the lead on what they want to do, but rather introduce them to your passions. Whether you love sports, socializing, baking, reading or anything else, ensure that you tailor the activity so that it is appropriate for your host children’s age(s) and do something you love. Maybe they will find a new hobby, too!
Joy can be found as an au pair through seeing your host children succeed and be the best versions of themselves they can be. Have conversations with your host parents about what tasks they would like to see their children accomplish over the coming weeks or months and find activities to help your host children develop these skills in a fun way. Whether it be getting themselves dressed, making their bed, clearing the table, doing their own laundry or any other skills, if you make the activity enjoyable your host children will be engaged and thrive. That being said, it is also good to show some initiative—you spend a lot of time with your host children and can truly see what they are capable of. Helping your host child learn a new life skill which then they are able to surprise their parents with is also a great feeling and one that your host parents will be grateful that you spent the time teaching.
Try, when possible, to get everyone outside every day. Whether it’s a warm day or the snow is falling, dress appropriately and get outside. Fresh air does wonders for your host child’s wellbeing and your own mental health. It will help put inside stresses into proportion—plus, seeing different things can be a great way for you to have new conversations than the ones you appear to be repeating when you are staring at the same four walls for hours. Some days it may be a treasure hunt or an ‘I spy…’ activity. Other days, it may be a walk around the neighborhood or making mud pies in the back yard. Whatever it is, it will give you and the kids the chance to take some deep breaths and recharge in a different environment, making things feel more manageable.
Ten hours is a long shift—and at times, your host children and you will need a break from one another. This doesn’t mean that you can walk away, but rather, you help you host child develop the skills needed to be able to occupy themselves so that you can take a step back and enjoy watching them discover things for themselves. It can be a challenge for children to be comfortable playing alone and so it may take some time but helping them get started before stepping out of the action for a few moments and subsequently reintegrating yourself into the game is a great way for your host children to see that they don’t need to rely on you all day. Plus, it gives you both the break you need.
You’ve made it to hour 42 of the week and you’ve exhausted all the planned games and activities. Your schedule has run quicker than planned and your host children are complaining that they are bored. What do you do? First, breathe—you’re doing a wonderful job. Next, embrace the boredom! Many studies (including one conducted at Pennsylvania State University) have found that people who experience periods of boredom perform better in creativity tests than those who do not. In these slower moments, listen to your host children and really engage with them. Suggest some activities and be open to their ideas. Look for activities together online, or simply provide them with resources so they can have fun and do whatever they want. Obviously you need to be ensuring the activities are safe and will not damage anything—but allow your host kids to be a little weird, to use things in ways that they were not necessarily intended, and to be creative. Often times, these spur-of-the-moment, child-led activities are the fun memories that you will remember when your time together comes to an end.
Don’t try to be a superhero. If you are struggling and need support, reach out to the support networks you have around you—but make sure that you put in the work too. Prepare and plan for the time you spend with your host children as best as possible. Make sure that you are balancing your schedule with time indoors and out; time playing with your host children and time for them to discover the world independently; time doing what they want and time introducing them to your favorite things. It will take some work, but when you find that right balance, the time you spend with your host children will become the best time of your week.
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