Looking after children who aren’t your own – whether you’re a great au pair, babysitter or nanny – can be one of the most rewarding experiences ever.
It can also be one of the most exhausting experiences you’ve ever had, so if you’re thinking about a job in childcare, you might want to read this…
Getting onto Their Level
Being an au pair or nanny sounds like a fun job, doesn’t it? An opportunity to work half-day and then still have time to do what you want to do. It doesn’t sound stressful, does it?
Reality flash: Looking after children is one of the hardest jobs on earth. Ask any parent. Especially the moms who stay at home all day raising their children. It’s no walk in the park, they’ll tell you.
But, luckily for you – at the end of the day, once your shift is over, you get to hand back the child and go about your evening plans and back to your own life.
Not everyone is cut out to look after children and get paid for it. It takes a special type of person to do this. Why do I say this? Well, because you have to constantly be switching between the “Good Guy” and the“Bad Guy”.
You’re expected to:
a) Get onto the child’s level and play with them, spend time with them and just have fun; and
b) You’re expected to be strict enough and the adult in the relationship while the parents aren’t at home.
It’s a tough one.
You need to have the ability to switch between the two, keeping mom and dad happy as they’re paying you, but being a friend (older brother or sister) to the child(ren) at the same time.
Fun Activities and Games to Play
When you’re not helping with homework, making lunch, or taking them to after school sports or activities, you’re going to have some time to spend together.
This is bonding time. You can form a real relationship with the child that you’re looking after. Almost like being an older sister or brother to them. I never had a younger sister, so au pairing and looking after Alley was an incredible experience and one that I’ll never forget.
Here are a few games we got up to…and some ideas for having fun:
- Card games, especially “Go Fish”.
- Playing sports games outside, like rugby, tennis, ball games, or jumping on the trampoline.
- Baking cupcakes, cookies or pancakes. Lots of fun!
- Cooking up new types of food combinations for lunch together.
- Dance-off competitions, skits or pretending to be different characters and acting out.
- Playing board games or building puzzles together.
- Experimenting with make-up. (You might want to remember to bring your make-up remover!)
- Watching cartoons or an old movie together.
- Going out to watch a movie.
- Playing video games at the arcade.
- Going ten pin bowling.
- Going to an amusement park and trying out the fun rides.
- Going out for ice-cream or milkshakes.
- Swimming and playing Marco Polo.
- Playing hide-and-seek.
Dealing with Altercations
It’s only natural that by spending so much time together, you’ll either have a few disagreements, words with each other, or misunderstandings between you, or with the parents.
If this happens, I’ve found the best thing to do is this:
- Try and stay as unemotional as possible.
- Be professional. Try and keep in mind that this is a job.
- Listen to what the other person has to say.
- Understand where they’re coming from. If they’re upset about something else that’s got nothing to do with you and they’re just snapping at you because they’re worried – if it’s a once off thing – the best thing to do is to just ignore it. Let it go. Let it wash off you. It’s no big deal.
- If you were in the wrong, apologise. If you’re both in the wrong, and they’re (the children) not used to saying sorry, it’s your job to teach them that from an adult point of view and explain the situation. Once you’ve both made up, go and get an ice-cream or do something fun together.
- Don’t get personal, and don’t take things personally.
- If the parents are treating you unfairly, you need to take it up with them in private and not in front of the child(ren). Ask them when a good time for a quick chat is, and go out for a coffee. Clear the air. If things still don’t work out after a few attempts to do this (remember, this isn’t like a normal job – the child might have already become very attached to you and vice versa), it might be best to start looking for another job.
- Laugh it off. Sometimes it’s the only way to deal with the situation!
- Learn from it and grow from it.
Learning to Say NO
Alley and I got on very well. In fact, she was like the little sister I never had. We had a lot of fun together and I was able to get down to her level and enjoy being silly a lot of the time. But, sometimes I had to pull myself back into the mind-frame and go back to being the adult out of the two of us.
Kids will be kids and once they feel comfortable with you, sometimes they’ll try and take advantage of you and see just how far they can push you. They’ll try and push ALL your buttons.
Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind, or put your foot down and be the adult by saying “Enough!” or “No!“.
What You’ll Gain…
Being an au pair was one of the best experiences in my life, and it can be for you too.
You’ll learn to let loose and have fun, you’ll be embarrassed, you’ll be made fun of, teased, back-chatted, and argued with.
You’ll learn important lessons, you’ll discover what type of a parent you want to be, you’ll be forced to deal with situations that you normally wouldn’t.
You’ll refresh your school knowledge.
You’ll become an older sister or brother to someone.
You’ll make an impact on their life.
Being a great au pair takes a lot out of you. Just as it does for being a nanny or a good babysitter. Children know when you’re just in it for the money. If you’re working half day or studying, and enjoy spending time with children – if you want to challenge yourself and have fun, then this might just be the job for you!