Hi, Abbie and Maddie both here this post! In the greater Seattle area, school doesn’t start until after Labor Day. But in many cities across the US school starts in the next week or two. The start of school means changes no matter when it happens. We’ve teamed up to bring you 3 tips to ease the transition back to school for you and your au pair. We wish you a successful start to the new school year!
Abbie: This year, our new au pair arrives August 30th, right before the long weekend and then school starts! We planned for a bit of an overlap with our current au pair, so there will be some continuity.
Maddie: Our au pair doesn’t leave until January, so she remembers the school schedule from last year.
1. Sit down with your au pair and go over the new schedule (in writing!)
Take a few moments to sit down and go over the new schedule with your au pair. Whether you write it out beforehand or draw it during the conversation, make sure you put it in writing. Having something in writing is not just a courtesy, it also helps with language translation.
Maddie’s Tip: We use a Google family calendar to share schedules with everyone who cares for our children. We can all see it online or on our phones. I keep it up-to-date, for the most part. But it allows us all to add one-off events which may cause a scheduling conflict for someone else.
Think of how you feel when your work schedule changes. How would you feel if your boss talked to you about major changes to your schedule but didn’t give you any material to reference? Or even worse, what if your boss didn’t give you any notice in advance of the changes?
Besides going over the new schedule, you should talk about the ripple effects. Having to wake up on a schedule again means going to bed early. This means having dinner at 6:30 pm followed by bath and pajamas.
Abbie’s Tip: Talk specifics: What time of day will she make the kids lunch and snack? At night or in the morning? Can the kids help? Can you provide a list of snacks for her to choose from? Check out our Pinterest boards for kids snacks and lunches if you are looking for ideas.
2. transitioning back to school is an opportunity to make adjustments
Lazy summers also mean the opportunity to slide into some bad habits. This is a great opportunity to talk to your au pair about needed adjustments. Pick three things you can compliment your au pair on and up to three things she can improve. Try not overwhelm her/him with a laundry list of things she can do better. Work with your spouse ahead of time to narrow down to your top three improvement areas. Then ask how you can do better.
When you pick three compliments, be genuine. Don’t pick something generic so you can get to the things you want to fix. Be specific, you can even pick a specific moment. I choose to highlight behaviors I want to encourage. “Yesterday it was so cute when you were playing with Aiden. You were down on his level and completely focused on him. I could see in his eyes how much he loved you back.” Or for an older kid, “I really appreciate you taking Sophia swimming this week. With both of us working, sometimes it’s hard to make things happen during the middle of the day. She sure had a lot of fun with you.”
When you pick behaviors to fix, be specific. Have suggestions for what your au pair should do instead, and let her/him give input.
Think about your end-of-year evaluations at work. It’s so frustrating to be told you need to improve leadership, or that you don’t run meetings effectively. It’s so much more useful to be told that your meetings are ineffective because people don’t understand action items. It is even better if your boss coaches you on how to make improvements and asks if you have any other ideas. A simple suggestion, like following up meetings with minutes, might be the edge you need to make the change.
Abbie’s Tip: Let’s say your au pair isn’t pulling her fair share of the housework lately. Instead of saying, “please pick up more,” give a specific example and what success should look like. “Please help me keep the house clean during the day. I’ll leave you a clean sink and playroom in the morning. I’d like you to have a clean sink and playroom when I get home from work. The kids can even help you put dirty dishes in the dishwasher if you help remind them. Or maybe when I get home and check in with the kids about their day, you can finish cleaning up from snack? And when I text that I’m on my way home, have the kids sing the pick-up song and straighten up for dinner. What do you think?”
Finally, we all can improve in some way. To avoid the feeling of criticism, you can ask your au pair how the new schedule will run. “Once school starts, what are some things I can do to help you be successful? Is there anything I’ve forgotten that you’ll need to make the new schedule work?”
Consider using a Start Stop Continue Retrospective
Another idea is to do a Start/Stop/Continue review . This exercise aims to retrospectively look at the work that just finished and find ways to improve.
Start by sitting down with you, your spouse, and your au pair to jot down ideas on sticky notes. It can be something general or it can be something for a specific person. Then post your sticky notes on the wall or whiteboard in one of the three categories:
1) Ideas to start to make things work better in the future
2) Things that didn’t work and need to stop
3) Great things that need to continue.
Unlike a direct conversation, the retrospective is a less confrontational way to give feedback. This is especially true if you balance the notes you write down about yourself with what you write about your spouse as well as your au pair.
Maddie’s Tip: Be careful not to turn your Start/Stop/Continue exercise into a case of 2 against 1. Encourage everyone to write posts for each person in the exercise, including themselves. We all have things we need to work on.
3. Include Your Au Pair in back to school activities
What can your au pair do to help get ready for school? Can she/he help take your child(ren) to the store to get school supplies? Or can you give her/him a budgeted amount to take the kids shopping for new clothes?
Abbie’s Tip: Maybe your au pair can make those cute Pinterest back to school boards that you never seem to have time to do?
This can also be a great opportunity for cultural exchange. What time of year does your au pair start school? What are some of her memories of starting school? What are some of your memories of starting school?
Maddie’s Tip: The more bonding you can do over little things, the tighter your connection becomes. This makes everything easier.
What else do you do to get ready for school?
Every family has their own rhythm, and we’d love to hear yours. What does your family do to get ready for back to school? Share your tips below in the comments.
Have a question? Join our group of host parents in the My Au Pair and Me Facebook Community. We would love to hear from you!