Things to Consider before Becoming an Au Pair for Babies and/or Small Children
So, you have decided to take a leap of faith and become an au pair. Perhaps you are looking for a way to fund a stay abroad, learn a new language, make foreign contacts, or just plain get experience working with children and youth. It can be particularly easy to become an au pair in certain countries. It is an industry where even the woefully unqualified (such as myself) can find meaningful employment and the experience of a lifetime. I decided to do au pair in Berlin after finishing two semesters studying abroad in southern Germany. I saw it as a way to remain in the country and to continue learning the language, as well as remain in contact with my friends there. Whatever your own reason for becoming an au pair, it is important to think long and hard about what the position actually entails. In short, you either have to genuinely enjoy working with children or at least be extremely flexible and patient in order to do well as an au pair. I would like to go into detail on the topic of working as an au pair with small children; the baby to toddler age range, in other words.
When I accepted a position with a family who was expecting a baby boy, I was naturally apprehensive. I have barely ever held a baby in my life, let alone ever been responsible for one. Nonetheless, I had coped very well with the situation and now I hope you will benefit from my experience.
Of course, all of this depends on how much your guest family expects you to be involved with the baby in question, but in general, au pairing with a baby in the mix is pretty straight forward. The first thing to keep in mind is that babies are not made of glass. Of course, you should be very careful with them as they are the most precious beings in your employer’s life, but all in all, there is not all that much that can go wrong while handling a baby. Do not be afraid to hoist them up onto your shoulder and walk with them. Be prepared for a lot of spit-up though. Babies can regurgitate several ounces of milk in one go without a second’s warning. It is always important to have a soft cloth on hand to wipe up after. Diaper duty is also not as bad as it seems. For one thing, baby poop barely has any scent at all because they do not yet have fully developed digestive bacteria. Modern diapers are also surprisingly simple to put on and take off. A quick note regarding baby boys: It can be quite startling when a naked baby suddenly starts peeing up into the air, but is important not to have a surprised or startled reaction. That will cause the baby to subconsciously feel there is something wrong with his normal bodily functions.
Working with a baby in the house can be very stressful depending on how loud the baby is. It really depends on the luck of the draw in this case. If you are unlucky, you will find yourself landed with a colicky baby who screams constantly. If you are lucky (like I was) you will have a baby who almost never cries, so long as his mother is there to comfort him. Studies have shown that the cry of a baby or small child is the most distracting and, frankly, irritating sound a human can hear. I will not go into the evolutionary logic behind this. When considering a family with a baby, be sure to ask them about their baby’s temperament. I recommend skyping and/or phoning with them often and listening carefully to background noise, just in case they may try to bend the truth a little.
All things considered, it really is not that difficult to au pair with a family that has a baby. In fact, you may even find that the attention the parents are all too happy to lavish on their little one will actually result in less work for you. If you do not really consider yourself a baby person, you should still keep an open mind. If you have never had much experience with babies before, you might be surprised how much they can tug at your heartstrings.
You may assume at first that a toddler would be quite a handful, but I have found that the little two year old I am responsible during the day is much less demanding than the wild six year old I am responsible for after school.
You will find yourself amazed at how much a toddler can learn and develop in just a short amount of time. You will notice them able to do activities, draw things, put puzzles together and anything else they put their mind to, even if they were completely unable to do anything of the sort just a week before. I am continually flabbergasted by the degree to which the little German girl I took care of picked up English from me. Keep in mind that they are always listening. Toddlers are experts at passive learning and activating what they learn passively; especially when it comes to language acquisition.
Toddlers are quite straight-forward when it comes to playtime as well. They will be content to let you read to them, draw with them, build with blocks and anything else you and they can think of. They very much like to do one thing at a time and, typically, do not make anywhere near as much mess as older children. Toddlers are surprisingly tough too. Do not be afraid to lift then up from under their arms or give them wild piggy-back rides. Their shrieks of laughter can be a real gift sometimes.
That being said, toddlers can be a bit complicated when it comes to mealtime and potty training. The toddler age is a phase of constant experimentation and intellectual development. They are growing to understand the physical world around them. They love nothing more than to fill bags and baskets with everything that will fit. This is a habit they bring to the table as well. He will put food in his glass, she will poor juice over her food, and so forth. It can be a real nightmare to eat at the table next to an experimental toddler. However, atrocious table manners are another way toddlers learn the measure of things. If things get messy at the dinner table, you better believe it can be a whole lot worse in the bathroom. Depending on how much your guest family considers bathroom stuff to be one of your responsibilities, you may need to be prepared for a lot of wiping and washing. I will spare you the details I am sure your imagination has already supplied.
Another downside to working with toddlers is the infamous temper tantrum. Toddlers have all human emotions but virtually no life experience to go along with them. In effect, anything they perceive as an offense, even if it is something as trivial as putting on socks, can bring them to screech unmercifully. In this case, all you can really do if give him his security blanket and soother (depending on his preference), and let him cry it out until he can think sensibly. You should ask your guest family about specific triggers that could set their toddler off. For example, my little girl would scream for hours on end if we were unable to find her security blanket. My guest family told me they learned that the hard way one time when they tried to wash it.
Despite the occasional complications, working with a toddler certainly has its rewards. They are not tainted by the cruelty that often runs rampant on the schoolyard and if you are kind to them, it is not difficult to earn their unconditional love, affection, and friendship.
If you take anything from this article, I hope it is a little more insight into the world of babies and toddlers. I have listed some of the complications associated with working with this age group, but I can tell you from my own experience that the rewards certainly outweigh the costs. My goal is to show you that you may be missing out on something great if you write off a potential guest family due to the young age of their children.
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