Au Pairs – Rules and Boundaries

“Parents who pay attention can avoid a power struggle, even with strong willed children, by emphasizing as they set limits, giving choices, and understanding that respect goes both ways.” Dr Laura Markhum

“What can I do when the children don’t listen to me?”

This could either be a tricky situation or a very simple one. If you look at a situation with a negative attitude, you will get negative results. If you look at a situation with a positive attitude, you will get positive results. 

Children are almost magical. They have a way of catching on what you, as an AuPair, are feeling and they can clearly see when they are pushing your buttons. They will push your boundaries and take chances. Best is to try and stay calm in these times and not to overreact or react negatively.

It is important for you to understand the child. If you work with two or more children, remember that each child is unique and might react differently to certain boundaries and rules. Get to know each of their personalities, likes, dislikes, consistencies and routines. Children do feel more secure and safe if they have set boundaries and rules. Just like children, each family is also different and unique. Talk to the parents. Ask the parent for advice, tips and ways to handle the children – it is their children after all!

The way you behave towards the children is also very important. It will impact them directly and also the way that they will respond to your discipline. You need to show them that you respect them by listening to them. Show them that they are not just a ‘job’ by including them in discussions, making of plans and planning activities. When you communicate with them, go down to their level and have direct eye contact with them. Be calm and direct when talking to them. Explain to them why you are unhappy about their behaviour rather than shouting or overreacting – it will make matters worse.

Consistency! I cannot stress this enough. If you give in to a tantrum, you will be rewarding the child for bad behaviour. It will teach them that negative behaviour will give them what they want and they will most likely repeat it. You will need a lot of patience to discipline a child. You would need to repeat the same rules and boundaries more than once a day! If you are firm but fair (and consistent) the children will realize that there is no point to argue or resist. Make sure that the children know what the consequences of their behaviour will be and stick to it.

Remember that what works for one child might not work for the other. This means that you might need to tailor the disciplinary methods for each child. It is also very important that you focus and stress the behaviour that you are not happy with and not the child. Spend quality alone-time with each child – even if it is just in the car for a few minutes. Also, remember to give the children lots of love and hugs. Praise their good behaviour and reward them. Just be careful not to overdo this as it can lose its value.

Things to try:

  • Quiet Time
  • Time out
  • Distraction

Quiet Time: In the book Reset Your Child’s Brain by Victoria Dunckley, she says, “Dealing with constant input lowers the brain’s ability to work through emotions and make sense of what’s being learned” (Real Simple, Jan. 2016). Providing adequate time and quiet space for children to process various emotions that they are perhaps feeling for the first time will allow them to learn coping skills, appropriate responses, and healthy habits around those emotions. Also, it’s helpful to practice quiet processing with young kids especially when they are frustrated or angry (aka, two years old!). Taking a break, taking a breather, and finding words can lead towards better future responses.

Time-out (also known as social exclusion) is a form of behavioural modification that involves temporarily separating a person from an environment where unacceptable behaviour has occurred. The goal is to remove that person from an enriched, enjoyable environment, and therefore lead to functional punishment or extinction of the offending behaviour. It is an educational and parenting technique recommended by most paediatricians and developmental psychologists as an effective form of discipline. Often a corner (hence the common term corner time) or a similar space where the person is to stand or sit during time-outs is designated. This form of discipline is especially popular in western cultures. – Wikipedia

Distraction: Children often get so involved in their activities that they lose sight of everything else, including behavioural guidelines that their parents have implemented. Additionally, it takes children a while to internalize the tendency to control their emotions, making them prone to excessive displays of anger or frustration when things don’t go their way. When you combine the two characteristics of young children, it is easy to see why they can sometimes test the patience of their parents and other carers. Rather than engaging in an ongoing battle of wills with small kids, though, smart caregivers opt to redirect the attention of kids from unacceptable behaviours to those deemed more desirable. For instance, if a child seems determined to play with table top items that the parents would rather that they didn’t, carers can attempt to redirect the child’s attention by engaging them in a game or offering a more appropriate plaything, such as a colourful balloon. This same technique works well when children request inappropriate snacks or beverages, instead offering healthy, but kid-friendly treats. –

There are so many other ways and things to try. This is only the first Blog entry of much more to come that will advise AuPairs (And Parents) on discipline. It can be a touchy subject, especially when it comes to other people’s children. Really, the best advice is to stay calm, take a breath and search in the deepest part of yourself for the little patience you might have left. Another amazing thought – children grow up! They do listen and take in all of the daily repeats of rules and boundaries. Eventually they will start following it – consistency, remember!

Good luck!

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