What au pair qualities should you be looking for in an au pair? That’s a million-dollar question.
After all, finding an awesome au pair is no easy task…
With so many changes in the world because of the pandemic, finding great childcare is tougher than ever…
And that includes finding a phenomenal au pair. Even though the au pair program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, that doesn’t make it easy to find an au pair.
Not sure what an au pair is? Check out our post “What is An Au Pair? 15 Au Pair Myths Debunked.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to settle.
Here’s the reality:
You don’t have to match with an au pair that’s not a good fit.
Rather than taking anybody, it’s more important to find a great match.
Especially if you’ve been convinced by one of the fantastic reasons to hire an au pair, it’s all the more important to hire the right one.
Many people think that au pairs are like nannies, but that isn’t the case at all.
In fact, there are many differences between an au pair vs a nanny.
And that means searching for someone with the right characteristics.
To help you find an awesome au pair, in this post we talk about What Makes A Good Au Pair by exploring 10 Important Traits To Look For In An Au Pair.
Let’s jump in and talk about the best qualities of an au pair!
What Makes A Good Au Pair? 10 Au Pair Qualities You Should Look For:
In no particular order, here are the top characteristics you should look for in an au pair…
The more you set up your “interview” and screening process to look for someone with these qualities, the less likely you’ll end up having to rematch.
The first thing you need to think about with an au pair is:
Your au pair is going to live with you for a long time.
You’ll share your house, they’ll drive your car, and will be watching your kids.
A relationship of trust is a must.
But trustworthiness is a rare commodity these days…
Did you know that according to Pew Research, 49% of Americans link a decline in interpersonal trust to people not being as reliable as they used to be?
People are skeptical of other people!
Given that, it’s going to take time to develop a trusting relationship with your au pair.
But getting there eventually is super important.
And this is part of why you should take the interviewing process seriously, and screen candidates accordingly.
You need to be comfortable with them, and them with you.
Once you’ve built that trust, the next trait is super important.
A Posture Of Helpfulness
There are MANY different reasons someone wants to be an au pair:
- Working in childcare
- Improving language skills
- And getting to see the U.S....
…are among the most popular ones.
But beware of any potential au pair who is only interested in one of those, and not interested in taking care of kids.
Not every au pair applicant will have prior experience working in a school or daycare…
But if they have zero experience with kids?
That’s a warning sign.
At the end of the day, no matter how excited they are to be in the U.S., how eager they are to improve their English, or how well they adapt to the local culture…
If they’re not happy to spend their days taking care of your kids, it’s going to be stressful for everyone – and especially you.
Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what au pairs do all day, check out our post What Is An Au Pair?
But at the end of the day…
You need an au pair who’s going to do an awesome job helping take care of your kids.
Kindness Is King
Why is kindness in an au pair important?
An Au pair will become a part of your family.
You’ll eat together. Laugh together. Stress together.
And care for your kids together.
So kindness is key.
If you think of your family as a finely tuned machine with a zillion moving parts, kindness is the grease that keeps the machine running.
And if you have young kids?
The kindness and extra love and care your au pair shows to your babies will help them thrive.
Plus, kindness brings all sorts of other benefits too…
According to the Mayo Clinic, for example, kindness can positively change your brain.
And according to one British journal, “Individual acts of kindness release both endorphins and oxytocin, and create new neural connections.”
CNN even argues that there are health benefits to kindness.
Pretty hard to argue with those benefits, right?
Bold & Brave
You might not have thought of this, but becoming an au pair is tough!
It’s not for the faint of heart.
It takes grit, determination, and bravery.
Imagine what they go through:
- Applying for the program with an agency in their home country
- interviewing with that agency
- saving up money for their program fees (yes, au pairs have to pay too!)...
Then, interviewing with tons of families to find a great match.
And once that’s done?
Going through the process to get a J-1 visa and then:
Getting on a plane to go far away from home to live with a family they’ve never met.
It’s not an easy endeavor. And it takes a certain amount of bravery.
Cause on top of all that?
They’ll also be living in another culture, improving their language skills, and adapting to a bunch of different cultural norms.
Bravery is key. Being an au pair is not for the faint of heart!
Loving To The Little Ones
Your au pair’s role in your family is unlike a nanny, babysitter, or anyone else you might hire to watch your kids. In fact, there are many, many differences between an au pair vs. a nanny.
Since it’s such a close partnership, it’s all the more important to find someone who will feel a connection with your kiddos.
But finding an au pair who will manage the transition into life with your family…
…and be loving with your kiddos…
is more art than science.
The good news is there are signs you can look for as you’re interviewing to find an au pair with a loving personality.
And it’s worth mentioning that showing love isn’t just hugs and kisses. It can be a lot of things.
- not phoning it in
- being engaging
- playing games
- being supportive
- and helping you maintain a sense of structure
You can get a sense of his or her level of empathy during the interview.
For example, ask questions to get to know them and a bit about their family life and what they like to do.
This isn’t a foolproof strategy, but it’ll give you a sense of their personality and whether they’ll be a good fit for your family.
Open-Minded To A New Culture
In this crazy pandemic world, finding an au pair that is open-minded is more important than ever.
And this one trait alone will help your au pair year go smoother.
You see, we hosted our au pair during the bulk of 2020. She joined us in May and finished up her year a bit early in March (to move to sunny weather in California).
In normal times hosting an au pair isn’t easy.
So we greatly valued that she was open-minded to new experiences, new approaches, and thinking about things from a different perspective from her own culture in Brazil.
Here are 4 ways an au pair can be open-minded:
- Be willing to learn
- Be respectful of differences
- Willing to adapt
- Open to feedback
- Have a strong sense of curiosity
There are three phases of culture shock and the process of adjusting to a new culture, and being open-minded can help the process of adjustment go smoother.
Amidst everything that happened with the pandemic last year, we valued one key trait over all of the others.
In a way, all the others we talk about in this post derive from one thing:
Well, if you match with an au pair who isn’t flexible, it’s hard to see how they’re going to be open-minded or courteous.
That’ll make so many other things during your au pair year harder than they need to be.
So above all else, find out during your interview process how flexible your prospective au pair is.
You can do this by asking lots of behavioral hypothetical interview questions.
For example, give ’em a hypothetical difficult situation and ask how they would respond.
You’ll quickly get a sense of their baseline level of flexibility.
Friendly With New People
Can friendliness be taught? And so is it important to find a friendly au pair to model that behavior for your kids?
According to researchers at Case Western Reserve University, kids are born with certain innate temperaments.
But that doesn’t mean that only kids with those temperaments are going to be inherently friendly…
We think friendliness is a valuable trait to find in an au pair so they can model it when they’re out in the world with your kiddos.
That’s a valuable lesson that we learned from our au pair year:
Our au pair, Carol, was extraordinarily outgoing and friendly.
And we saw the positive effect that having a friendly au pair meant for us, and our kids.
What does it mean to be courteous?
And why is it important?
Consider the definition for a moment:
This is from Google & Oxford languages.
The key takeaway is that being courteous means doing several things:
It means being, polite, respectful, AND considerate.
But what do each of those mean?
Being polite? Demonstrating basic manners.
Your au pair may still be improving his language skills, but that doesn’t mean he can’t say please and thank you.
Respect is also key. Not just for your kids too, but for you too.
Needless to say, finding an au pair that is polite, respectful, and considerate of you and your family will go a long way to making your au pair year a success.
And the better a job they do with being courteous, the better they’ll be able to adapt to thinking in a new paradigm.
Able To Think In A New Paradigm
Dealing with an au pair that isn’t open and communicative will make your au pair year infinitely harder.
In our post What Is An Au Pair? we talk a lot about the cross-cultural challenges of hosting an au pair.
One key to a successful experience with an au pair is to find an au pair who can think in a new cultural paradigm.
You can screen for this during your interview process.
For example, you can ask questions about their cross-cultural experiences.
And they don’t need to have lived abroad either. If they demonstrate awareness of other cultures, even in their home country, that’s a good sign!
If they can meet you part way in understanding your culture, and you theirs, that’ll go a long way towards making your au pair year a success.
But understanding a different cultural paradigm isn’t the only element. That’s why we talk about communication next.
Communicative To A Fault
If there were three words we could say would help your au pair year be a success more than anything else…
It’d be communication, communication, communication.
Almost to a fault.
In any professional position nowadays communication skills are highly prized, and this is true as well for au pairs.
Being open about your expectations, concerns, preferences, and challenges will go a long way toward making your au pair year a success.
One framework for communicating effectively across cultures is the L.E.A.R.N. framework, which you can adopt from the medical community’s experience working across cultures.
So, what makes a good au pair?
And what sort of au pair characteristics should you be looking for?
Long story short? It’s a lot of factors combined.
Now it’s worth mentioning that you’re NOT going to find a perfect au pair.
Your au pair is human too. He or she will have just as many flaws as you do.
You CAN find an au that’s going to be an awesome match for your family.
And in the end?
That’ll set you up for an awesome au pair year!
As always, thanks for reading and stopping by. If you’re seriously considering an au pair, you might find our post What Is An Au Pair? helpful.
And let us know in the comments below what you think makes a great au pair and what au pair qualities you should look for: