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Set Expectations- How to be Clear & Consistent

It’s important to set expectations with your Au Pair right away. If you’re stumped on how to go about this, maybe my experience can help shed some light on how to take those first steps.

I’m a bit of an over-planner, a list-making psycho. I’m what you would call a Type A+ (if there was such a thing). So, it was a given for us to set expectations clearly and consistently.

I filled out a family handbook for our Au Pair to reference as soon as it was suggested. Luckily for me, I had already compiled multi-paged lists detailing my eldest son’s every activity. It even included instructions for when my in-laws were visiting for the birth of my second child. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be around to control every minute of his day.

(Yes, I’m also the mom who gets pictures of my littles in matching panda hats. Because– adorableness!)

Set Expectations in Your Family Handbook

Host Mom Cyndi Frick gives her best advice for setting clear expectations with your Au PairIn our family handbook, I set expectations for things ranging from both kids’ schedules, our three-year-old’s weekly lunch menu, details about bath and sleep-time routines to details about how to use our vacuum cleaner and how to communicate to us if she is having an issue… Probably more information than anyone would ever be able to absorb when reading it all at once. (My mother-in-law has complained in the past about my crazy instruction sheets – says she needs more coffee before sitting down to read them).

Now I know that most people are not as obsessive as I am. You may not be inclined to go to such lengths to set expectations. But, taking the time to write out the small details will help set clear expectations. It’s wise to provide guidelines and be upfront with your new Au Pair. I even added a little section to  about things that have not worked for me in the past. For me, this includes being given unsolicited parenting advice or being made to feel like I wasn’t doing the best I could for my own child. Communicating that these are no-gos for me is an important part of setting a strong foundation for success.

Be up-front with issues you’ve had in the past. This helps set expectations and minimize the chances of recurring issues. Sure, some things may be uncomfortable to discuss. But, if you do it immediately, you can discuss them in terms of someone else’s wrongdoing or a “what if scenario,” and not your Au Pair’s mistake that you’re correcting her for, which could be a much more uncomfortable confrontational situation.

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Review Expectations Together

My Au Pair will be arriving at the end of the week. (It can’t come soon enough as this will be the longest week ever with spotty transitional childcare). I’m glad we’ve already set some expectations and created our handbook. I plan on sitting down with her in the first few days to go over the 14+ page handbook together. She’ll have a copy of her own to review as needed, and having the children’s schedules clearly laid out will also help to reduce the amount of frequently asked questions that she may feel embarrassed to ask about multiple times if she can’t remember details.

Yes, there are a few things that I did not write down that I plan to go over with her in person. Like how to use the garbage disposal. Things that would take more effort to explain in written form than it would take to show her. It’s important to remember that not everyone learns best by just reading something over. Some people are more hands-on learners.

So, I will shadow her for a few days as well until I am comfortable with how she is doing. When making a switch in nannies, some of my friends have had the new nanny get trained by the old nanny. But I feel like that’s a dangerous game of “telephone.” When word travels by mouth from person to person until the message reaches the last ear, things get lost in translation… It’s like making a copy of a copy.

(Let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a nanny or au pair train the next childcare provider).

Handle Training Yourself

I suggest taking some time off, or training during a weekend. Try to make sure you start your Au Pair off with as many tools and as much training as you can at the beginning. This will make your transition as smooth as possible and helps build rapport. Having trained several nannies in the past, I am well-versed in the process and having made many an instruction list in the past, I can assure you that taking the time to make your instructions are detailed and clear will only make your (and your Au Pair’s) life easier!

Shonna Anderson


Shonna has worked for Go Au Pair for 9+ years. She started as a Placement Coordinator creating connections between Host Families and Au Pairs. Then moved in to the Au Pair and International space working with Au Pairs from all over the world. Now she writes helpful, inspiring, and fun content for Go Au Pair. If you are interested in sharing your experience, or if you have questions or would like assistance, please reach out to @ShonnaAuPairSis on Facebook or email sanderson@goaupair.com.

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