There is nothing more important to a student than their first day of school -or the first day of work to a new employee. So it follows that this would also be true for the first day of childcare with a new provider. The way you as the parents organize those first few days sets the foundation for great relationships or can set you all up for a rough start. No pressure, right? After all the trouble you've gone to find your Mary Poppins, don't let it fall apart over an easily avoidable mishap. To make it a great start, follow these tips for a smooth transition.
- Prepare Your Child. Without an understanding of what their new nanny will be like or how things will change, many kids will have a very difficult transition. If they are old enough, involve them in the selection process and listen to what they are hoping for in their new nanny. I want someone who gives me lots of candy may not be criteria you'll be looking for, but I hope she will play Legos with me sure is. Once you've found the right one, be sure to build in some time for all of you to spend time together. Whether it is just for a couple of hours or a full day of transitional care, this time will put everyone at ease and helps your child to see that you trust the au pair and respect them. By the time your first day arrives, the transition will feel more natural.
- Share the Rules. It may seem obvious to you that the stroller should be folded and put in the garage when the walk is over or lunch dishes need to be put in the dishwasher, but it may not be to your au pair. Share your house rules and expectations before you offer the job and again on day one and throughout those first weeks. And don't be afraid to point out things that are not being done or are not quite right. The best way to create a tense situation with your nanny is to ignore that she keeps forgetting to put away lunch leftovers until you've had a bad day at work and come home to find half a grilled cheese sitting out. Even those without a temper have been known to let loose on an unsuspecting nanny, so avoid the situation and deal with problems or concerns as they happen.
- Over-communicate. Even the little details can be important, but spouting all that wisdom out in the first few minutes is just too much. Before your nanny starts, write out in a daily diary or printed schedule the typical day for your child. Email it before they arrive, and leave a copy at home. This should include things like what helps your child calm down when they are upset, meal choices, and acceptable activities. Even the best nannies can't remember everything, so make sure they are armed with all the info they need right at their fingertips.
- Model the Behavior. During those introductory visits, model the type of interactions you want your provider to have with your child. Does your child respond best to counting to three or a gentle reminder of the rules when they are on the brink of a bad decision? How do you react when your preschooler gets up from time out before the beeper goes off? Even something as small as exactly how your child's sandwich should be cut (who knew the squares vs. triangle question could be such an important one?!) can be key information. Actions speak louder words, so use the transitional time you have together as instructional as well as informational.
- Do Unto Others " the first day and every day.This is true for any childcare provider, but especially if your nanny or au pair will live in. There will be days you are off your game " tired, stressed and in need of a little extra TLC. Wouldn't it be great if your au pair saw these signs and took action? She might unload the dishwasher and play with the kids for an extra 10 minutes so you could have a few minutes to get changed after work and regroup. Or she might simply put the water on for tea and ask about your day. Either is an awesome, caring thing to do. Set this tone in your house by doing a little something extra for your nanny. Maybe you'll grab a couple of her favorite candies at the store next time you are there, or re-gift a gift card you received to a restaurant that is really not your style. It can be as simple as looking into her tired eyes one night and saying 'It looks like you had a rough day. I'll take finish cleaning up dinner, why don't you take a break? These little gestures mean a lot and set a tone of mutual respect and caring.
After all the searching and interviews, you owe it to yourself, your au pair or nanny, and most importantly your children to start things off right. Not only will you be at ease knowing that you've given her all she needs to be successful, but your children will feel happy, safe and secure with their new, confident nanny. A little goes a long way, so put in a little work for domestic happiness for months or years to come!