I am an au pair for a 9-year-old child. How do I discipline her without phoning the parents every time she talks back or doesn't want to cooperate?
As an au pair, you are entrusted with a privileged close personal relationship with the nine year old child in your care. You are the parents’ eyes, ears and representative. You are also a unique individual who relates to people in your own way and will develop your own relationship with the child. I note these conditions for two reasons. You are likely to encounter some different behavioral charms and challenges from the child than do her parents. And you and the child are much more likely to reach an understanding if you understand the parenting interests, guidance and strategies of her mother and father.
So start with an open, in-depth and positive conversation with the parents early in your relationship before the child tests you too much. For one thing, you may find you have an ethical conflict with the parents’ philosophy of child rearing, in which case you learn early that everyone would be better served if you went to work for a different family. If, hopefully, you feel as though you and the parents are of one mind, you will go into situations feeling comfortable and confident and the child will also recognize the consistent limits to her negotiation or protest. Each day, when a parent comes back home, you should review any significant episodes, recounting what happened, how you responded and how the issue resolved. That way, too, the parent benefits from your experience and the two of you reconfirm your solidarity and mutual gratitude. After all, there is nothing more challenging or more rewarding than the job of parenting and caring for children. As you and the parents develop mutual trust and understanding, then when you have to call them they will know that the matter is of serious importance, worth their consideration and they will appreciate your asking them.
Peter A. Gorski, MD, MPA, FAAP