Author Archives: Maria Clements

Creating Structure in your Child’s Day

In the whirlwind of a child’s life, they encounter constant change. Yet, amidst this flux, a child flourishes when there’s predictability—even if they may not always welcome it with open arms. By crafting a structured environment, such as establishing a routine, an au pair can foster a child’s sense of safety and stability, crucial for curbing behavioral issues.

Why Structure is Key

Introducing structure into a child’s day involves establishing a consistent routine. This might entail maintaining regular wake-up times, meal schedules, nap routines, and snack breaks.

Children benefit from rules and routines in numerous ways: understanding boundaries, learning self-discipline, navigating frustration and patience, and appropriately engaging with their surroundings.

Moreover, routines foster independence. Once a child grasps the sequence of tasks—like brushing teeth, getting dressed, having breakfast, and packing their school bag—you are spared the constant reminders, enabling the child to take charge of their morning routine confidently. This newfound independence bolsters the child’s self-esteem as they become adept at self-care.

Additionally, structured days tend to minimize behavioral issues. When a child knows what to expect, they’re less anxious and can concentrate on managing their behavior instead of fretting over uncertainties.

Establishing a Routine

For families with minimal structure in their daily routines, introducing changes gradually is advisable. Start by focusing on a specific time frame, perhaps the period between dinner and bedtime.

Identify tasks essential during this time, such as packing lunches, completing homework, bathing, reading bedtime stories, and lights out. Organize these activities in a logical sequence that suits the family’s dynamics.

Consider creating a visual aid, like a poster with task lists and accompanying photos, to facilitate the transition. Over time, children will become familiar with the routine, reducing the need for constant reminders.

Reminding the child to follow their routine and referring them to a visual chart reinforces their autonomy and accountability.

When drafting a routine, ensure it includes moments of bonding and enjoyment, such as story time or sharing daily experiences. It’s essential not to overlook these opportunities for family connection in the pursuit of adhering strictly to the routine.

Establishing House Rules

Structured living also entails implementing household rules. These rules should be clear, specific, and age-appropriate, covering areas like the use of art supplies or screen time regulations. Discuss this idea of structure with your host parents and create a plan that all of the adults in the home can adhere to. Discussing the consequences for rule violations helps children understand the repercussions of their actions, fostering accountability.

Flexibility in Adhering to Rules and Routine

Some of the most cherished memories in a child’s life stem from moments when routine is momentarily set aside for spontaneous fun, like staying up late to stargaze or playing games on a school night.

Parents, and au pairs alike, should exercise flexibility. When deviating from the norm, explain the rationale behind the deviation to the child, emphasizing its uniqueness as a special event. And of course, don’t forget about adjusting the household routine as the child matures. Rules and routines suitable for a toddler will require modifications to accommodate a grade schooler’s evolving needs.

Ultimately, instilling a sense of structure alleviates power struggles, fosters family organization, and nurtures the child’s sense of security and independence—a worthwhile outcome for your concerted effort invested over time.

Protecting Privacy & Personal Information Online

We live in a time of constant sharing through social media. We often share pictures, plans of somewhere we are going, or rants about problems, without thinking much about who will see it and what could be the consequences.

Before clicking “post”, stop to think:

  • Am I violating someone’s privacy?
  • Am I sharing personal information that could put me in danger?
  • Would I want my current or a future employer to see this?

This will help protect your privacy and safety as well as that of your host family. It is important to respect your host family’s privacy and not share personal details and information.  This applies to all kinds of situations, including personal conversations, email, and social websites.

For your own safety, it is a good idea to be careful what personal information you share about yourself as well. You should not give out information like your telephone number and address to people you don’t know. Safer to meet a new friend in a public place, than to give them your address before you know them.

Once you post something on the Internet (even if you later delete it), it can show up elsewhere.  Unless you have specific permission from your host family, you should never post pictures of them, their children, or their home on the Internet.

If you have a blog or website where you post in your native language, remember there is translation software. So, even if you say it in your native language, be sure it is not something that might be misinterpreted in translation or something you will regret saying.

Reminder: Use of your phone during work hours should be very limited, just checking for messages from your host parents. It is important that you are not distracted by your phone. Giving your full attention to work keeps your host children safe and helps you form a better relationship with them.

Create a Spring Break Game Plan

A “Game Plan” means a strategy for how you are going to accomplish something.  In the case of keeping kids from getting bored and/or into trouble, the best way to prevent it is to keep them busy with safe, fun activities.

When there are days home from school, letting kids sit around watching TV or playing video games is not the best use of their time.  Providing fun alternatives will make it much easier to pull them away from the screen.

You need to make a plan of what you will do with them each day and prepare for that. Planning is very important.  You don’t want to tell them you are going someplace fun, only to arrive there and see they are not open that day or you need to bring something and you don’t have it.

If your plan includes a craft or cooking project, make sure you have:

  • All the ingredients/supplies
  • Recipe/directions

If your plan includes an outing to someplace fun, figure out:

  • How will you get there?
  • When you should leave?
  • How much it will cost?
  • What will you do for lunch?

This local kids website also highlights many different child friendly activities around town. Have fun!!

Making Plans for Future Travel

Sometimes in the first few months after arrival, au pairs are still getting settled and making friends and not yet traveling very much. Believe it or not a year flies by faster than you think! These early months can be a great time to set goals, research places to go and make plans.

What can you do right now? Research and figure out where you want to go and what things you want to see and do there. Being a spontaneous traveler can be fun, but without planning you will often waste some of your precious vacation or weekend time figuring out things you could have looked into before you started your trip.

These ideas are to help you make general plans. You shouldn’t book any tickets or make any financial commitments until you discuss your vacation time with your host parents.

Planning can help you:

  • Save money
  • Make the best use of your time
  • Fit in more adventures
  • Visit places you might not have heard of before

It also extends the joy of the travel time. Making plans like this can help reduce homesickness by giving you things to look forward to and reminding you of why you came to the U.S. in the first place. You have many adventures ahead of you!

If you are looking for travel inspiration and ideas or a place to keep your travel ideas organized, Pinterest is a great place to start. You can browse other people’s travel and bucket list pinboards. You can create your own pinboards for places you want to go and ones you have already visited.

These three apps are all trip planners and offer the ability to research places and create your own itinerary. Each one has its own look and feel and slightly different features. Download them and see which one is the best fit for you.

Road trips can be the ultimate adventure. You set your own pace and stop to see what you want. The journey can be as much fun as your destination.

  • Road Trippers is an app that helps you plan the ultimate road trip. It helps you determine your route and find interesting stops along the way.
  • Atlas Obscura has lots of unusual places to visit all over the world.

Make plans to get the most out of your au pair year!

Photo: Natacha R. from France

Clothing & Accessories to Keep You Warm in the Winter

We created a blog post in October called Preparing for Cold Weather, with some general tips on layering and the kind of things you can wear to stay warm. I encourage you to check that out and then come back here for specific suggestions for clothing items.

Even though I have lived through very cold winters my entire life, I still get cold very easily. So, I can understand how difficult it is for many of you from warmer climates to get motivated to go outside when the temperatures drop below 10°C. But winter is just beginning and staying at home too much can lead to homesickness and depression. There are a few warm pieces of clothing you can get that can make all the difference.

Thermal Underwear Sets

Thermal Underwear sets are long-sleeve shirts and pants that are meant to be worn under other clothes to add warmth. This is a simple place to start.  You can search “thermal underwear set”. Here are examples for men and women.

Under Skirts and Dresses

Do you wish to wear a dress or skirt during the winter months? The secret is fleece-lined tights. They are actually warmer than a pair of jeans or any other typical pants.

You can find these on Amazon and many other online retailers. Here are the search terms to use: “fleece lined tights” or “thermal tights”. They come in solid black and some other colors, as well as some styles that look like sheer tights or bare legs, depending on your skin tone.

Here is one example that comes in a variety of skin tones and colors. When searching be aware that not all fleece-lined tights are as thick and warm. Look for pairs with lining like these below.

Under Jeans and Pants

You can also buy less expensive pairs of nylon leggings and tights to wear under other pairs of pants (especially distressed-style jeans with rips!). They are not as warm as the fleece-lined tights but they are snug enough to fit easily under other pants and combined with jeans or pants they keep you pretty warm. The more tightly woven the fabric the warmer it will normally keep you. Cotton is not as warm as nylon and polyester fabrics.

You probably already have some of these you were wearing by themselves. Try them under a pair of jeans and see how much warmer you feel. Here is one example, but you can find these at many clothing retailers.

Under Shirts & Sweaters

Just adding a simple long-sleeved T-shirt under another shirt will add warmth. You can get long-sleeved T-shirts inexpensively at places like Walmart. But there are also warmer long-sleeve shirts that are made to provide additional warmth under shirts and sweaters. Here are the search terms to use: “Long sleeve thermal top” or “Long sleeve fleece lined top”.

Here is one example that comes in several basic colors. But, remember you’ll be covering this up with other shirts, so you can probably get away with just buying a simple black, gray, or white shirt that will go with everything.

Hats, Gloves, & Scarves 

Even if you have the rest of your body dressed warmly, if you leave your head, neck, or hands uncovered or minimally covered you will still feel cold. You can get all of these items at local stores and online. Again look for tightly woven fabrics as they keep you warmer and let in less chill from the wind. Here is a basic set on Amazon.

Thermal Socks & Boots

You can find thermal socks that will keep your feet very warm. Here is one example. Winter boots can provide warmth and many styles are waterproof. These can be purchased online, at local stores, and at thrift stores (resell used items for a discounted cost). If you are wearing warm boots, you may only need to buy a fluffy/thick pair of socks that you can get inexpensively at lots of local retailers and online.

 Jackets, Coats, Snow Pants

It goes without saying that you will need to wear a warm jacket or coat over your clothes throughout the winter. These can be purchased online, at local stores, and at thrift stores (resell used items for a discounted cost).

If you will be outside in snow or very cold temperatures for an extended time, you can also purchase snow pants or snow bib overalls. They go over other pants and are both insulated and waterproof. Here are some examples for men and women.

Note: We are including links to help you see examples and not recommending any one retailer or brand over another and this is not a sponsored post.

 

Preparing for Cold Weather

We’re in that time of year when DC temperatures start dipping a little lower. It can be 70°F (21°C) one day and 40°F (4°C) the next. But, that doesn’t mean you need to hide indoors. There are lots of ways to stay warm and enjoy the outdoors through fall and winter.

There is a Scandinavian saying…

If you come from a warmer climate this may sound impossible to you. Over the years I have noticed that the temperature difference is much easier on those who have a gradual adjustment. It allows your body time to adjust to the lower temperatures. So, that’s the good news for all of you who are already here. Your body is already getting adjusted, give your mind a chance to stay open to enjoying the outdoors.

The next thing to do is get yourself the proper clothing and accessories. Start shopping for cold weather clothing: sweater, coat, gloves, hat, scarf, long underwear & boots. Ask your host family if they have some you can use and/or if there are items they are planning to provide for you before you start to make purchases. Then start looking out for sales and checking thrift shops. Take a look at what you already have and think of ways to layer it. A long sleeve t-shirt under a sweatshirt may be as warm as a jacket. A pair of leggings or tights under a pair of jeans adds a lot of warmth. Search on YouTube and TikTok for videos giving more layering suggestions.

It may also help to remind yourself that people in other parts of the U.S. and other countries experience much colder temperatures than we do and are still able to enjoy the outdoors.

Pick your activities carefully. If you are sitting next to a fire pit or doing physical activity you will feel warmer. When you take the kids to the playground or out in the snow, don’t sit on the bench and watch. You will feel warmer and have more fun if you are actively involved and have fun with them.

If you have tips on enjoying the cold weather, please share them!

Volunteering at Capital Area Food Bank

 


Last weekend, we volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank in DC. We were tasked with filling boxes that will be distributed to families in need. Our group made up more than half of the afternoon volunteer shift that filled 900 boxes!

The boxes go around on a conveyor belt and each pair of volunteers adds it’s designated food can or package. The boxes sped up as the group gets better at filling them. We never quite got to I Love Lucy speed, but there were a few intense moments. It was a great experience and several of the au pairs said that they would be interested in going back and volunteering on their own. If you are interested in helping the Capital Area Food Bank, check out their Volunteer Information Page.

Create a Spring Break Game Plan

“Game plan” means a strategy for how you are going to accomplish something.  In the case of keeping kids from getting bored and/or into trouble, the best way to prevent it is to keep them busy with safe, fun activities.

When there are days home from school, letting kids sit around watching TV or play video games is not the best use of their time.  Providing fun alternatives will make it much easier to pull them away from the screen.

You need to make a plan of what you will do with them each day and prepare for that. Planning is very important.  You don’t want to tell them you are going some place fun, only to arrive there and see they are not open that day or you needed to bring something and you don’t have it.

If your plan includes a craft or cooking project, make sure you have:

  • all the ingredients/supplies
  • recipe/directions

If your plan includes an outing to someplace fun, figure out:

  • How will you get there?
  • When you should leave?
  • How much it will cost?
  • What will you do for lunch?

Use some of these online resources to find activities and recipes:

Have a wonderful Spring Break!

Photos: vmiramontes (Flickr) & tasty.co

Three Ways for Au Pairs to Stay Red Cross Ready

Being knowledgeable in basic first aid and CPR is important for au pairs (and anyone else caring for children). Au Pair in America’s commitment to infant/child safety begins before au pairs arrive in the U.S., with pre-arrival training and continue throughout the au pair year.

#1 Training At Orientation

Our orientation training includes a course by American Red Cross on infant/child CPR and safety. Additional child safety training covers a variety of aspects of child safety and cultural differences in common childcare practices.

#2 Enroll in a Red Cross Certification Class

After settling into their host community, all au pairs are encouraged to complete an Infant/Child CPR and First Aid certification program. Au Pair in America will pay for this training through the American Red Cross.

Classes are available through the Red Cross. Au Pair in America will pay for the cost of a class providing an au pair has at least six months left on her visa and is taking one of several approved childcare/child safety-related classes, such as Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED. Au pairs should check with their community counselor and host family before signing up. Au Pair in America will register the au pair directly.

To locate a class, visit www.redcross.org/takeaclass.

#3 Stay Current on Safety Information

The official American Red Cross First Aid app puts expert advice for everyday emergencies in your hand. Available for iPhone and Android devices, this app gives you instant access to the information you need to know to handle the most common first aid emergencies. With videos, interactive quizzes, and simple step-by-step advice, it’s never been easier to know first aid. Download the app for free from the American Red Cross website or in your app store.

Photos: Robin Leon

Big Kids Need Interaction Too

Just because a child is old enough to occupy themselves, doesn’t mean that they should be expected to do so the majority of the time.  Host families have a certain expectation of activity and involvement for their children. Get the kids engaged and active. You can be more fun than the TV or a video game.

Problem:
But, my kids don’t want to do anything but watch TV or play video games.

Solution:
Instead of saying,  “Would you like to (fill in the blank with any activity)?  The answer will often be, “No.”

Try this, “Now we are going to (fill in the blank with any activity.) or “Would you rather do  _____ or ______?”  Make sure both the choices are good options.
Your chances of co-operation are greatly increased. Even kids who are reluctant to try new things will usually get in the spirit of things and have fun if you pick a good activity.

Problem:
I don’t know what to do with school-age kids.

Solution:
Look for ideas online. Google “activities school-age kids” or “activities tweens”. You can also take part in an au pair webinar on this topic. Below is a list of some ideas to get you started.

  • Cooking
  • Making things (check craft stores like Michael’s for kits and models that are age-appropriate)
  • Going to fun places (pottery painting, jewelry making, farms, museums, mini-golf, go-karts)*
  • Sports (soccer, tennis, swimming, bicycling, roller skating, ice skating)*
  • Let them teach you to do something they enjoy. Kids this age love being the expert.
  • Get outdoors and visit local parks.* You can even make a project of reviewing all the local parks (what kind of equipment they have, is there shade, water fountain?)  They can write this up and keep it so they remember which ones they want to go to again and which ones to skip in the future.
  • Let them help you search and plan some activities.
  • Check on the APIA Pinterest page and here on our cluster blog for ideas.
  • If you have a GPS, try taking them geocaching. Here is a website with all the details.
  • Use technology to get them off the couch and sneak in some exercise. The phone app Pokémon Go includes activities that are unlocked by taking steps. There are Pokéstops and gyms at many places they might enjoy going for walks like parks, nature trails, walk/bike paths, and downtown areas.

*Always get permission from your host parents before taking the kids places and remember to follow social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.