I have some thoughts on the subject. Having just completed a year and three months long stint of childcare work in France, boy do I know what you’re letting yourself in for.
This post is dedicated to anyone going into the childcare profession, specifically those entering language instructor/nanny positions. These are some things I wish I had known when I was starting out.
1. Children behave differently when their parents aren’t around.
If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll go through a childcare agency, who will take a look at your CV and match you with a family. You will then visit the family, see what’s what, and decide whether you want to take the contract.
A great idea, except that those angelic cherubs, showing you all their toys and twirling around in their princess dresses under maman and papa’s admiring gaze, are not an accurate portrayal of what you’re going to be dealing with.
2. The parents may be unaware how bad their children can be.
Your predecessor is long gone, so there’s no one to give you the low-down. You’ll just have to gamble, hope for the best.
Now, day one. Cut to you sprinting down the street after a laughing eight-year-old who is trying to lose you on the way home. Cut to you wrestling them for the house keys outside the apartment. Cut to you trying to make the lunch, and them throwing toys out the sixth floor window…
This is likely to be the general flavour of your first few weeks. Only now will you understand what you’ve taken on.
3. Discipline is difficult.
Their rooms look like the aftermath of a natural disaster. They’ve turned the sink into a potions table, and are pouring glue down the drain. Tomato sauce has been trampled into the carpet, they’ve broken the bathroom door, and the youngest one is screaming loud enough to summon the police.
What can you do to avert the next stream of crises?
Not a lot, because you are one in a long line of ‘nounous’ who have been in this position, and like all before you, you’re being tested. The children have the upper hand – they can communicate with each other in a language you don’t completely understand, and this is their territory.
The one line that will save you? ‘Stop that now or I’m going to call maman.’
4. The parents will help you, but you have to ask.
Nothing stings a child worse than anticipating maman and papa all evening, and then experiencing them arriving home angry because they’ve been informed of bad behaviour. The parents have powers that you do not, and effective wielding of their assistance will ensure you soon gain the upper hand.
That being said, I don’t think you should tell the parents about every infraction. My method was three strikes and ‘that’s it’, but you have to stand your ground. Decide where your lines are based on the children’s general behaviour, and if you can deal with it yourself, do.
In time, the children will accept your authority, but you need to fight!
5. It’s a physically exhausting job.
A well-behaved child is an entertained child, and you are the entertainment. That means endless rounds of hide-and-seek, a new game at least once a week, and an all-singing-all-dancing show, every minute of every day. You’ll become a master at voicing teddies, and will hear ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ echoing in your head until you fall asleep.
6. It is an emotionally exhausting job.
Leave your heart at the front door, because it’s going to get bruised. Perhaps they wish to vent a subconscious rage at the fact you are a usurper in their parent’s role (I theorise), perhaps it is simply because children will be children. Whatever the reason, there is no denying some will say and do mean things. The youngest, because they don’t know any better, the oldest, because they know it hurts.
This is not true of all children. A few will see you as the friend you are trying to be, but a lot will lash out. During my time in the job I was kicked by a little boy until I had bruises on the backs of my legs, and told by a little girl that I was ugly every day of every week.
7. Communication is difficult.
Especially if you are working with children who speak a different language, keep the dialogue simple.
If they want you to go away, don’t always ask why. Just give them some space. Children do not have an adult’s ability to articulate their emotions, and find it especially frustrating when they are tired. Sometimes it’s best just to go, and let them come to you a while later.
Complex emotional issues are for the parents to help them with. You should just try to diffuse the situation and restore a state of calm. Don’t take it personally when you don’t understand. It’s not always your place to.
8. You may not agree with the parents’ parenting techniques.
This can be one of the hardest things, in my experience. Seeing these children day-in day-out forges a bond between you, and whilst you might not love them, you will come to care.
It may be difficult to watch as the drawing you and the children worked on all afternoon just to show maman is airily dismissed. You may find it hard not to say something when you are again told that the children can eat ‘whatever they like’ for snack, although you’ve mentioned they’re constipated.
Because you’re working in so intimate a setting you’re going see things that you don’t agree with, but you have to hold your tongue. They are not your kids, and no one asked for your opinion.
9. Maintain a professional distance.
Yes, be the children’s friend. Yes, laugh and play together. But remember, things can end abruptly. The family are not always obligated to give you a notice period, if it seems you’re not what they were looking for.
And while it can be nice to chat with the parents when they come in from work, always remember that they are your employer. In most cases they will not welcome you as one of the family, but as house staff. A necessary support in their lifestyle, who can soon be replaced.
10. It gets easier.
I have worked for six different families during my time in Paris, some temporarily, and some for longer contracts. The children have ranged from 1-12 in age.
The first family I ever worked for was by far the most difficult. Two children, one of whom was a Veruca Salt character prone to nuclear tantrums and public masturbation. I more than once arrived home in tears.
But then it got better. I don’t deny it took a long time, but eventually, I found families with whom it was possible to build warm, respectful bonds. I became authoritative, and settled into a rhythm which worked for me. Looking back, I think this job made me tougher than I thought I had it in myself to be. Now, I can handle anything.
So if you’re starting out, this is going to be one of the hardest things you have ever done, but you can do it. I believe in you ❤