Finding a domestic helper who gels well with your family sure seems like a daunting task.
Not only do you need her assimilate well into your family’s culture and language, add kids to the mix and the task gets even harder. This is especially so when your little one may not understand why you need to invite a stranger to live with you.
So, while you may have given her a tour of your home, a list of to-do tasks (ranging from housekeeping and cooking, to childcare), and maybe even a set of house rules, you’ll need to prep your kids as well.
Every family is different, so not all children will take to sharing their home and personal space with someone new. If you’re returning to work and plan to leave your helper in charge in your absence, your little one may feel resent that this “aunty” will be taking your place. Or perhaps, your new helper replaced the one she’s already familiar with ― that, too, may pose challenges when it comes to building a relationship between junior and the new helper.
Every family is different, so not all children will take to sharing their home and personal space with someone new.
We suggest seven ways that may help you smoothen the transition for junior.
1. Introducing the idea
Don’t wait till the last minute to let your child know that a helper will be coming. Value your child’s opinions, her anxiety and concerns. Cinderella Employment Agency manager Rosiah van den Hoek feels that parents can definitely do more in this respect. “Sometimes they just tell them, aunty is coming, but the child is thinking, what should I do now? How should I behave? I don’t know because I’m not being told.”
Another thing you can do is to show the child an idea of what it’s like to have a domestic helper ― “if your neighbour has a helper, your child can observe how the family behaves with her. Or they can watch the short video clips on the Ministry of Manpower websites to give them an idea of the role they will play,” notes van den Hoek.
You should also inform the kids about any cultural or language differences, notes van den Hoek. “If she is from the Philippines, she is likely Christian or Roman Catholic. If she is from Indonesia, she is likely to be Muslim. The language can be different, or their pronunciation can be different ― it can confuse the children, so you should prepare them for that.”
2. Preparing the helper
While most agencies will match the needs of a family with kids with a suitable domestic helper, you’ll need to do your part in preparing her to join your household. It’s always a good idea to give her a rundown of each of your children’s personalities, likes and dislikes. Says Theresa Sim, mum to Jonah, 4, and Lucas, 7, “When Effy first arrived, I made sure to tell her that Lucas was more outgoing, and Jonah was the shy one. So, while Lucas was always more chatty with her, she proceeded with caution with Jonah. Slowly, Jonah learnt to trust her and he’s now extremely close to her.”
Familiarising her with your child’s routine will help, too. For instance, if your 3-year-old is used to drinking a glass of milk and having a nap in the afternoon, preparing your helper for this will avoid any meltdowns. Give her a copy of your child’s daily schedule ― this can include her wake-up time, school hours, meal- and bath-times and so on.
Your helper may face difficulties getting through to your child, especially if your child was attached to the previous one. Get tips on managing this next.
3. Making the switch
If a trusted domestic helper is leaving the family, it may take time for the little ones to warm up to the new helper. It’s a good idea to let your children know beforehand, instead of springing it on them when her bags are all packed. You can show the kids pictures of their previous helper’s home in her own country, her family members, and why she has to return.
Let her know that another “aunty” will be coming in to help them, and that she will look after them and play with them the same way. Sheena Goh’s previous helper had been with her since her son, Tristan, 4, was born. When Vana, had to return to the Phillipines after her contract ended, Tristan was extremely upset. “He kept calling out for her, and couldn’t sleep at night when she wasn’t in the room with him,” she recalls. Foreseeing problems when the new helper arrived, Sheena prepared a small gift for Tristan for the new helper to give to him. “It was his favourite Thomas the Train toy ― this broke the ice instantly as she dived right into playing with him and he was happy about that."
4. House rules
Drawing up a list of house rules will benefit both you and your helper. “Our HDBs, condos or landed homes differ very much from the housing types back in their communities. Our parenting styles also differ vastly from their parenting styles back home,” notes Melody Tham of Island Maids. Never assume that she understands your unique household requirements and mannerisms, she adds.
You should also draw up house rules for your kids. For instance, you may want to tell them that the helper will be in charge when there aren’t any other adults around (when you and the hubs are at work), says van den Hoek. “The kids should be told to listen to her and acknowledge her authority. At the end of the day, it’s a good idea for the helper to give parents a general update of what happened throughout the day.”
“Kids are constantly looking on with watchful eyes, how we treat our domestic helpers”.
5. Showing respect
An important rule to constantly remind your kids of is to show respect. Remind your child to say “please” and “thank you”. Let them know that if they can do something on their own, like pack their toys after they are done with it, they should do it on their own and not leave it to the helper.
“They may be cases where older children may shout at the helper,” says van den Hoek. “Parents should step in and say, listen, I think you should apologise now. You need to show respect and if you speak nicely to your parents, you should speak nicely to the helper, too.”
Tham points out that a lack of mutual respect could discourage your domestic helper, and “affect her physical and psychological state of mind, and in turn, her ability to perform.
6. Model behaviour
Tham reminds parents that the “kids are constantly looking on with watchful eyes, how we treat our domestic helpers”. She notes that depending on the age of the kids, it’s important to teach them the right manners to ask our helpers for help in carrying out tasks. “There are also tasks that your child should be completing independently,” she adds.
7. Solving problems
Both your family and your helper may run into problems throughout your time together. For instance, if the kids are disrespectful, or if your helper is unable to manage the chores, cooking and childminding, there needs to be open channels of communication between you as the employer and your helper.
van den Hoek says that she makes it a point to tell helpers that if they feel they cannot handle the kids, to speak to their employers in the evening when the kids are asleep. “Work together to find a solution.
“When everybody, including the helper is happy, you’ll have a happy home.”
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