One of the biggest challenges through the pandemic is parenting young children while juggling work. As a business owner operating from an office in my home for over seven years, this does not mean our homes have to be full of chaos or lack productivity.
Allow me to share my top 8 tips for working from home with kids.
1. Don’t underestimate the power of connection.
From both research and experience, I have learned that it is vital to begin the day with some meaningful connection. This may seem trivial, but it makes a massive difference in your kids’ willingness to comply. Devoting 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time with toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children can set your entire day up for success.
When little ones’ developmental needs for connection are met before they’re asked to play independently, compliance grows exponentially. Plus, they’ll be able to count on and look forward to this daily time together.
2. Prepare snacks in advance.
As you metaphorically fill your children’s cups with emotional connection each day, go ahead and fill their literal cups too. Fill up water bottles, and provide a snack box ahead of time for children to access without interrupting adult work time. Explain the expectations for snacks (when, how many, what to do when they’re gone, etc.) ahead of time.
3. Create a routine that fosters independence.
When it comes to working from home with kids, the more you can get done in advance, the smoother your day will be. Discuss morning routines in detail. Lay clothes out the night before to allow children to be independent getting ready. Depending on the ages of your children, prepare sensory bags, quiet activities, crafts, games, Legos, Playdoh, podcasts, etc. when you need the guaranteed engagement. Reserve screen time for specific parts of the day. Intentionally structuring parts of the day makes it more manageable for the entire family.
4. Establish realistic expectations.
Don’t plan to work for long periods of time with no breaks, particularly if your children are young. Acknowledge that even children who play well independently still need frequent supervision and socialization. This allows us to keep realistic expectations for the amount of time we are able to work at one time.
It’s safe to assume that you will have to catch up on some work in the evening after your children are in bed. Communicate expectations in a clear, child-friendly manner, and model that by following through. Additionally, supervisors and managers should grant some leeway in these circumstances. Set reasonable expectations on your response time to work-related tasks, and don’t over-commit.
5. Start small.
If you are the only adult home, start with short calls that your children can see beginning and ending more quickly. Discuss problem-solving strategies beforehand if an issue arises while you’re on a phone call. Allow older children to present ideas on how to troubleshoot until a grownup is available again.
Independent play not only has an important role in overnight sleep, but will also allow you time for work. When a call or other obligation is complete, be attentive. Give lots of praise for their cooperation. Motivate your children to continue helpful decisions by celebrating wins! Gratitude and positive reinforcement goes a long way.
6. Designate a work space.
Working at home with kids can blur the lines between parenting and professional time. Children have an easier time understanding that a parent is working when there is a space set aside for work to take place.
Teach simple instruction to provide clarity in your expectations, such as a stop sign posted on a door or a closed door means do not interrupt. For school-aged children, prepare an “office space” to motivate them to complete virtual schooling. For younger children who may like to play “imaginary work,” setting up individual areas for each can help reinforce work space and play space.
7. Take shifts.
If both adults are currently working from home with kids out of school and activities, take advantage of the ability to trade off. Take care of the most important work during uninterrupted hours. Some less stressful routine work can be done even when your children are around. It’s a partnership between spouses to ensure that both adults are able to work while the kids are stimulated adequately.
Designate specific parts of the day to family and other chunks of the day to focused work time. Even if the hours are not as traditional as they are in an office setting, it is doable. In the absence of additional childcare, this can be much more difficult for parents of babies and toddlers. However, if half the day goes according to plan, it is often better than it would be otherwise!
8. Forgive the friction.
Surrounding yourself by the same people 24 hours a day and 7 days a week is not always easy. Thankfully, since your partner and children are likely people you enjoy, it won’t always be difficult either. Your children may need space apart from one another each day to try to avoid the “I’m totally sick of you!” feelings. This is an opportunity to teach them how to problem-solve respectfully and productively.
The financial stress of this situation, feelings of cabin fever, fear of the virus itself, and exhaustion of parenting while working is bound to cause some challenges in your relationship too. Focus on appreciating the accomplishments of each day, and listen to each other well. If a heart of grace and forgiveness is your goal, your time at home will be much smoother.
When we look back on this time, there are a lot of things we will remember. For our children, one of the main things they will remember is time together. Work is necessary, and working from home is certainly a blessing for those of us who are able to. It’s better than the alternative of not being able to continue working at all in this season. Amongst all of the tough stuff you will inevitably face in this “new work environment,” do your best to find a few bright spots in your week. Always look for the moments to turn into simple memories your children will cherish for a lifetime!
We are here for you!