16 Oct, 2020

How To Work From Home With Kids: 9 Tips for Achieving the Impossible

When my youngest woke up at 4:45 this morning desperate for food, I had a decision to make once I’d gotten him back to sleep: stay up and work or try to get another hour of precious sleep before the other kids wake up?

Of course, I crawled back into my warm bed, cuddled up to my sleeping spouse, and closed my tired eyes. Ah. That’s the ticket. The problem was that my eyes kept popping open.

Could it have been my soundly snoring spouse? Possibly. Most likely, however, it was the fact that I’m a morning person with three kids under three, I have a work deadline, and my brain knows that it thinks best in the morning.

Having to work from home with kids is a bit of a mixed bag, whether you are doing it by choice or because of the COVID-19 economy. Either way you look at it, working at home with kids is tough! But there are ways to navigate the situation and stay productive with minimal interruptions.

I’ve put together a list of 9 tried and true ways to help you (and your children) survive these unprecedented times of quarantining together while actually getting your work done (on time, preferably).

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9 Useful Tips To Work From Home With Kids Successfully

1. Make room 

If you’ve found yourself having to work from home with kids, you may be at a bit of a loss for where to start. Kids are wonderful – don’t get me wrong – but they are needy and noisy – two qualities that aren’t exactly conducive to a working environment.

The first thing you need to do is make room for breaks, for yourself, and for work (and yes, the order was intentional).

  • For breaks: Schedule chunks of time for both you and your kids to take actual breaks. Walk around the yard. Do 10 minutes of kid yoga together. Eat a snack at the table together and talk.
  • For yourself: Your health and well-being are just as important as your kids’, so make room for yourself. Eat healthy food, drink plenty of water, and exercise daily. Engage in a little self-care and meditation every so often to keep your brain happy and healthy.
  • For work: Create a physical space that keeps chores out of sight (AKA – put the full laundry hamper in the closet for now). It might be a tight fit to have a dedicated workspace, but it’s worth it.

2. Keep your expectations reasonable

Making the switch to work from home with kids is tricky, and you need to cut yourself some slack. You are doing the best you can, and you’re not going to get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the eighty-fifth. The important thing is that you keep trying and adjusting until you find what works for both you and the kids.

Also, be sure to talk with your boss about what your new work life should look like. Do you need to work 9 to 5 or can you work whenever as long as you get your hours in? We live in unprecedented times, and your employer is probably more flexible than he used to be.

3. Use tech to your advantage

Technology is ubiquitous these days, so put it to good use. There are all kinds of apps for time management, screen time limits, blocking social media, and letting you establish parental controls on your kids’ devices. 

Now, let’s get one ugly truth out into the open: your kids are going to have more screen time than you want. The important thing is to use it to your advantage. Instead of starting the day with a screen, offer screen time when they’re grumpiest or neediest each day (usually in the afternoon).

Additionally, make a schedule and set alarms on your phone to keep everyone on track. Be sure to schedule unstructured play time to give your kids chunks of your undivided attention throughout the day. 

Of course, for older kids who prefer to spend their time alone, send text message reminders so that you’re not nagging them at their bedroom door.

4. Plan your day in advance

I know, I know, “Life happens when you’re making plans,” but having at least some ideas in place as you navigate working at home can set you up for success. Having a plan doesn’t mean that your day is set in stone, but it gives you a strong foundation to build upon.

Ideas that will help you work from home with kids include:

  • Structure your day around when you work best (get up earlier if you’re a morning bird or plan to work later if you’re a night owl).
  • Figure out how to trade off kid-watching responsibilities with your partner, whether or not you both work from home. You’ll need to communicate and compromise.
  • Schedule “naptime” or “quiet time” during periods when you need to focus on work.
  • Learn how to work smarter not harder and prioritize your tasks at the beginning of each day.
  • Create cues for quiet. Working from home with kids is difficult because when they want to talk to you, they want to talk to you. When you need quiet, create a visual cue such as wearing a crown (for younger kids) or hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door (for older kids). It’ll take some practice, but your kids will learn how to wait.

5. Be flexible with your workspace

Let’s be real, it’s impossible to work in a common space like the kitchen table or dining room table with kids around. Children want to be close to you, and having easy accessibility means they’ll repeatedly come into your workspace trying to get your attention.

So instead of using a standard workspace, set up your office in the basement, a spare room, or even your bedroom. Also, make sure your workspace has a door you can close to separate yourself from distractions and focus on work. 

However, don’t get attached to a single workspace. Kids move around the house and may soon discover your work area. Be flexible and improvise a workspace away from where your children are present. 

In case you can’t take your eyes off your kids, set up separate work and play spaces in the same room. Having a specific space for children to read a book, set up camp, or just play nearby works far better than having a kid sit and watch you work. Make it as welcoming as you can by placing your child’s favorite toys, crafts, and electronics in the space.

6. Rely on your partner

Sometimes you get only a day to complete a whole week’s work, and the chances are pretty good that your kids would need your attention for most of the day. But you can make a plan with your partner that during a certain day of the week they are in charge of the household and you work. 

For instance, Tuesdays can be your workday, when you spend time wrapping up projects while your partner looks after the kids. As a side note, make sure children know who they’re supposed to go to when they need something.

If you’re a single parent with young kids, you can hire a sitter to support your work arrangement.  Once you do, empower them enough to enforce the rules you set – even if it means putting up with tears and whining. The first days might be a rollercoaster, but hopefully, things will get sorted out once everyone gets used to the schedule.

7. Make your life easier

There is some skill and strategy involved when you need to work from home with kids, but success is possible. Before switching professions, I was an elementary school teacher, and two of the best methods of child management are: 1. Expect the best, but prepare for the worst, and 2. Giving each kid your undivided attention a couple of times a day goes a long way. 

Keeping those two tips for working from home with kids in mind, here are some supplementary suggestions: 

  • Everyone’s a little more stressed than they used to be – kids included – so be mindful of your children, and encourage them every chance you get. The magic ratio is 4:1 for every time you should praise versus correct a child, and praising may take some conscious thought – especially when they interrupt an important conference call for the third time – but it’s worth it.
  • Quality time with your kids is your best friend right now. Setting aside 10-15 minute chunks for quality time with your kids can buy you an hour of uninterrupted work time when you’re done. Whether you’re working from home with an infant, toddler, or older child, carving out a few minutes for full-focus play works wonders.
  • When you need a break, have special toys, movies, or activities set aside specifically for quiet time.
  • Pre-assemble drinks and snacks for your kids, so the snack station is self-serve.

8. Teach your kids to be independent

This can bring a drastic improvement in your productivity. Start by giving your kids a chance to make their own decisions. Let them decide what they want to eat, what activity they would like to do, or what they want to wear. Parents of toddlers and twos can encourage them to put toys away, put their clothes near the laundry, and help with chores like putting their shoes on. 

Additionally, help your kids learn something new each week in a fun and engaging way. For example, you can show them how to make a few simple snacks (ones that don’t involve using the stove or the oven) and ask them to make some on their own. Make the activity fun by offering a reward for participation. 

When children learn new skills and start doing simple tasks on their own, you will find it easier to work from home with kids without distractions. Plus, learning a few skills early in life will help prepare your kids for adulthood.

9. Make it do

One of the biggest hurdles you’ll probably encounter is learning how to leave good enough alone. Your house will probably be messier than it used to be, and the dishes might stack up. With laundry overflowing and sticky pools of orange juice drying on the kitchen floor, you might want to step away from your desk and get just one little chore done

Part of being successful as a work-at-home parent is to prioritize your needs, your kids’ needs, your work’s needs, and your house’s needs. You may need to forgo some chores to meet a work deadline, or stay up extra late working once the kids are asleep.  

You may need to take a good, long look in the mirror when things seem to be slipping through your fingers and learn that it’s ok to do the best you can and leave it at that.

Conclusion

Figuring out how to work from home with kids has a learning curve – there is no question about that – but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. 

You and your kids will experience some growing pains, but by being flexible, managing your expectations, and utilizing some skillful planning, everyone can get their work done well, on time, and maybe have a tiny bit of fun along the way.  

How do you work from home with kids around? Let us know in the comments below.

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Adeel Qayum: Adeel Qayum is a writer and content strategist based in Southeast Asia. He loves blogging about ecommerce and online privacy, and dances salsa in his free time.