Have you found yourself in the position where you are now having to work from home with the kids under your feet?
Are you wondering how on earth you’ll keep them entertained and get any work done? And how you’ll keep your sanity as you try to juggle both?
Working from home with toddlers and kids around can be challenging. Here are 10 tactics to help make balancing the two, a little easier for you.
Figure out your own family routine
Without the routine of nursery or school, each day can seem like a yawning stretch of time that is daunting to fill. Create a little routine of your own to help get you through.
Think of the day in terms of ‘time chunks’ and give yourselves an activity or a task for each one.
It could be study time after breakfast and quiet time after lunch. Plan it so that you can do what needs to be done each day. But otherwise follow the routine that you and your kids move towards naturally.
If you repeat the same routine every day, kids (and even toddlers) will know what to expect at each stage of the day. And you’ll find that they will follow your lead more easily as a result.
Work where they play
Set yourself up near where the kids play so that you’re close by, but can still work. Maybe they have a play area where they’re happy to keep themselves busy with toys for a while. Or perhaps they enjoy being out in the garden and exploring leaves and sticks out there.
Take your laptop or work station and set yourself up near to where they are. That way, you can watch them while you work.
Another idea for older children is to create work spaces for them next to your own. You can make them exciting with lots of nice stationary and stickers or art and craft supplies.
Your children can work alongside you on school work or on quiet activities.
Make time for kids and time for work
It’s impossible to focus on both work and kids at the same time.
If you try, it’s very likely that you’ll get 5 minutes work done and then have to see to the kids. Then manage another 12 minutes before the children need you again…
What works better is if you make clear blocks of time for the kids and for work.
Make a time each day where you put down your work and give your child your full attention for half an hour. You can do a craft or bake or enjoy a fun activity together. Or you can just play with them and their toys, as long as they’re getting to spend time with you.
For the next half hour, set them up with something fun that they can explore as independent play.
They’ll be more likely to play happily on their own when they’re had that one-on-one time with you. And you’ll get a clear chunk of time to get some work done.
Play nursery rhymes or audio books
Kids love to listen to music and stories. If they’re toddlers, they’ll probably love nursery rhymes or kids songs that they can sing and dance along to.
If they’re older, they might enjoy delving into imaginative stories like Roald Dahl’s novels or Michael Walliams’ fantastical stories for kids.
Audio books are ideal for a bit of quiet time and they’re screen free too.
Rotate toys and leave out new activities each day
When kids see the same toys every day, they get bored of them. They’ll eventually start to ignore them completely and want to focus on something else. Often that something is you or their siblings.
It can help to rotate toys every few days. Put away toys that they’ve played with and dig out something different from the back of the cupboards that they haven’t seen for a while. Lay it out for them to play with or get them started with it the next day.
If the kids are home for the whole day, it can also help to set up one or two new activities for them each day. These don’t need to be new purchases or time-consuming makes. But leaving out little projects that they can explore each day can make a difference.
It might be giant wooden building blocks or domino pieces. It could be a sensory oven tray filled with dried pasta or water beads. Or a blackboard with coloured chalk.
You could even leave out everyday items like a broom for sweeping outside or a watering can that they can water plants with or play around with. They’ll find their own ways to explore new objects and some can keep them busy for hours.
Make an emergency boredom box
Grab any old box, some wrapping paper, stickers and other decorations and get the kids to decorate it. This is an activity in itself that might buy you a bit of time to quickly fire off some emails or do small tasks!
Fill the box with a load of exciting things for the kids. It could be new toys, old toys that they haven’t seen in a while, or ones that tend to keep your child occupied for a long time, like reusable sticker books or wind up cars.
Keep it out of the way so that it’s all the more exciting when you bring it out.
When the kids are bored and restless and you really need to get a piece of work done, bring out the emergency boredom box and watch it work its magic.
Find creative ways to flag when you’re on an important call
You’re in an important conference call and a little voice pipes up shouting ‘Mummy I need a poo’. Not ideal.
For younger kids you can find creative ways to flag that you’re on a call and you can’t be interrupted.
Maybe wear a tiara or a red cape (if it’s not a video call!) or tie a red ribbon on the door handle.
Start flexible working hours
Now you’re working from home with the kids under your feet the usual 9-5 often doesn’t work.
If you can, work flexibly. You can get a lot of work done in the morning before the kids get up. And again in the evenings when they’re tucked up in bed.
If you can shift a lot of your work to these times then you feel less stressed in the daytime too.
You can give your children more of your time and attention, knowing that you can catch up on work later.
If your partner is also working from home then one of the best ways for you both to get tasks done is to tag team.
Take it in turns to look after the kids, while the other one works.
Share up bath and bedtime routines, to carve out pockets of time for each other to work too.
Reward good behaviour
It’s hard, especially for little kids, to share your attention with work.
They don’t get why you have to go on a ‘boring’ conference call instead of playing LEGO. Or why you on earth you would choose to answer emails instead of playing football in the garden.
It can be tricky for them to play by themselves, when they’re not used to doing so for a long(ish) stretch of time.
So give plenty of praise when they do. And if you can, enjoy an activity together the two of you as well.
No matter how well you think you have organised everything sometimes the best laid plans can go awry. That chunk of time you carved out to work might be interrupted by the kids fighting and bursting into tears.
Yesterday the kids might have coloured in beautifully by your side as you worked. Today they are climbing the walls and bouncing off the ceiling. Or they just keep squabbling and annoying one another.
Sometimes it’s better to write off work and get everyone outdoors to run about. You can pick it up again later or after bedtime. It’s a balancing act. Some days it works, others are harder.
Keep calm and carry on
If you’re reading this during the Covid-19 lockdown then you’ll know that we’re all in uncharted waters.
Parents who work from home during normal times, often have plans in place to get enough peace and space to focus on work. They work when the kids are in nursery or in school or at clubs or playdates. They might use grandparents or babysitters to help.
The days when the kids are ill and at home or on holiday from school are challenging but often short lived. The situation many are in with the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Employers will understand. Many of them will even be in the same boat.
Each day you can only do your best. If today was a write off then tomorrow’s another day.