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Working from home, with kids.
If there’s one thing that recent events have shown us, it’s how quickly our day-to-day lives can change. One of the biggest shifts in the workplace during coronavirus was the pivot to working from home that from now on, could very well be the new normal.
But what about those with kids? As if raising a family wasn’t already a juggling act of household chores, tantrum mitigation and keeping the little ones entertained for more than 5 minutes. Throw Zoom meetings, deadlines and little personal space in the mix, and you’ve a potential recipe for a very stressed out parent/employee.
This doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom though. We have some helpful tips on working from home with children. Every family is different, and there are endless strategies you can try that might work with yours.
(Home) Office Space
While you’re working from home, you’re going to want to have a dedicated workspace. This will help keep work/home balance a little more in check, and allow you to set yourself and your family some boundaries. While you’re using the space, be thoughtful of yourself. Make it comfortable, quiet and adequate to work from home.
Designate an area for your “home office”
Let’s face it; it’s nearly impossible to completely isolate yourself from everyone in the house. You may not exactly even want to!
Find yourself a nice well-lit part of your house to set up, perhaps a spare room, that will allow you to stay focused and on task with minimal interruptions.
Doing this will allow for a mental separation between work and the rest of the home. A dedicated workspace can prevent the two worlds colliding, and helps keep the focus on the work while you need to.
This idea is not just for the adults either. Having a defined home office where you will be working while the kids are home is a great way to establish a clear boundary for children as well. Don’t forget, this is new to them to and they’re excited to have you around. If a separate room isn’t an option, consider setting up a separate section within the same room (blanket fort anyone?).
Even if you manage to find yourself somewhere to set up, you’re likely going to be an unwitting participant in a hide and seek match. Safe to say this is quite the inconvenience if you’ve found yourself in an online meeting or call.
Consider a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones as part of your arsenal. You won’t be able to stop the screaming and banging, but you’ll be able to drown out that noise for both yourself and others. You‘ll also benefit from elevated mood, increased productivity and concentration for your day-to-day life.
In addition, if not to help while you work, headphones are an invaluable way to get some ‘you’ time in, as they will squash almost all outside noise. Prefer to listen to your favourite podcast instead of the 60th replay of Frozen? Whack them in and drift away. Headphones can be a game changer, giving you that little bit more space to unwind.
Use your time wisely
Have an infant or toddler on your hands? Naps are (hopefully) part of their daily routine. The temptation to use this time to relax is strong. Instead, keep yourself on track by using this as a distraction free time. Savour the quiet while you can and use it to your advantage. Perhaps keep a to-do list of smaller tasks you need to get done through the day. The time, and choice, is yours.
It is important to be mindful of how you are coping and managing this change in circumstance. Of course looking after the little one’s is important, but so is looking after yourself. Here are just some things to keep in mind while working from home.
If your kids have homework, that’ll help keep them occupied for a while throughout the day. Unfortunately, school work doesn’t last forever. And if your kids don’t have school, you’re probably not organising play dates any time soon. Regardless, you’ll need to find some creative ways to keep them occupied while you can keep an eye on them.
Frequent breaks during the day can help everyone. Instead of sitting head down and working on a task for three hours straight, try to break up your day. Work for 60 minutes then take a 10 or 15-minute break to hang out with your kids. You can help them with school or an activity, share a snack or have a quick silly dance off to get the energy flowing. If they’re quiet and busy doing their own thing, take that time for yourself.
Dress for success
When you think of someone who works from home, the first thing that comes to mind for most is someone sitting around in their pyjamas while watching TV. While that might be true for some, making the effort to shower and dress in ‘work’ clothes every day can make all the difference to how you feel. You’ll feel less stressed and more prepared for all the challenges and video calls being thrown your way.
Keep your daily routine as if you were heading out to the office, and this will create a mental boundary between ‘work’ and ‘home’ life.
Share the load
The least the kids can do is help out around the house!
Depending on their age, you could assign them chores/tasks to help out. Anything from putting toys back into the toy box to doing the dishes and laundry—there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done.
Consider incentivising the chores with a bit of fun reward, or gamify the chores themselves. Get five chores done before dinnertime and get 30 mins more Minecraft sounds like a deal to me.
Pick a day off when you have time and pre-cook meals whether just for yourself, the kids or both. This will give you more time throughout the week, and less to worry about when you’re busy.
Time to yourself
This seems to be one of the most underrated points of the ‘parenting while working from home’ discussion. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some time to settle down. What that looks like is up to the individual, but it’s important to get in even 20-30 minutes after work to yourself. Take a walk, meditate, whack those headphones on and listen to your favourite audiobook. Whatever works for you. Just make sure you do something.
Preparing the troops
All right. So you’ve got your workspace set up, coffee in hand and ready to take on another day. Now, you want to prepare the children, so the day will run as smoothly as possible for all of you.
Create a schedule
Children thrive on regularity. This is especially the case for school-aged children who have developed a routine and structure. A schedule will not only help them stay focused, but hopefully provide periods of productivity for you, too. Plan things like lunch times, activity and games time, a ‘no noise’ period and if applicable, schoolwork.
Set up snack and drink stations
Get a step ahead and prepare a heap of snack kits the night before (adults can have them too). You could make some snack bags filled with their healthy favourites, some treats and beverages. The next time you’re on a call and have someone whining for a biscuit, you can quickly and easily appease their h-anger.
It’s also an idea to put kid-safe cups on a low shelf they can reach, and teach them how to get themselves water.
On any given day, your children likely demand all the attention during your out of office hours. So, do you really expect them to sit still for hours in a corner with a colouring book or an iPad while you work at home? Consider how easily distracted you can get during work hours by phone calls, text messages, emails, social media or the humble day dream. Remember, you are the star of the show for your kin, so cut them a little slack.
Set goals for your children to keep them occupied. If they successfully meet the target, offer them a reward. Whether it’s 30 minutes at the park, popcorn and a movie, or pizza night at the local they’ll love doing what you ask for something fun!
Have a plan B
Eventually, your kids might get bored of whatever activity you’ve conjured up. Have a back-up activity jar ready to go. When they get bored, have them take a note from the jar and do the activity. It’s a good idea to set some ground rules ahead of time (like, no matter what, you have to do the activity), but it’s a great way to keep kids occupied.
There’s an infinite amount of activities and games to keep your kids busy with, especially with a trusty web search. Here is a handful of some easy ideas to get you going.
A boredom box is a box filled with craft materials or activities to keep the kids busy. There’s no limit to what can go in your boredom box and you can make a boredom box out of anything and any theme. Once you’ve put some items together, come up with a list of potential projects or themes and write each one down. You might instruct your child to build a robot out of the materials or a scene of sorts.
Along with a boredom box, you can have some activity jars ready. These are jars filled with activity ideas they can do alone, or you can do together.
Some items commonly in a boredom box include:
- Construction paper/ Glue / Scissors
- Straws / Popsicle sticks / Pipe cleaners
- Plastic jewels / Beads / Buttons
- Watercolour paints / Pencils / Stamps / Crayons
- Stickers / Balloons / Feathers
- Paper towel rolls / Cupcake liners / Plastic cups
- Puzzles / Colouring Books / Notepads
- Lego / Building blocks / Play-doh
Make up some pre-made kits as part of the box as well. Some ideas might be:
- Bracelet making kit.
- A slime making kit.
- A bag of Lego with an objective to build.
- Post card making kit to give to family.
Of course, much of what you’ll include will be dependent on the age and interests of your children.
For the activity jars you’ll want to include a mix of things they can do alone, and things you can do together when time permits. Solo activities could include:
- Draw something interesting that you find in the garden.
- Learn 5 new words from the dictionary.
- Find something from the house that is every colour of the rainbow.
- Find a fun way to play with a tennis ball.
- Invent a superhero and write a story about them and their powers.
- Prepare a play to perform after dinner.
For joint activities, it’s great to find things that give you some valuable time together. It also can’t hurt to add in some exercise, for both tiring the kids out, and giving yourself some much needed decompression time. Some ideas might include:
- Walk somewhere you’ve never been before.
- Have a picnic lunch in the garden.
- A trip to the play gym.
- Play time in the park.
- Ride the bike trails together.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and just have fun with it! Take some time to think about what activities work best with your schedule and means, leaving open-ended suggestions so they'll hopefully lead to other activities, rather than just the suggested ten or twenty minutes on each.
Online play dates
Believe it or not, hosting an online play date can be an opportunity for work-at-home parents to get some work done. School-age kids can, and should, play together without a lot of adult intervention. If you plan to work while they play, remind your children of the ground rules in advance and invite a friend that they get along with well.
If you are hosting a toddler or pre-schooler, you have to stay pretty close, so working throughout is not always an easy option.
Mini work from home station
Why not double down and let the kids work from home too? Set them up next to you and challenge them to draw, paint, colour or "work" on play laptops. This can be an especially handy activity, say for example during a 30-minute call conference call or presentation.
Living room fort
Create a living room fort with sheets, blankets, and pillows. Perfect for reading, playing pretend with dolls and stuffed animals, or watching a movie.
Save cardboard shipping boxes for a few days and then hand them over to your kids to become forts, rockets, or play houses. Throw in some markers or crayons (and maybe scissors for older children) and your kid will be happily entertained for hours and even days—buying you valuable work time.
Ask your children to create a play to perform for you after dinner. Provide them with puppet supplies, a song playlist, or costumes to dress up in.
Whether you’re a veteran work from home superstar or new to the whole thing, you’re not alone. There are tons of ideas out there for keeping the kids busy while you work and managing you’re new lifestyle, find what works best for you and yours.