Homeworking parents might be familiar with having to work from home with children at home. But for some, these are unprecedented times.
Although I have to rely on childcare (or school for my eldest) during term time, during the holidays and on training days, I often have a pre-schooler and five-year-old at home.
I’ve worked from home with babies, toddlers and now a school-age child. While working remotely can be a tough transition, working from home with children ramps things up a notch.
We all remember the now-iconic video of Professor Robert Kelly being interviewed on BBC news when his daughter came whizzing into the room in the background.
Workers in China have been learning how to adapt to this new norm over the past two months. As measures to delay the spread of Coronavirus come into force, more of us are faced with having to work from home with children at home. With schools closed and people in self-isolation, these tips will help you survive the double whammy of working from home with the kids.
Transparency and expectations
Knowing you’ll get less done when you’re working from home with children is one of the first things to accept.
It is important not to place too much pressure on yourself at this time. It is going to be a stressful period for you but children pick up on this and we need to meet their needs as well.
Being open and honest with your employer or clients means you can set realistic expectations and make suitable allowances. It gives you the opportunity to explain your limitations, discuss alternative working hours or projects. Being transparent in this way helps ease the anxiety about trying to get through your workload knowing you’ll be doing so in a stressed state – and not helping your children or your own health in the process.
As our previous blog, which looks at working from home when the kids are off school suggests:
“Putting out of office emails into play or letting clients know of reduced office hours can prevent misunderstandings. It might be a case of letting people know you won’t be available for big orders. Maybe your time frames and deadlines will need to be extended to allow for shorter working days.”
Structure is essential (but it can change)
One way to keep things as normal as possible and to ease into the transition is to maintain some structure. Keeping to your daily routine as closely as possible is a good idea if you’re new to remote working. It’s also helpful for children to have stability and structure.
If you’re all based at home, with parents and children working or being schooled remotely, putting a family timetable together is important.
If old enough, allowing your children to help plan the schedule with you helps them to feel involved and part of this new routine. We had a group chat about how things were going to change and came up with a schedule that means we all know who does what, when, but there is flexibility within the time blocks.
With everybody knowing what’s expected and how the family are going to work together, it makes taking time away from your children to work much easier.
For older children who can manage their own routine, it’s less of an issue. With younger children and toddlers who demand more of your attention, there’s no silver bullet. It’s hard. That’s where point one comes into force but there are also activities and things you can do to help keep them entertained to give you that extra half hour or so. (Read on).
Once you have a routine in place, understand that it might and probably will change.
You’ll work out when you can get most work done and you might end up skewing your day so that you work earlier in the day or later in the evening once the children are in bed.
If you’re an employee remote working, this is the sort of thing to talk to your employer about. There will be times when you have to stick to core office hours and be involved with video conference calls but there might be some work you can do in your own time.
Within your day, look at those small ‘pockets of time’ that you can make use of to get small jobs done such as social media or a quick phone call.
And remember to be realistic with yourself. Whereas you may have had blocks of one or two hours before, you may now only get 20-30 minutes of focused time. Know your limitations and accept them for now. Think about how to adjust your to-do list so you can optimise the time you have.
Communicate and Cooperate
Don’t underestimate what your children can understand.
Set clear boundaries with all members of the family about when you’re available and when you’re at work.
It takes a little time for children to get used to the idea that if you’re home, you’re not always available, but they do adapt quickly.
Talk to your children about what you’re doing and let them know you’ll be free at a set time. Some people use a sign on the office door to let their children know they’re working.
If you don’t have a separate office, creating a safe and cosy place for them to play so they won’t want to keep disturbing you does help.
If you’re a couple who are both working from home, get your timetable in place so you can alternate and do shifts with the children. Also try to schedule in group family time when you all come together at the end of the day.
Having an evening meal together can signify the end of the working day (unless doing later hours) and is a good time to chat through any issues, talk about what you can do differently and get your children’s input as well.
Getting as much working time out of your day is the aim. Setting activities that children can do with limited involvement from you is the preference here. Of course, TV and tablets are going to come into play, but if they are learning online as well, you’re going to want to get them off screens as much as possible.
What’s also important is realising that not everything has to be scheduled because letting them just play freely is one of the best things for them as well.
Leaving them (safely) to their own devices can develop their creativity. If they have siblings, it can encourage teamwork. I’ve often left my two little ones to play together while I get on with emails or writing. They have built dens, fought dragons, made toy hospitals and even saved the life of a wizard.
Bring out the craft box and make sure it’s filled with supplies. Glue, crayons, card, stickers, glitter (if you dare). They might get messy but it does give you time!
With older children who can follow instructions, set them to work on a project. With younger children, have a stash of toys such as Lego, board games and jigsaw puzzles. Colouring books and stickers also tend to occupy a lot of time.
This post by Claire Nicoll suggests different ways of coping with different age groups.
When you need a couple of hours to focus without distractions, pull out the DVDs/Netflix movies. A good idea to save these for when you really need them!
Remember to include your children in daily chores and household tasks that mean you’re getting stuff done whilst also spending time with them. Set them challenges in the garden such as treasure hunts or mini obstacle courses.
I’ll never understand the joy my little girl gets from helping to sort laundry into piles and Who can find the lost sock? is a game that can go on forever.
Remove the guilt: children are learning
Something I mentioned in this blog too but it’s going to be hard and it’s likely you’ll feel guilty. Guilty about not getting work done, guilty about not giving your children adequate attention.
Things to remember that can help:
• As above, free play and imaginative play are good for children.
• The time you do have scheduled for being with your children is more purposeful and intentional and they will get more from you.
• Spending time with them when doing housework is another opportunity for learning as well. If you’re feeling guilty that you’re not ‘homeschooling’ as much as you’d like:
– They can learn maths by helping you weigh and measure when cooking.
– You can do science experiments in the bath.
– Tidying up is a chance for sorting, colour and counting
– And loading the dishwasher – the ultimate in problem-solving!
This Facebook post has some great ideas.
• Your child(ren) will also learn about boundaries. They are developing independence whilst also learning to respect your own space and time.
• When it comes to guilt about work, the point about transparency above can also help alleviate any stress around this.
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Resources to help when working from home with children
There are some wonderful online resources that can help you when you’re working from home with children at home as well.
From e-learning tools, to online tutoring to apps and activity downloads. This list should keep you busy!
Play Hooray: Useful downloadable sheets with activities organised by school year.
What Shall We Do: A fun random ideas generator offering suggestions for fun activities to do at home.
Helpful Kidz: With free downloads and educational aids to encourage children to help around the home with things such as cooking and cleaning. Their Etsy store has flashcards and treasure hunt games that encourage helpfulness and sustainability.
Fairies Away: Digital explorer packs with flashcards and a diary filled with fun activities.
Inventors & Makers: Offering online classes in making, inventing and encouraging problem-solving.
Mindful Magic: Mindfulness and emotional literacy tools for children from pre-school to teen. Classes being taken online so can still join a local group.
Oliiki: For those with toddlers, an app with over 1000 activities for children under 2.
Edinburgh Zoo live webcams: See the animals in their cages being fed and looked after and going about their day at Edinburgh Zoo.
Cov-Education At Home: Online 1-1 tutoring for primary-age children. Also offering tuition via Facebook lives with emailed resources for only £2.
Lessons Alive: Online tuition plus resources and recommendations for parents.
Twinkl Home Learning hub: Daily schedules and activities to support learning for different age groups.
Oxbridge Institute: Tutoring by Oxbridge graduates with video courses, quizzes and brain games suitable for 11+ examinations.
A-Level Revision UK: A-level revision courses offered online in a variety of subjects.
TranceFormations Photoreading: Accelerated learning online workshops suitable for students whose studies have been interrupted.
Facebook Live children’s French group: French
Cosmic Kids Yoga: Easy-to-follow poses and routines that follow along with a story.
PE with Joe Wicks: Daily home workouts for kids.
Tumble Tots: Live Tumble Tots sessions at 10 am – great for toddlers.
Exercise videos: A selection of exercise videos for children from yoga to more traditional aerobic style workouts.
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