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Working from home with kids: advice and ideas to stay sane

Working from home with kids and losing your sanity? Here's some general ideas and advice to make things easier.

Published onSeptember 22, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, many of us have been forced to work from home. Schools are also in a weird situation right now, with many operating with hybrid or even fully virtual schedules. Some of us have even opted to keep our kids from home, even if the schools are still in session.

For those with children, this provides a new challenge: working at home with kids.

If you have older teens, it’s probably less of a concern as they can mostly work on their homework themselves and know how to keep out of your hair. But if we’re talking preschoolers, elementary, and middle school children — it’s a much bigger adjustment. It’s important to keep your children engaged and hopefully doing their at-home assignments, while also still getting work done yourself.

I’ve worked from home since 2012, and during the first couple of years I did so while also being the only parent at home during most of the day. I fully understand how tough this can be. Here are just a some tips and ideas you can use to help get through this difficult time.

1. You’re going to have to be more flexible than ever before when working from home with kids

Child playing with Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet

Working from home with kids isn’t easy, and it might not be possible to get a whole eight- or nine-hour workday done in one chunk if you have kids at home. This is especially true if you’re the only parent at home. To be successful working from home while also homeschooling or spending time with your children, you may have to start earlier or work later. You’ll also have to roll with the punches a bit more. If your three-year-old is being extra clingy or grumpy, you might have to take an unexpected break — just keep track of the time lost and come up with a plan to make it up later. Even if that means working a few hours on the weekend.

Flexibility and patience are going to be two of your most important tools right now

Obviously some jobs will be less flexible when you’re working from home, but most I wager will care more about the results. For many employers, they hopefully won’t care exactly when you’re working on bigger projects as long as you’re still answering your emails and calls during established work hours. If you have concerns, talk to your employer ahead of time about your plans and any concerns you have.

Speaking of being more flexible, that also means being a bit more flexible with your rules. While I don’t condone letting the TV or an iPad babysit your kids for eight hours straight, you might need to loosen your screen-time rules a little. Maybe you normally only allow your toddler an hour a day of TV time. Right now it’s okay to stretch that to two hours. It’s important that you make necessary adjustments for your own sanity.

2. Have a set schedule in mind, but again, flexibility is key

Regardless of what age your kids are, it’s important to have some kind of schedule in place. This is not only helpful for keeping them on task, but it also allows you to better structure your workday as well. For those with school-aged kids, they are already used to a schedule if they are enrolled in a traditional school and while you can’t replicate it entirely at home, you can come up with your own that fits into your family life.

If you’re trying to figure out how to engage your kids after March Break, take a look at this COVID-19 daily schedule.
— Teacher Truths (@ONTeacherSays) March 14, 2020

The schedule in this popular Tweet above is just one I’ve seen for homeschooling, but there are tons floating around. Of course, that particular schedule doesn’t factor in working from home. My best advice is to look at several schedules online and use them to make one that is customized for your family. That’s exactly what my wife and I did. It helped that we already had a loose schedule for our three-year-old, but obviously our older kids needed something a bit more structured.

Establish a routine, but don't be afraid to adjust it as needed!

In our case, my wife is a stay-at-home mom, so we haven’t had to worry so much about planning blocks of time for her to work. That said, I’ve had to adjust my schedule some just because there is more noise in the house and more kids coming to me with “hey Dad” questions. It’s also important to me that I participate in some things during the day to give my wife a break! For example, many mornings I’ll take a 20- to 30-minute walk with the kiddos just to give my wife a bit of a breather, and it gives the kids much needed exercise. Obviously you might not be in an area where it’s okay to go outdoors, and so be sure to follow any local laws and regulations in place for your area.

For those that are doing it alone, your schedule is going to be spread out over the entire day. As mentioned, you’re going to need to be flexible. You might need to stop working for a bit, or you might need to move your schedule around each day as things come up. That’s okay.

3. Be strategic about screen time (and naps, if that applies)

Right now it’s important to be strategic with your screen time and nap times for younger kids. You want to do your hardest tasks when your kids are asleep or distracted by the TV or a tablet. You’ll also want to make sure your kids have either screen time or some kind of interesting activity to do while you’re taking calls with your boss, a co-worker, or a client.

As for what they are watching or playing? That’s up to you, though if you can steer them towards something educational, that’s preferred. Here’s a list of some of the best learning apps for kids to help point you in the right direction. I also highly recommend ABC Mouse if you have a younger elementary or preschool kid. We’ve been using it for years and the kids love it.

4. Have fun activities at the ready

working from home with kids

When working from home with kids, it’s important to have plenty of activities to keep your kids busy so you can actually get work done! No, that doesn’t just mean handing them an iPad or tablet and wishing them well.

There are two different classes of activities, those kids can do by themselves and those that will require your help. Let’s start with some simple activities kids can do without much oversight that will help them keep occupied:

  • Coloring books: These are easy and your young one can play with them side-by-side with you while you work. On the downside, this won’t keep their attention span long. Depending on your child, this could buy you ten minutes to an hour. I highly recommend Crayola’s no mess activity kits, especially if you aren’t watching your kids like a hawk during this process. The markers in these kits can only work on the included sheets/books, and so you won’t end up with crayon and marker “art” all over your wall.
  • Legos, Duplos, or similar building blocks: This could potentially be great for keeping them occupied for 30 minutes or up to an hour or so. Again, every child is different.
  • Toys! Obviously you know what other types of toys your kids are into, but one piece of advice: Choose only a few and place them in a tote or something similar. Less stimulation is better, and you can always alternate what’s in this box every few days so kids don’t get bored of the same toys day in and day out.
working from home with kids

Assisted activities generally take more time and keep your kids occupied longer, but if you’re the only parent it might be hard to do them if you’re also trying to fit a workday in. If there are two or more adults in your household, you can rotate out who is doing activities and who is working, cleaning, or even just relaxing.

The great thing about activities is they keep the kids mentally and physically engaged, and it prevents fights if you have more than one child. If you just set your kids loose and tell them to entertain themselves, trust me — you’ll be in for a lot of fighting. It will also make your kids feel loved and cared for if you take a break during your day to do some group activities. You aren’t used to working from home, and they aren’t used to schooling from home! This is a big adjustment for everyone and it’s important to make everyone feel appreciated and special during these hard times.

A bored kid is a kid that will be saying 'hey mom' or 'hey dad' every three minutes. Give them something to do!

Some great activities you can do with your kids include:

  • Baking (or cooking): Get in the kitchen and make some cookies, bread, or whatever have you. There are plenty of free recipes out there on the web. If you’re looking for a cookbook I recommend The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs.” We’ve had a version of this book for at least a year or two and highly recommend it.
  • Science experiments: Again, there are plenty of free resources for doing basic science experiments with the kids, though you may need some supplies to do it. KiWiCo is probably one of the best known options in this space, as it offers monthly subscriptions that sends you kits with science and art projects. Of course, there are also one-off science kits you can buy online. We picked up “My First Mind Blowing Science,” which had 11 activities. The kids are loving it so far.
  • Arts and crafts: You can easily get art supplies online, or even kits if that’s more your thing. Be sure to also think outside of the box a bit, with unique projects like Create your own Window Art.” My kids (ranging from 3 to 10) are obsessed with this one!
  • Board games: If you’re like us and have an older kid that can direct the others, this is even an activity the kids can do while you’re busy working. Candy Land, Shoots and Ladders, and many more make for a great time. You may already have a nice collection. If not, you can find plenty on Amazon (or even locally if you dare enter a store).

5. Remember to schedule times for exercise, outdoor time, or both

working at home and playing with kids

A bored kid is a kid that’s going to be saying “hey Dad” or “hey Mom” every few minutes. They are also going to be more energetic if they aren’t burning any energy, and a kid with too much energy is a ticking time bomb. What kind of exercise routine? That’s totally up to you and where you live. For us, we are fortunate enough to live on an acreage in the woods so we do a lot of outdoor activities like kick around the soccer ball, play catch, play tag, run around with squirt guns, or even take a walk around the neighborhood (just be sure to practice social distancing, keeping at least six feet away from others).

For those stuck indoors things like stretches, dancing to silly songs (Baby Shark, anyone?), or running around the house (if you have room) are all easy ways to burn energy. If you are into more structured activities and ideas, has some wonderful tips.

Another thing I recommend is to have at least one early morning energy-burning activity and one in the afternoon. This keeps the kids from building up too much energy.

6. Working at home but have a significant other watching the kid? Here’s some bonus advice.

Hands Typing Coding Laptop

If you’re working from home for the first time but have a significant other around, things will be easier for both of you. But that’s not to say it still isn’t a challenge! You’re not used to all the distractions that come from working from home, let alone adding the noise of kids to the mix. If you are the “other” parent and won’t be doing most of the homeschooling stuff, here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Consider getting noise-canceling headphones. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Find a quiet space away from the kiddos and lock the door. This will minimize distractions.
  3. Of course if your three year old keeps banging on the door crying for (in my case) daddy — be a good parent and take a break! Spend some time with them and make them feel loved.
  4. Remember that you’re not the only parent here. Give your spouse breaks throughout the day or a little “me time” at night. This is a stressful time for all involved.
  5. As mentioned, you’re going to need to be flexible. Even if you’re not the only parent here and aren’t handling homeschooling, you’ll still be distracted more and need to take breaks.

And that’s all I got. Anyone else have any great tips, ideas for games, or other suggestions to help making working from home with kids easier? let us know in the comments!

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