“How to work from home with kids?” lamented my friend over the phone to me (yes, we’re practising social distancing). “How do you do it?”, she asked in a voice made hoarse from shouting at her kids, while in the background I could hear squeals, whoops and thuds. This clumsy orchestra was composed of her children, aged nine and seven.
The world is shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, people are finding themselves confined in their homes with their families. They’re learning new terms: social distancing, self-quarantine, and work from home. These are essential phrases to know and understand in order to slow down the spread of the virus and keep economies and businesses ticking. But for many, how to work from home with kids thrown into the mix is challenging to say the least.
How is it possible to be on a conference call with your preschooler banging on his toy drum in the background? Even worse is that video call you have tomorrow morning around the time the kids wake up and loudly demand breakfast (remember “BBC dad”?). How can you focus on that urgent report your manager is demanding when your child is equally demanding about getting food every two hours?
These are just a few of the issues work-at-home-mums like me face and deal with often. Here are some useful work-from-home tips I shared with my stressed-out friend, that will surely help you, too, work effectively from home, especially when your kids are also with you.
How to work from home with kids? It’s not as hard as you think it is! | Image source: iStock
How to work from home with kids
Explain what’s going on
I’m not saying you should give your kids a full-on lecture about COVID-19. But do explain as best as you can in keeping with their age and levels of comprehension. With this, your kids will better understand why their freedom is seemingly being restricted and will feel a sense of community responsibility.
Try a superhero angle with younger children: “To save the world, we all need to stay at home together so we don’t spread (or catch) the nasty COVID germ.”
Create a routine for your child
I can’t emphasize the importance of creating a timetable, or routine, for your children. Establish a regular and early time for waking up just like on school days. Give your kids a healthy breakfast and get them to shower and change. These “care” tasks should be done before you start work and should see you giving your full attention to your kids.
Next comes the “work” part of the routine. Let’s say you start work at 9 a.m. Set out tasks for your kids that will take them through the day. Here’s an example routine that may work for a preschooler:
9-10 am: Art and crafts, play-doh
10-11 am: Imaginary play (dress up, role play)
11 am-noon: Lego and puzzle time
1-2 pm: Sand play, colouring/painting
2-3 pm: Rest time (if your child still naps)
4-5.30pm: Favourite movie
But what about older children? Children in some countries might currently be on holiday. However, other schools around the world have shut down without much notice due to the risk of the virus spreading. Many of these school have provided their students with study packs or conduct online classes. You could also download free lesson and learning games. With these resources at hand, it becomes easier to keep older, school-age kids occupied.
Draw up a timetable for them that’s similar to what they follow in school, make sure they have a comfortable space to work in and snacks organized, and they (and you) are good to go.
Here’s a great list of free and fun learning resources:
– Crash Course Kids
– Science Channel
– SciShow Kids
– National Geographic Kids
– Geography Focus
– Kids Learning Tube
– Geek Gurl Diaries
– Mike Likes Science
Scholastic has created a free learn-from-home site with 20+ days of learning and activities.
Your child can pretend to travel the world by going on a virtual tour of these 12 famous museums.
Divide and conquer
It’s highly likely your partner is also at home with you along with the kids. Work together and have each other’s back in order to make sure both of your routines go along as smoothly as possible.
Divide and conquer. | Image source: iStock
For example, if one of you can start work a little later than the other, then that person could bring the kids outside (with masks on and practising social distancing, of course!) for some fresh air and exercise. This will also give the other person some quiet time to focus on important tasks. Make sure you return the favour (it’s also a good way of taking a short break).
Likewise, if one of you has to take an important call, or join a video-conference, the other could keep the kids occupied during that time..
Create a routine for yourself
This is as important as creating a routine for your child. Working from home isn’t easy as many might think. It’s much harder to effectively work from home than from an office. Working from home involves a lot a self-discipline and focus, and key to achieving this is to set a routine for yourself.
Start your day early. Don’t sleep in or lounge around in your PJs. Wake up before the kids, eat breakfast, get some exercise if possible, shower and change. Make sure your kids’ tasks, activities and routine for the day are in place. You may even be able to squeeze in some productive work time before the kids wake up, even if it’s just replying to or sending emails.
It’s important you don’t add household chores (as much as you possibly can) to your work from home routine. Do these on the weekend, before you sit down to work, or in the evening.
Of course, there are chores you simply cannot avoid like preparing lunch, cleaning up afterwards, or feeding your child. If your kids are old enough to do chores, you could assign them tasks like washing up and putting away the dishes.
Create a workspace for yourself
It’s crucial you have a space in your home that’s conducive to productive work. If you don’t have a separate study, then create a space in the living or dining room or even bedroom. Keep this space clean and pretty. Ensure you have a headset and a good wi-fi connection. Staying connected to your colleagues and making sure you are contactable during your working hours is important.
Everyday life of working mother from home with toddler. | Image Source: iStock
You will also need to identify a room in your house that you can lock yourself in when you need to take phone calls or join video-conferences/ calls. Again, think of “BBC dad”. Yep, that’s why a lockable door is essential!
However, if you can’t lock yourself away in a room, give your colleagues a heads-up that you are working from home with kids. You could also create a signal for your kids like a thumbs-up when it’s okay to be around you, or a thumbs-down when he or should should not disturb you.
Set boundaries for yourself and your children
Personally, I am a night owl and prefer getting my more creative work done after the kids go to bed. If I do stay up late at night to write, I make sure I balance this time out in the day.
Make sure you shut down your laptop and turn off your phone notifications at a certain time every day so that your day does not become an endless workday. It’s very easy to keep working through the day (and night) and run yourself down when working from home.
At the same time, it’s important to also set some boundaries with your kids when you are working. An older child should most certainly understand and respect a simple explanation about how you are working, even though you are at home.
Create a neat and quiet workspace for yourself.
You will need to prepare items and activities needed for your child’s day in advance, so that he or she is kept occupied while you work. Don’t wait until morning to do this but try to plan for the week ahead on the weekend. At the very least, get organized for the next day on the evening or afternoon of the previous day.
Be realistic and “let it go”
Be realistic about your and your kids’ routines. Don’t set them in stone and allow for some flexibility, especially if this is a new experience for your family. There will be days when your child will throw away the puzzles and paint and just want to be with you. This is okay. Be there for your child and remember that the beauty of working from home is that you can catch up on your work later, once your child is calm.
It’s also okay not to be as strict as you may usually be on the use of electronics. If you really need to get some urgent work done and you know that watching Frozen on repeat is the only thing that will keep your child quiet, then so be it.
Parents, while COVID-19 has shocked and scared the whole world, try to avoid dwelling on the negatives and see the positives too. Globally, pollution is less, meaning when your family can step outside freely again, the air you breathe will be clean and pure. The world has also had a lesson on basic public health and hygiene. We now all know the importance of washing our hands and how it can impact our health.
But perhaps the most positive outcome of this outbreak is how, in a strange way, it’s forcing families to spend time together. Working from home with kids need not be so daunting if you keep this in mind. As you work, sneak a peek at your little one and see how happy she or she is to have you so close. It’s what you will miss when you are back at the office.
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