Deadlines. Emails. Phone calls. More emails. And now also clingy children interrupting you non-stop. How are you supposed to be productive working from home with kids? This is especially difficult with a rambunctious toddler or strong-willed child.
It’s definitely a challenge.
Unfortunately, you cannot change this uncontrollable, stressful situation with the COVID-19 quarantine. That’s a given. But there is good news. You do have control over how you relate to your child and how you work. When you relate to your child playfully, you’ll find that even the most strong-willed kids cooperate. And minor tweaks to your work habits can increase productivity.
Here are 13 tips to help you juggle working from home with kids. Let’s keep them busy so you can be productive.
1. Adopt a can-do attitude
Even if you’re overwhelmed and frustrated, adopt a can-do attitude. With a positive outlook, you’ll reduce your stress and tackle situations more effectively. Most importantly, you’ll reduce your child’s stress level. And a happy, calm toddler is much easier to manage than an upset child who demands attention.
2. Think from a toddler’s perspective
While toddlers seem like a ticking time bomb ready to explode, they’re likely to cooperate when you approach things from their perspective. Think like a toddler. What motivates them? Each child is different, but most toddlers crave independence, demand control, and yearn to be a “big kid.” So your goal is to reframe your request from a toddler’s perspective. For instance, you want them to be quiet while you work. But what do they want? What can you do to encourage this behavior? Which leads to the next tip.
3. Make parenting a game
Parenting is hard, but you can make parenting easier by turning frustrating moments into fun experiences. Make parenting a game! Kids love to play, so when you’re playful, you work with your children rather than against them. This playful parenting style helped me as a stressed-out parent, and it can help you too. Next time you want to work without interruptions, try a playful approach. Give your child an engaging project, so now they too are busy working on something important, just like mommy and daddy. But don’t simply hand them the activity, you want to announce it excitedly. Since toddlers love singing, sing a silly song and march around the room. “Hip, hip, hooray! We’re going to our offices. Mommy has a project! And (child’s name) has a project! Hip, hip, hooray!” Being playful can be challenging, especially when you’re stressed-out.
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4. Give your toddler a “big kid” project
You’ve set up a fun situation, and your child is getting excited. Now what? Remember, think like a kid. Toddlers want to be “big,” so help them feel this way by positioning the task accordingly. Whether it’s an educational app, engaging toy, or activity like sorting pasta into containers, call it their “big kid” project. To keep up the playful momentum, say something like, “For your “big kid” project…” (tap your thighs like a drum roll) you get to do this!” Luckily, young children have a natural curiosity and can spend a long time focused on a task. But let’s be realistic, your toddler may want to be near you. Here’s when you can place a sheet on the ground in your office, and it magically becomes their quiet workspace. As we all know, it’s much better if kids work in another area, so…
5. Set up a “big kid” work area
You have an office, so your child can have an office too. Make them feel important by setting up an appealing “big kid” work area. It can be in their room, at the kitchen table, or with a little desk. If you have several children, give each of them their own space. Then gather some kid-friendly supplies and organize everything in a portable container, right at their work area. Crayons, markers, coloring books, Play-Doh, and other favorites are easily within reach. Have an unused phone? Great! Now they can plan meetings with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and other colleagues. This designated area not only will keep your child busy, but it also empowers and sets expectations.
6. Stay-and-play and then step away
Who are we kidding, we’re talking about toddlers! They can be clingy and not interested in an activity. Here’s a good tip: stay-and-play and then step away. Spend quality time playing with them upfront and then step away once they’re absorbed. They probably won’t even notice. This stay-and-play technique is especially important if it’s a new activity with a learning curve. You want to make sure they understand the activity and are fully engaged.
7. When with your children, connect
Kids crave attention, but you can’t give them attention all of the time. And with multiple kids, it’s even more challenging. With everything going on in our lives, we’re easily distracted with work, household chores, and other tasks. However, it’s the quality of the connection, not the quantity of time that matters. Even spending only 15 minutes each day can produce magical results. This undivided attention reduces clinginess, whining, and impish behavior with siblings. So next time you wake your children, eat meals, and spend time together, push aside other thoughts and connect. If you have several kids, take turns throughout the day finding 1:1 connecting opportunities. This positive connection encourages positive behavior, strengthens your relationship, and lets you work without interruptions.
8. Break projects into smaller chunks
As a busy working parent, you don’t have much uninterrupted time throughout the day. A good time management trick is to break a project into smaller chunks. Now when you have brief moments throughout the day, you can tackle smaller size tasks. Not only will you get more done, but you’ll also start seeing progress toward the main goal. This is important for the next tip.
9. Classify, organize, and tackle
Consider time as a commodity with two varieties: (1) interrupted and (2) uninterrupted. Then classify work as two kinds: (1) tasks that are quick or mindless tasks and (2) tasks that require you to focus. You want to classify, organize, and tackle your tasks depending upon the type of time. Do the quick and mindless smaller chunk tasks during the interrupted time. Reserve your uninterrupted time for deep work, strategic projects, and crucial interactive meetings. Solitude is now a commodity, so use it wisely.
Want to accomplish more with less stress? Focus completely on one task. Deep concentration lets you think better, make fewer mistakes, and work most efficiently. This is important when you’re attacking challenging tasks. To help you concentrate, limit the distractions. Avoid your social media notifications. Close your email and an overflowing inbox. Ignore the Slack message and Zoom requests. Also, take advantage of those golden opportunities when your child is napping, when the kids are still asleep, and when everyone is busy with their “big kid” projects.
11. Set a schedule and routine
People work better with structure. This is especially true for kids who yearn for a sense of control in their out-of-control world. Setting a schedule creates a pattern, establishes a routine, and sets expectations. Of course, we’re dealing with toddlers, so you need to be flexible and realistic. Instead of assigning specific times, divide the day into four blocks of time: early morning, late morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon. Within each period, try to make time for working and also connecting with your child. It may seem like a lot of breaks, but breaks are good for you and will increase your productivity. Here’s how you might want to build your schedule:
- Early morning: visit during breakfast then it’s time for your work and “big kid” project.
- Late morning: celebrate a productive morning with physical activity (go outside, dance to music, or jump around). Then have another solo work time. Depending upon your child’s temperament, they can play an educational game, do another activity, or even watch TV.
- Early afternoon: eat lunch together then work while your child naps.
- Late afternoon: when your child awakes, eat a snack, and spend some quality time together. Set up your child with another solo activity and squeeze in work time before dinner.
Related: 46 Playful Ways to Enjoy Parenting
12. Take shifts if you have a partner
If you live with another adult, divide and conquer to give each person more uninterrupted time. Someone works during the morning shift and then has children monitoring responsibility in the afternoon, and vice versa. If possible, determine your work and parenting shifts in advance so you can schedule accordingly.
13. Lower your standards and set expectations
Finally, you must lower your standards and set expectations. Realistically, you won’t be perfectly productive. Especially when working from home with kids! There simply isn’t enough time in the day to do everything, nevermind doing things well. It’s also important to set expectations with your child. “Yay, I’m home with you! Sometimes I’ll need to work, and at other times we can play.” Take their hand and walk to your office. “If the door is closed, it means I’m very, very busy, and you should not come in. We’ll play later.” If you don’t have a separate office, wear a distinctive hat, or use something else to show it’s working time.
As with anything, it may take a while to implement changes. Keep at it though. Experiment and try different techniques. Commiserate and share ideas with friends.
Most importantly, remember one key point. While it’s challenging juggling working from home with kids, there’s a positive outcome. You’re home with your child and get to spend time together. Take advantage of this opportunity because they grow up quickly. In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Put the Fun in Parenting
Want to stop power struggles and connect with your kids?
Turn frustrating, everyday challenges into a fun game. Your children will listen and cooperate willingly.
Learn how with Parenting—Let’s Make a Game of It, an entertaining book of 5-minute stories that teaches playful parenting playfully. An Amazon #1 New Release in 7 parenting categories, it’s perfect for busy parents. Only $7.99 (eBook) and $9.99 (paperback) on Amazon.
♥ Make parenting easier
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This article “13 Tips for Staying Sane While Working from Home with Kids” was published in Medium.