Working from home takes a lot of planning for anyone, but adding kids into the equation entails an extra layer of complexity. Even the most well-behaved, self-sufficient children require (or request!) parental attention at some point during the day when they know Mom or Dad is home. To make a working-from-home situation as effective a setup as possible, there are key actions every parent should take.
How Parents Can Make Working from Home with Kids Easier
There are things you can do for yourself that will help both you and your children establish a smooth balance while you’re working from home. Start with these steps.
Be Honest About Your Situation
Let your employer, co-workers, and clients know that you’re working from home with children in tow. You don’t need to share every detail of your personal life, but being upfront about your situation helps prevent unexpected surprises, like a toddler busting through your door during a video call, a baby wailing while you’re onboarding a new employee via phone, or rescheduling a teleconference because of a sick child. Most people will be very understanding, and more likely than not, you’re not the only person in your network working with kids in the background.
Create a Dedicated Office Space
Having an area of your home that’s dedicated solely to working will help you get into business mode as soon as you enter it, no matter what the kids are doing a few rooms over. Plus, it’s an effective way to set a physical barrier between yourself and your brood, making it easier for your children to know when their parents are occupied.
Ideally, choose a quiet, out-of-the way space in your home that your family doesn’t need to use or pass by during the day. A spare room is great, but if you don’t have one available, a corner of the house that isn’t regularly used by your kids will do, but be sure to block it off with a room separator for added privacy.
Establish Office Hours that are Off Limits to Your Family
In addition to setting up your parents-only home office, set strict guidelines for your kids on when your office hours are — in other words, when they’re not allowed to disturb you. While putting a sign on your office door is a great strategy, it’s still important to discuss with your little ones the times Mommy or Daddy is unavailable. Especially for younger children, having a talk about what your office hours are and why they’re in place will help them feel more comfortable with them — and respect them.
Set a Schedule for Your Day
Setting office hours is a great way to help you work more efficiently from home, but it’s just as important to come up with a plan of how you’ll fill your nine-to-five schedule every day. That way, you’ll be able to easily transition from one task to another, even if you have to step away for a few minutes to tend to your children.
Take a few minutes at the end of each day to plan for the next, or spare a few minutes every morning to make a schedule for the day ahead. Taking it a day at a time allows room for flexibility, since your schedule may need to be modified in your work-from-home setting.
Don’t forget to schedule breaks in between must-do agenda items. Taking a few beats throughout your day will help you stay focused and prevent burnout, which ultimately makes you a better worker. It’s up to you whether you want to schedule any of your breaks with your kids. Their ages, your home support system, and your daily work schedule will all play a role in this decision. However, many parents find it helpful to schedule their lunch breaks with their little ones and take shorter breaks on their own. Doing so allows you to spend some time together so they won’t feel as deprived of your time (which may lead to better behavior while you’re on the clock), but still allows you some solo moments to recharge.
Multitask with Caution
Taking care of your children while you’re working may sound like an ideal setup for you and your little ones, but this kind of multitasking could end up backfiring. For example, many parents who work from home recommend wearing a carrier to hold your baby against your body, because it can be a hands-free way to reduce crying and allow you to stay mobile. However, while this sounds good in theory, it could actually end up being more distracting than helpful, and it may even make separation from you harder for your child in the long run.
Consider Your Options for Help
Ideally, your partner should be part of your work-from-home equation. If you both work remotely, aim for an arrangement that allows you to trade off childcare responsibilities. Unless there are special circumstances, the responsibility shouldn’t fall on one parent.
If you’re a single parent or your spouse works outside the home, it can be helpful to bring in some assistance, even if only for part of the day. If your budget or other restrictions don’t allow you to recruit professional help, an older kid can be a great babysitting resource. Based on their age and maturity level, you can assign childcare as a chore or pay them for their support.
Be Willing to Adjust Your Schedule
No matter how dedicated you are to your career, there are going to be times when working from home simply isn’t going to happen. If your kids are sick and need more attention than when they’re healthy, for example, it may make sense for you to shift your working hours, like working only while they nap and after they’ve gone to bed. Try not to stress if you have to rearrange your workday to accommodate your children — just about every working parent has been in your shoes at some point, so your manager, co-workers, and clients will most likely be very understanding. Don’t forget that you can use sick time or other PTO as needed, too — that’s what it’s there for!
How to Help Your Kids Adjust when You’re Working from Home
In addition to taking steps on your own behalf, there are also actions you should take for your children. Whenever possible, allow them to be actively involved in these steps — they’ll be more likely to get on board with your new normal, because they’ll feel they have a say in your family’s daily routine.
Put Them on a Schedule that Keeps Them Occupied
Kids thrive on structure, so be sure to give them a schedule to follow that allows them to go through their day with as little supervision as needed. Try not to worry too much about what keeps them busy while you’re working. You may be adamant about limiting their computer or TV screen time during the weekends, but if an extra hour of playing video games keeps them out of your hair while you’re at work, go with the flow.
Set Boundaries and Disciplinary Measures
Kids need to know that you’re off limits when you’re working, so if they break this rule, there need to be consequences. Many kids will respect your boundaries just knowing a punishment is in place, and for many others, it will only take one or two timeouts to understand they need to follow the rules.
Acknowledge Good Behavior
Similarly, be sure to reward good behavior. Having a parent work from home can be a confusing setup for many children, so it’s important to show your appreciation when they respect the rules. You don’t have to buy them a toy every day they follow your work boundaries, but even saying thank you or giving them extra TV time is a meaningful way to encourage them to keep up the good work.
Working from home efficiently with kids may seem like an unattainable dream for parents who are remote employees, but there are a lot of great ways to get the whole family on the same page. Remember that communication with your children, partner, and employer is key, and don’t be afraid to experiment until you find a solution that works for every member of your tribe.