13 Life-Saving Tips for Working from Home with Kids
If your life has done a complete 180 and you are now having to set your home office up in the same space as your child's play room, these life-saving tips are exactly what you need for a peaceful WFH experience.
Among the many acronyms you have to learn to keep up with kids these days — LOL, WTF, BRB — a new abbreviation has cropped up that working parents all over the nation are adding to their lexicon: WFH. And trust us when we say that we understand this razor-thin balance of work-life and home-life is no easy feat. Though technology is making this easier than ever, figuring out your new normal can be rough. But don’t worry, we’re all in this together.
In fact, here at Chatbooks, a lot of us are working parents. Some of us have been working from home for a long time. In fact, our Chatbooks Customer Experience Team is a 100% remote team made up of parents who work from home with kids ALL YEAR ROUND. We also have colleagues who are now newly adjusting to losing nannies, rearranging school schedules, creating make-shift office spaces in their kitchens and trying to get their work hours in while there is still daylight. That’s why polled our support team to glean some pro tips. We also led a discussion about working from home with a few long-time remote-working moms Krista, Hillary and Alyce; and newly-adjusting WFH mom Ashley, our project manager.
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Keep Snacks Within Reach of Little Hands
Someone will likely be hungry when you’re working, and the tune of “mom, I’m hungry!” is one every working parent has heard one too many times. Preempt the interruption by prepping healthy snacks beforehand (like pre-cutting fruits and veggies) and putting them in a spot where little hands can get them. “I keep snacks at a level and in places they can reach,” advises Cami. “They still have to check in with me to make sure it’s ok to take them, but it’s one less thing I have to get up and do to help them.”
If your kids are a little older, Court recommends “bins of snacks they can open and choose themselves.” Even better, put kids’ plates, silverware and cups at a reachable-level so snack time can become completely self-service.
One Activity at a Time
It can be tempting to let your kids play with anything they want right now, but “one activity at a time is a rule here,” says Nikki. “It saves me from getting done with work and having my house turned upside down.” One way to do this is to put toys in bins organized by category: coloring, play-dough, crafts. Jeanette uses the flat, under-bed bins to organize activities for her kids. “It has helped so much because we can pull one out at a time and use whatever is in each bin. Then they have to pick up everything in that bin before moving onto another one,” she advises.
When I Work, You Work
Train your little ones to “work” alongside you. While you work, invite them to do homework or quiet activities, like coloring or writing letters, next to you. “If you have an extra computer or even an extra keyboard, let them work next to you,” recommends Jaycay. You can even open a Word document and let them type along with you, or download an educational game that they can play while you focus. This crowd-sourced Google Sheet has a mega-list of educational resources that are offering free subscriptions or resources right now, and you’re likely to find something age-appropriate for your little one to work on beside you.
Create Scavenger Hunts and Secret Missions
If you need a few minutes of quiet time, send your kids off on a scavenger hunt. When her little boy was younger and asking for attention, Jaycay would tell him, “I’m working, but I need your help. Can you find this one thing for me?” And he loved it! If you have a few kids at home, ask them to create scavenger hunts for each other to self-direct their play, and help them pick prizes. If your kids need more direction, and you need a longer stretch of quiet time, Court suggests giving your kids secret missions: “I give my kids secret missions that they have to do, like jump off the bed, then go around the couch, clean up 10 toys, then come back to me. If I hear them while they are doing any of this, they have to start over. This makes it a lot quieter so that I can work, but my kids also love it.”
Get Creative in the Kitchen
For older kids who can navigate their way around the kitchen unsupervised, ask them to be in charge of preparing meals for the family. Angel creates a calendar with lunch and dinner sign-ups for her older kids to prep meals for the family. “It’s a golden opportunity to help them become awesome cooks and relieve some of my stress with dinner ideas and the responsibility of cooking every meal for everyone,” she says. Jeanette suggests taking it one step further and having your kids play “restaurant,” or letting your kids create the menu and serve the family like a waiter or chef. “It is fun for them to feel grown up and ‘in charge’ and takes up a lot of the afternoon to prepare everything, decorations and all!”
Get in the Flow
Especially with kids stuck inside, how can you let them express their pent-up energy without creating chaos in the background of your video chats? Many of our Customer Experience team members recommend trying out Cosmic Kids Yoga, which has a free YouTube channel full of videos that will keep kids entertained, in the flow, and calm for 10-15 minutes an episode. Let them watch a few in a row! Headspace also has guided meditations for kids, targeted for age groups (and a great free trial option) if you are looking for a way to calm your little ones down. If your kids have tons of energy and mindfulness doesn’t quite cut it, have them create an obstacle course for each other. This option is ideal if you have a backyard and the weather is good enough. “Kids will entertain each other and have fun together, giving you a little space to work,” says Courtney.
Set Up Focused Play
Pull out a puzzle or bring out the Legos, and help your kids get started by offering up a challenge like: “Today, your challenge is to build a dinosaur!” Alternately, Chatbooks Customer Experience team members highlighted the magic of building toys like Picasso Tiles or Magna Tiles. “Picasso Tiles on Amazon have literally changed the work-from-home-game for me,” says Court. “My boys are only allowed to play with them while I'm working, and they keep them entertained for hours building spaceships, houses, pins for their dinosaurs. They LOVE them.” Bonus: Amazon has a $5 off coupon right now!
Save the Best Toys
This is the time to introduce new books (hello, library) and rediscover old toys to make them new again. Be strategic around when you'll need the most focused quiet time, whether it's for deep work or a phone call, and bring out an exciting new activity that your kids haven’t done in a while to keep them occupied during that time.
Unleash the Screens and Squash the Guilt
“If there are times you know you have to work and the only thing in that moment to keep a child stationary, quiet and safe is a screen, do not feel bad about that!” encourages Jeannette. Many parents are worried about an hour or two of screen time, but when the iPad is the only thing that will keep your kids quiet and you have a call with your boss: that’s okay! Nikki confesses “I have no shame in saying that I schedule screen time around my work time.”
Get Some Fresh Air
When all else fails, take yourself and the whole crew outdoors. “I notice a huge swing in everyone's mood when we find time to go outside” advises Court. “I'll even bring my computer outside just for a little break from indoors.” A recent 2019 study showed that spending just 20 minutes in a park, even if you don’t exercise, is enough to improve your mood and mental health.
Get the Schedule Right
“We are basically taking it hour by hour,” says Ashley as she describes how she and her husband are navigating working in the same space and also caring for their 6-month-old daughter. “Quite literally. We have a schedule that goes hour by hour for the whole day, planning out who's going to watch the baby.”
With all the adjustments, your schedule will definitely not look like it did if you were in an office from 9 to 5 everyday. Find a schedule that works for everyone in the home and take each adjustment as it comes. Be patient in figuring out what works best for you, your spouse and your children.
Don’t Forget Self-Care
This tip comes in many different forms. Hillary says she always gives herself time to work out in the morning. For some parents, going outside on a quick walk around the block will help clear your head and break up the day. For others, it might be falling down the YouTube rabbit hole and watching dog videos just to remember that there is still some good that exists in the world. To each their own…
“Making sure that I get enough sleep is so important,” continues Hillary. Perhaps you’re reading this thinking to yourself that getting enough sleep is item #50 on the list of top 50 priorities right now. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially since bedtime might be the only time when you can get some peace and quiet. But sleep is a major part of self-care, and it is the best way to ensure a sense of normalcy in your schedule.
Get Your Social Fill, Even If It Looks Different than Before
If you are used to working in an office, you probably had an environment where you became friends with many of your co-workers, and those social breaks were always welcome. Perhaps some of your best friends even came out of your work friends. One tip that each of the moms shared across the board was to take time to reconnect with friends throughout the work day. Apps like Marco Polo or FaceTime help to just fill your social cup. If you are with a spouse at home, eat lunch together and talk to each other about your work. It’s important to interact with other adults.
Among all these tips, it's important to remember that you are doing the best you can. You are learning right alongside everyone else, and sharing your tips and learning from other people can be a great way to improve.
Be sure to listen to this episode of The MomForce Podcast for more tips on working from home, or if you just want real moms sharing their real struggles.