Whether you have finally convinced your boss to let you work from home or you have found yourself working from home unexpectedly (caring for a sick child or in the midst of a global pandemic), you may be wondering how exactly you are going to get work done. Figuring out how to work from home with kids can be the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times in that you get to live the stay at home mom life for a hot minute. The worst of times because you need to juggle watching your kids while being just as productive at work as usual. Luckily, I have been able to work from home a few days a week for years, both pre and post kids, and I have found several great tips for working remotely.
Can I work from home with kids?
This answer depends on you and your abilities to multitask and focus. Some moms find that it is better to keep their kids in childcare so that they can take conference calls and completely concentrate on their job since that is what they are getting paid to do. However, others find it is possible to balance working from home productively with kids in the house. You know yourself and what your strengths and weaknesses are. You also know your job best. Does your job require lots of phone calls or Zoom meetings? Then it’s probably best to have your children in childcare. Is your job mainly independent computer work? Then it’s possible to work from home with kids.
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Tips for Working Remotely
1. Adhere to a schedule.
Just like you have a schedule when you are in the office, set a schedule when working from home. Keep your kids on a schedule, too. This will prevent you from running around like a chicken with your head cut off and getting nothing done. Set a time to start working, morning break, a lunch break, afternoon break, and a firm time to stop working. I have often found that stopping work is my biggest struggle. If you set a time that you will absolutely stop working in order to pivot into home mode, you will protect your sanity.
A sample work at home mom schedule:
7:00am — up for the day/breakfast/change clothes
8:00am — start work
10:00am — break/snack time for kids
11:30am — take kids outside
12:30pm — lunch for kids/work while eating lunch
1:00-2:00 — quiet/nap time
3:00pm — break/snack time for kids
5:00pm — stop work
If you are still breastfeeding your baby, adjust the schedule to meet your nursing/pumping needs. You can take a quick nursing break, or if you have a Boppy, I have found it very easy to place my baby on the Boppy while I still work at my computer.
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2. Set a timer.
If you are working from home with toddlers (or big kids!), set a timer they can see or hear to know when it is time for a break. Let them know you need to work until the timer goes off, and then you can play with them for a bit before setting the timer again. This will help understand time and lay the groundwork for a strong work ethic they will hopefully develop later (since they have watched you take work seriously).
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3. Change your clothes (even when working from home with kids).
This sounds a bit silly, but make sure to change your clothes. Even if you go from pajamas to yoga pants, research has shown that how you dress impacts how you feel (see here or here). This applies to when you work from home when there is no one to see you or when you work in the office and need to look presentable. I have found that changing clothes (even just into lounge clothes) sharpens my clarity and mentally makes me feel ready for the day (and not give in to the siren call of my bed). I have spoken to some moms who feel their best when they do full make up, hair done, and real clothes on. Figure out what works best for you!
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4. Have activities your kids can move through while you work.
In order to keep your kids busy during the chunks of time where you need to focus on work, have activities they can move through (with your help, of course). This is where multitasking and being able to juggle work and kids comes in. Activities I have for my kids to move through:
- Coloring books
- Reusable sticker books
- Painting (or paint sticks for less mess)
- Reading time
- Magnetic building blocks
- Crafts (my kids love ALEX toys crafts)
- Blocks or Lincoln Logs
- Small trampoline to get energy out
- Figurines to encourage imagination (I love the quality and accuracy of Schleich figurines, and my kids love them more)
- Flash cards
- Board games
- Costume box
- Easy scavenger hunts
Each of these activities can occupy my kids anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more. If you are working from home with toddlers, you may find that they lose interest sooner, but you will probably find one or two activities that they love more than the others. You can also let them pull every pot or pan out of the kitchen cabinet and put them back up again. Whatever it takes to allow you to focus.
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5. Explain to your kids what it means when you are at your computer.
Kids understand more than we give them credit for. No matter their age, explain to them what it means when you are at your computer. Let your kids know that you need to focus on your work right now, but you will play with them soon. You can use this opportunity to explain to them what work means, the value of work, and how you work to make money to buy all those nice toys in the playroom.
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6. Utilize nap time or quiet time
This likely goes without saying, but if you are working from home with a baby or working from home with a toddler, utilize the time they are sleeping to get the bulk of your work done. As soon as you put them down, switch into work mode (no farting around on social media!). You may also find that waking up early and putting in 1-2 hours of work before they wake up for the day works best for you, or vice versa.
If you are working home with older kids, try having quiet time for an hour in the afternoon. Let them know quiet time is for reading, resting, and/or playing calmly in their room (or designated space). Play an audio book for them to listen to or put on some soft music. You can also utilize a timer for this and let them know once the timer is up, quiet time is over. (Kids love timers.)
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7. Embrace screen time.
I am not saying let your TV or tablet babysit your kids all day. However, there will be days when they move through all of the activities in #4 in 20 minutes flat. Those days are probably the same ones that you have something urgent due or a big project to work on. On those days, let them watch TV or play on the tablet. You aren’t going to break your kid if you let them have screen time.
Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures, and again, it’s the best of times and the worst of times when you work from home with kids. Some days call for screen time. Of course, try to avoid using the TV or tablet as an all day everyday thing, but give yourself grace and no judgement when you need your kids to leave you alone for a few hours so you can finish something for work.
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8. Take your kids outside.
During breaks or lunch, let your kids run around the yard and wear themselves out. Not only are they getting their daily dose of vitamin D and needed time to physically play outside, this will hopefully lead to their need for a nap or quiet time. You need to clear your mind and get some vitamin D, too, so embrace this fun time outside with your little people. It’s one of the benefits of working from home! Clearing your mind and taking a break will also make you more productive for the afternoon push.
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9. Work in close proximity to your kids.
I have learned that if I physically move away from my kids, they become incredibly needy. They want to be wherever I am. This means that if I go into my office while they are in the playroom, they will follow me and want to sit in my lap or ask me continually to come play. However, if I set up my laptop near them in the playroom, they seem to ignore me for the most part. By being within eyesight, they know I am there if they need me and have not left them to fend for themselves.
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10. Work on a hard surface near your kids.
If you are working on a laptop it can be tempting to sit on the couch with your feet kicked up. However, I have found it much better for my attention and focus if I set my laptop on a hard surface like a table or desk. If you are working at a desktop, then there really is no other option than a hard surface–which is good! This is especially true when you are figuring out how to work from home with kids. If you are on the couch, they more than likely will crawl all over you and press your keyboard keys while you are emailing your boss. I find working at the kitchen table within eyesight of my kids, or on a desk in the playroom makes me the most productive when working at home.
It will take days, if not a few weeks, to figure out how to work from home with kids. Give yourself and your kids grace, and be willing to be flexible about some things. However, treat your work day like an actual work day. You can balance both working from home and having kids at home. You are a mom, the queen of multitasking. I hope these tips for working remotely work for you.
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