In response to the coronavirus crisis, many businesses, schools, and daycare centers around the world are closing their doors to the public in a conjoined effort to enforce social distancing. This has many of us working from home, and for those of us who are parents, we are now sharing spaces with our children. Working from home presents plenty of challenges on its own, but add having your kids at home and there is a whole new level of difficulty. If that wasn't challenging enough, classes aren't canceled, which means school-aged children still have assignments to tackle and learning to do. Unfortunately, parents don’t have access to friends or family members, babysitters, camps, daycare centers, or other resources we would typically rely on to help us during school closures and breaks. This means working parents are suddenly finding themselves taking on new roles on top of their already heavy workload. We’re well aware that adjusting to this unique and unusual circumstance isn’t going to be easy. Fortunately, there are remote parents who have previously simultaneously managed work and children sharing their solutions online. Through our research and personal experiences shared by working parents here at MAI, we were able to compile six best practices from working from home with kids.
1. Communicate with your employer
Have a discussion with your boss or human resources department about your situation and how this may affect the time you can dedicate to work. Discuss your flexibility, limitations, which of your tasks are top priorities, and reach an agreement with your employer. You can then come up with a plan on how to best tackle this work amidst your temporary and unusual circumstances. It’s wise to develop a schedule with allocated time slots dedicated to different tasks. For instance, if your child or children have set nap times, try to use this time for conference calls or Zoom meetings. Share this with your manager and colleagues to communicate your availability and help you track progress as a team. Remember, this is a totally new and strange time for everyone. People at all levels of many different companies are being forced to adjust and be flexible. Given the circumstances, many employers are understanding of non-traditional schedules during this time. Continue to be open and honest with your employer about what you can and cannot get done, and don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
2. Split up work and childcare duties between you and your spouse
If you have a partner, consider splitting up work and kid duty time between the two of you. While one of you works in the morning, the other can help with school work and entertain the children and vise versa in the afternoon. Blocking off time and taking shifts with your partner will allow you to focus solely on work - distraction-free - during your dedicated work time. To reinforce privacy, be sure to find a quiet area, preferably with a door and away from any distractions. Minimize interruptions by establishing visual cues to relay to your partner and kids when it’s “mommy” or “daddy work time.” This can be a homemade sign or poster you can hang on the door or wall, which also doubles as an art project for the kids. Keep in mind that you and your partner will have to be flexible as things may come up or calls may be scheduled during kid shift hours. If you don’t have a partner at home or they are unable to assist with childcare, try changing your hours by getting up early to work when the kids are still asleep or working later hours after the kids have gone to bed. You can also aim to schedule time dedicated to your most extensive work during school, activity, or nap time when kids can be on their own.
3. Create a family schedule
As a family, create a daily schedule with set times for each of you. If you have children in remote schooling, try to emulate a typical school day with times dedicated to meals, lessons, assignments, activities, play, breaks, and so on. For yourself and your partner, set time blocks of specific hours or days, you will each be taking on work and kid duties. Place the schedule somewhere where it’s easily visible to everyone. Maintaining a set schedule will help structure your days, establish a family routine, and maintain consistency.
4. Arrange virtual playdates
Although kids may not be missing school, they’re definitely missing recess and playing with their friends from school, sports, or clubs. With social distancing measures in place, it’s more important than ever for parents to make sure their kids have access to friends to prevent children from becoming isolated. Parents can do so by setting up virtual playdates through apps, websites, and other online video services like Zoom and FaceTime. These apps allow kids to virtually connect with friends and family members at a safe distance. Kids can share stories, play games like tic tac toe or charades, and even color with each other during a video call. If you’re in need of a little extra supervision on deck, ask babysitters, relatives, friends, or trusted neighbors to take over virtually for a bit to occupy the kids while you get some work done. This is a win-win for both you and the kids.
5. Incorporate activities that don’t require substantial supervision
With schools closed and social distancing practices in place, kids are more bored now than ever before and need something to do with all of their energy. Depending on the age of your children, introduce activities to help burn off energy and keep them busy while you work. We know every child has different interests and personalities, so we've compiled a diverse list of age specific activities from some of our favorite resources.
- Facetime a princess
- Rock painting
- Edible finger paint
- Dinosaur ice eggs
- Sidewalk chalk or paint
- Have a tea party
- Decorate puppets and have a puppet show
- Make and blow bubbles
- DIY foam stamps
- Butterfly crafts
- Make slime
- Build a fort
- Scavenger or treasure hunt
- Indoor picnic
- “Kitchen Chemistry” science experiments
- Take a virtual field trip to zoos, aquariums, and more
- Make a time capsule
- Decorate a t-shirt
- Make friendship bracelets
- Learn simple magic tricks
Middle School and up:
- Make your own board game
- Try Origami
- Make a Terrarium
- Learn how to knit or crochet
- Painting and drawing on glass surfaces with Acrylic paint markers
- Take a virtual field trip to museums, national parks, and more
- Create an indoor or outdoor obstacle course
- Build a bridge or building with toothpicks or Q-tips.
- In-home nail salon
6. Reward good behavior
If you have younger children, it may be difficult for them to fully grasp what’s going on in the world. Their regular routines have been turned upside down, which can be stressful and confusing. This stress and confusion can cause young ones to act out, interrupt work time, video bomb our conference calls, and so on. To prevent this behavior, establish boundaries and communicate how important it is for them to behave during conference calls, worktime, virtual learning and assignments, downtime, and other times that require focus and quiet. Reinforce their good behavior with praise and rewards. These acknowledgements can be extra quality time spent together, an additional story at bedtime, or extra screen time.
While working from home with kids during a global crisis is anything but easy, it’s do-able, and you’re not alone. We know everyone’s situation is unique, but we hope adapting some of these steps can add a bit of structure to your temporary circumstance and help make your time working at home with your little colleagues present easier. Remember to keep positive and stay safe - life will get back to normal before we know it.