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Watching Your Kids While Working from Home

Aug 25

In 2023, more of us are working at home than ever before. Some of us have little children that aren’t in school all day either. How do we juggle it all?

Make a (flexible) schedule.

Children thrive on schedules. Consider the day they would be having if they were in school; even young children follow a pretty set schedule in a classroom setting. This keeps the day from slipping away in a blur of Netflix and goldfish crackers.

Of course, schedules will help working parents as well. Working from home offers wonderful flexibility, and you may be able to do some of your work tasks during off hours, such as early mornings or later in the evening. That said, you’re likely going to need to be available during traditional work hours for phone calls, meetings, or quick email responses. Your coworkers need to know when they can count on you to be “on the clock.”

With this in mind, take a few minutes to come up with a schedule that works for your family. Take your needs and your child(ren)’s needs into account. What activities will they need help with, and what could they potentially do on their own? Are there times of the day when you absolutely have to be available to your coworkers? Schedule the most important, fixed things first, and then build the rest of your day around them.

Once you have your schedule in place, do your best to stick to it, but don’t worry if things need to change every now and then, or if your schedule needs a complete overhaul after not working out for a week. Being too rigid with it will likely only cause unnecessary stress.

Here are some scheduling tips that might be helpful:

  • Build naps/quiet time into your day, and use that as work time
  • Do whatever tasks you can before your children wake up, or after they go to bed
  • Make sure your coworkers are aware of your situation; remind them to schedule important meetings in advance
  • Set activity lengths that are appropriate for your child’s attention span. A young toddler, for example, isn’t going to be able to stay focused on one activity for an hour and a half.

Childproof your house.

If you have young children, “babyproofing” is probably a familiar concept to you. If your children are older, this suggestion might sound silly. But the fact is, unless you’re able to keep your eyes on your children all day (which is practically impossible if you’re working), you’ll want to make sure your house is set up properly.

This includes matters of safety:

  • Keep knives, matches, lighters, and other sharp or dangerous objects out of sight and out of reach
  • Keep medicines, cleaning supplies, and other potential poisoning hazards out of sight and out of reach
  • Keep cords out of reach (and out of walkways)
  • Secure furniture (bookcases, dressers, armoires) to the walls
  • Use safety plugs
  • Unplug small appliances (toasters, hair dryers, etc.) and keep them out of reach
  • Use a baby gate if you have young children and stairs
  • Lock cabinets containing breakables or dangerous items
  • Keep cords to window coverings safely out of reach

It also includes doing things that will keep your house running the way you want it to, and keep your kids from accessing things you don’t want them to access:

  • Keep junk food stored out of sight and out of reach; provide easy access to healthy snacks
  • Keep art supplies out of sight and out of reach, especially if you have younger children who need to be supervised while using them
  • Set appropriate passwords/restrictions on electronics
  • Consider installing door alarms, so you’re alerted if a child tries to leave the house
  • Make sure older children know where to find toilet paper, extra drinking cups, paper towels, or other things they might need.

What you do to your house is going to depend on your specific needs and circumstances. The goal isn’t to complete a set checklist, but rather to set your house and your children up for success.

Tag team with your partner (or older children).

If you have a partner or co-parent, discuss options for taking turns being in charge of the kids while the other is working. Look at both of your schedules, compromise where you can, and find something that will work for each of you.

Similarly, older children can help “babysit” younger children during important work hours. While they likely can’t handle the responsibility all day, every day, they can probably help you out for a few hours here and there, depending on age and responsibility level.

Be strategic with activities and toys.

Novelty is huge for kids. (Isn’t it amazing how other people’s toys are “so much better” than their own?) You can use this to your advantage when trying to create a productive work environment.

Here are a couple things to try:

    • Separate toys into bins and only have one bin out at a time. After a couple days, switch out the bin. Rediscovering these “new” toys will make them much more interesting to your kids, and they’ll be more likely to play with them for a longer period of time.
    • Save their favorite activities for the most crucial work times. Have a conference call scheduled? That’s the perfect time to let your kids watch their favorite show or play with the iPad. Got a kid who loves to color? Get a special coloring book that they can only use while you’re working. You get the idea.
    • Know which activities require supervision, and which don’t. Activities that require supervision simply can’t be done during work hours. For example, if your child isn’t old enough to use crayons without coloring on the walls, don’t allow them to color while you work. On the other hand, unsupervised play frees up valuable work time. Make a list of activities you can trust your kids to do while unsupervised, and schedule your time accordingly.
    • Use favorite activities as rewards. Most likely, there are some activities that you want your kids to do, but that they’re less excited about. Schoolwork, piano practice, or exercise might fall into this category. If those things are important to you, prioritize them, and don’t let the kids do their favorite activities until those prioritized activities are complete. (Also, you’ll probably want to supervise these important activities to make sure they’re done right.)

Set simple rules.

Think again of your child’s classroom. It probably has rules: rules that your kids may even be able to recite to you. Try implementing similar, simple, memorable rules into your home that will keep things running smoothly (at least for the most part). You can also include rules about interruptions during work time; e.g. you could have a sign on your door signaling when you’re absolutely unavailable.

Examples of potential household rules could include:

      • Use inside voices
      • Use your words, not your body
      • If you use it, clean it up
      • Speak kind words
      • Don’t answer the door
      • Take turns

The simpler the rules are, the more likely your kids will be to remember them and live by them. Adjust your rules to be age-appropriate for your kids.

You’ll also need a consistent system for enforcing your rules. Decide what works for your children—whether it’s time outs, revoking screen privileges, etc.—and be consistent about them.

Safety first

Ultimately, your child’s safety is your top priority. There are a few best safety practices that parents should follow at all times, whether they’re working from home or not. They include:

      • Knowing infant/child CPR and choking relief (our online CPR classes are convenient and thorough).
      • Being fire safe: test smoke detectors regularly, have fire extinguishers on hand, have a fire escape plan in place.
      • Always watch your kids around water. Swimming pools and bathtubs require adult supervision, always.
      • Keep important phone numbers on hand, including your pediatrician and dentist, poison control, and non-emergency police line, along with emergency numbers.
      • When you do leave your house, make sure your child is in a properly installed safety seat that is appropriate for their age, height, and weight.
      • Avoid illness. Wash hands often and disinfect surfaces regularly.

Working from home can be difficult to navigate, especially if you’ve never done it before. Use these tips to keep your entire family safe, healthy, productive, and entertained during your time in quarantine. Most importantly: stay healthy!

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