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Tips for Working from Home

May 7, 2020

It is no secret that a global pandemic is affecting just about every single aspect of normal life across the world.  One of the biggest challenges comes for parents of young children who now suddenly cannot leave their homes much at all.  That means school is cancelled for the foreseeable future.  There are no more outings to burn energy at indoor playgrounds, parks, pools, or children’s museums.  Even simple changes in scenery to visit others or go to grocery store are limited or impossible during this crisis, which means our houses are likely messier and louder, but they do not have to be full of chaos or lack productivity. 

 

 

If you are like millions of other parents who are adjusting to the work-from-home life for the weeks {or date we say, months} ahead, you have likely already tried many strategies to ensure your children will stay quiet while you have to take calls, jump on a Zoom meeting, etc., but sometimes even good old fashioned bribery does not prevent a little one from interrupting important virtual conferences.  As a business owner, operating from an office in my home for over five years, there are some tried and true methods that can make this necessary transition more manageable for adults and children alike!  Allow me to share my top 8 tips.

 

1. Do not underestimate the power of connection. 

I’m not talking about your internet connection...  Sure, that is important.  However, another connection that can make or break the success of the day is the connection you have with each of your children.  From both research and experience, I have learned that it is absolutely vital to begin the day with some meaningful connection.  This may seem trivial, but I promise it makes a massive difference in your productivity and kids’ willingness to comply.  When circumstances allow, devoting 10-15 minutes of one-on-one time with toddlers, preschoolers, and school-aged children can set your entire day up for success.  When your little ones have their developmental needs for connection met before they are asked to play independently while parents work, their compliance grows exponentially.  A small investment in time up front can pay you back in dividends throughout the work day.  When your children know they can count on this daily time together, they are able to be more patient during work times.  That interaction gives your little ones something to look forward to everyday!

 

2. Prepare snacks in advance.

As you metaphorically fill your children’s cups with the emotional connection each day, go ahead and literally fill their cups too.  Fill up water bottles, and provide a snack box ahead of time for children to access without interrupting the necessary adult work time.  Explain the expectations for snacks (when, how many, what about when they’re gone, etc.) ahead of time.

 

3. Actually, prepare more than just snacks…

Let’s be real… In parenting, we need a lot more than merely snacks prepared.  The more you can get done in advance, the smoother your day will be.  For younger children, laying their clothes out the night before allows them to be independent in the mornings.  Discuss the morning routines in detail.   Depending on the ages of your children, have sensory bags, quiet activities, crafts, games, Legos, Playdoh, podcasts, etc. ready to go for when you need the guarantee that they will be engaged.  Reserve screen time for specific parts of the day, or use it to incorporate special activities, like FaceTiming family members, having a Zoom playdate with a friend, checking out the countless free academic resources available during this time, etc.  Structuring some intentional parts of the day will make it more manageable for the entire family.   

 

4. Establish realistic expectations of yourself and your kids.

Even when meeting your children’s physical and emotional needs first, do not plan to work for long periods of time with no breaks, particularly if your children are young.When children are home, outside of their typical routines and away from friends, they will still need some interaction to meet their needs for socialization.For most young children, that interaction can only come from the adults they live with and each other as siblings.When we acknowledge that even children who play very well independently still need frequent supervision, it allows us to keep realistic expectations for the amount of time we are able to work at once (at least while the children are awake).During this transition, it is safe to assume that you will have to catch up on some work at least part of the evening after your children are in bed.When you set expectations, communicate them in a very clear, child-friendly manner.As you expect follow through from your children, also model that by following through for them.Further, leaders and managers are well-aware that your children’s schools and daycare centers are closed.Keep in mind that everyone is dealing with the same challenges right now, so there should be some leeway.Set reasonable expectations on your response time to work-related tasks, and do not over-commit, and in the same way, set guidelines for the kids that are attainable.For example, for children that are old enough to handle some daytime responsibilities, asking them to clean up one activity before moving to the next can help everyone feel less overwhelmed as the day goes on.

 

5. Start small.

In accordance with avoiding unrealistic expectations, do not plan to have a 1.5-hour conference call in perfect silence if you’re “on duty” with your kids.Instead, prep the children as best as you can.If you are the only adult home, start with short calls that your children can see beginning and ending more quickly.Discuss problem-solving strategies beforehand, if an issue arises while you’re on the phone call, and allow older children to present ideas on how to troubleshoot until Mommy or Daddy is available again.When a call or other obligation is over, be very attentive to the children, giving lots of praise for their efforts in not interrupting.Not everything will go smoothly everyday, but when it does, celebrate those wins!Motivate your children to continue those helpful decisions.Gratitude and positive reinforcement goes a long way.The idea of “starting small” is particular applicable to independent play.Play is a foundational component of connection for young children, so watching your children play and playing with your children should both be a part of the day before expecting them to play freely on their own.When establishing expectations of playing independently, do not assume an hour is reasonable on the first day; instead, welcome even ten solid minutes!For older children, having them construct their own to-do lists before free choice time arrives prevents them from interrupting you repeatedly to ask what they should do next.

 

6. Designate a work space.

It is much easier for children to understand that a parent is working if there is a space set aside for that work to take place.Depending on the age of the children, many can even be taught simple expectations, such as “if the office door is shut, it means I’m on the phone, so don’t come in for a non-emergency.”For school-aged children, they often enjoy setting up their own “office spaces” too, as they prepare to complete virtual schooling, etc.Younger children like to play “imaginary work” at times too, so they can also be included.You can allow everyone in the family to choose a space of his/her own.If the parent working from home is the only supervision for young children, obviously this space is going to need to be nearby instead of secluded, but establishing some sort of professional space to work will help everyone differentiate work time.Having spaces for work and spaces for play helps cabin fever from setting in too quickly (though it is bound to happen in a scenario like this one).It is a healthy thing for every family member to have a little space, so when young children nap, teach older child to have independent play.Everyone needs a little time to breathe, adults included.

 

7. If possible, trade shifts.

For many families all over the world, both parents are working from home during this crisis, so if that is the case for you, take advantage of the ability to trade off.Each adult needs time to concentrate uninterrupted, so taking care of the most important work during those hours makes for a much more effective work day.Routine work that is less stressful when interrupted can be worked on as needed, even when your children are around.It’s a partnership between spouses to ensure that both adults are able to work and that the kids are being stimulated adequately.This requires planning and lots of communication.It helps tremendously to designate specific parts of the day to family and other chunks of the day to focused work time, even if the hours are not as traditional as they are in the office setting.Of course, in the absence of additional childcare, this can be much more difficult for parents of babies and toddlers, but even if half the day goes according to plan, it is often better than you would be doing otherwise!If your home doesn’t allow separate quiet spaces away from the children while your spouse is “on duty,” don’t be afraid to embrace good weather if the setting allows.Being outside affects our moods positively, so taking a walk with your headset in is not a bad place to think and discuss.

 

8. Forgive the friction. 

Surrounding yourself by the same people 24 hours a day and 7 days a week is not always easy.Thankfully, since your partner and children are likely people you enjoy, it won’t always be difficult either.Some days, there will be more enjoyable moments than challenging ones, and other days, the opposite will be true.That is okay.Expect siblings to argue.Give your children space apart from one another each day to try to avoid the “I’m totally sick of you!” feelings, and teach them how to problem-solve together.If they are old enough to understand, give your kids permission to disagree and express their feelings, but show them how to do so respectfully and productively.The financial stress of this situation, feelings of cabin fever, fear of the virus itself, and exhaustion of parenting while working is bound to cause some challenges in your relationship too.Feelings of anxiety and boredom with no escape from each other can be really tough.Listen to your partner well so that you both have an opportunity to be heard as you cope through an unprecedented time.Focus on appreciation for what is getting done well instead of emphasizing what is not getting done.If you make a heart of grace and forgiveness your goal during the quarantine, your time at home will be much smoother.

 

 

Remember, as isolating as this situation can feel as we navigate fear and anxieties, none of us are alone in facing challenges during this time.  As you strive to tackle this trial as best as possible, we hope you will do so feeling rested, supported, and capable.  When we look back on this time in history a decade or two from now, there are a lot of things we - as adults - will remember, but for our children, one of the main things they will remember is the time they spent with us.  While work is necessary, working from home is certainly a blessing for those of us who are able to (in lieu of not being able to continue working at all in this season).  Amongst all of the tough stuff you will inevitably face in this “new work environment,” do you best to find a few bright spots in your week – moments that you hope will turn into simple memories your children cherish for a lifetime!  We are here for you!

 

 

 

Katie Pitts is the owner/founder of a pediatric & adult sleep consulting company.  She has been helping families sleep through the night for over 5 years and have helped almost 3,000 families.  Sleep Wise makes up a team of 38 women who are experienced, well-educated and who want to see your child – and you – succeed and be #restedasamother. 

 

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