For some, it is a dream, for some a necessity and for others the worst what could happen to them: working from home with kids around.
As we travel the world with our kids, we work online while the kids are 24/7 with us. Let’s say over time we have learned a thing or two about working from home with kids without going insane. In this article, we’ll share our best strategies with you.
There are most definitely a lot of advantages to working online from home or while travelling. You get to be productive on those hours that work best for you. No more time-consuming and stressful commutes. And you’ll have much more time with your kids.
So why doesn’t everyone chooses this kind of lifestyle? Because it isn’t as perfect as it always seems.
Those pictures of smiling moms, working behind their computers with one toddler sitting quietly on their lap while the baby is sleeping… Never happened here!
No, just when you think you’ll be able to work for an hour (without even being too optimistic), they are bored, have to show you their next art project or suddenly decide to kill each other.
Preferably, when you’re having an important conference call! You probably remember this hilarious video of a BBC expert, going live on television, while his two kids walk into the office while mommy is trying to save the situation.
So if you work from home with your kids, by choice or because you have to for a certain period of time, here are some amazing tips to get more done and find a great balance between your family and your work. And most of all, to prevent you from going crazy!
Create a dedicated home office
Adjust your workspace
It’s tempting to grab your laptop and work at the kitchen table while you can check on your kids playing in the same room. But most of the times, this doesn’t work for me. I simply can’t be productive when my daughters are running around and rambling to each other.
Separating work-time and family-time is essential to focus and get some real work done. Although it’s not possible to lock yourself in an office all day when you’re the only one looking after the kids, creating a dedicated or separate workspace will be a lifesaver.
Not only will you be able to focus better, but you can also organise yourself more and create a good work vibe around you. Even for the kids, it’s clear when mommy or daddy are at their home office desk, they are working. Managing the interruptions will be a lot easier. We each have our own workspace and our girls know we’re working if we sit there.
With older kids, of course, it’s much more straightforward. They understand you have to work, and with a bit of luck, even won’t interrupt you for some time. But smaller kids like to have their parents close by, or at least in the same room so they can see them. It’s the only way to keep them happy and satisfied.
A solution can be to set up a little workspace or activity station for them in your own office. Stock it up with their own office supplies, they will feel important doing the same thing as you. Get some games, arts and crafts stuff, fun activities or electronics to keep them busy. This won’t work for hours in a row, but will definitely buy you some productive office time!
Use a headset
A great way to get productive is by blocking out the noise. When I need to focus, I put on my headset and play some music. Again, this only works if you’re not alone watching for the kids or if they are older.
But again, if I’m wearing my headset, my kids know they shouldn’t interrupt me or only for important things.
If you’re having an online meeting or call, the headsets will also prevent the other persons from hearing your kids in the background.
Another great tip is to hit the mute button when you’re in a conference call. You don’t want your boss or colleagues to enjoy the unexpected tantrum because your toddler gets hungry.
Be flexible with your work schedule
If you are used working from 9 to 5, with fixed pauses in between, forget it! Don’t even try! This won’t work with kids and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration by not trying to achieve the ‘regular’ work schedule that other people have.
Instead, embrace flexibility! You’ll soon learn it has many advantages as well!
Work when the kids are sleeping
Throw the regular working schedule out of the window, and spread your working hours over the day. Use those hours when the kids are (still) sleeping to be most productive.
Become an early bird or late night owl. During our full-time travels, we were always working late, when the kids were sleeping. If you have a deadline, even do an all-nighter if necessary (don’t make a habit out of it though). But, this does put pressure on your quality time as a couple, so try to find a good balance here.
When the kids are small, use nap times to get your work done. No-interruption times are sacred!
If they don’t want to sleep (probably just when you have a deadline), try to give them some quiet time. Put them in the crib with something to play and leave them alone for a while in their room. Especially if you do this every day (either sleeping or quiet time), your kids will learn the drill. Give them a set of toys they only get during that time, to keep them interested.
Don’t try to clean up your house, leave the mess as it is. I know it is difficult for some, but you need these hours to be productive! Postpone your household duties to the hours when the kids are awake.
Create a schedule – Plan Ahead
Make a to-do list with your tasks for that day or week. I like to make a week-list, so I can still move assignments around when some days don’t go as planned.
Don’t start deadlines last-minute, this will probably be the moment your kids won’t give you a break!
Take your partner’s schedule into account to make up the best plan. Also, make a schedule for the kids, they’ll love the structure and feel important. And they’ll soon learn the rhythm of your working day.
Schedule the important phone calls, online meetings or challenging work that requires your full attention, when your kids are asleep or when your partner can look after them. One small tip, have a bottle of milk ready for when your baby does wake up during an important call.
You’ll have to plan ahead and determine when will your most productive hours and when you’ll probably have to be flexible and allow some quality family-time in between to break up the hours your kids have to entertain themselves.
Take the pressure off
One of the things I love most about working from home is being able to take moments off when your kids need you, when you need a break or when it’s just such a beautiful day and you want to go outside for an hour and play with your children.
Especially if you are your own boss, and your kids keep interrupting you, asking hundreds of questions, just stop for a moment. Put your tasks and assignments aside, and take a moment to have fun with your kids. You’ll have plenty of time afterwards to get the work done when the kids’ energy has burned off or they are off to bed. Try to achieve the best possible balance!
It’s the most important thing I have learned! If it is one of those days where everybody gets frustrated, stop working for a moment when possible! It will go much better after a break or even the next day!
Invest time in your kids
Alternate between work and your kids
A small break goes a long way! In the beginning, we made the mistake of trying to work all day long. Which resulted in the kids constantly interrupting us, making us frustrated and having to sit even longer behind our computers. A negative spiral driving us mad!
The trick is to take little breaks between work time to give your kids attention. Go outside and play some soccer, make a walk, play a game or read a book.
Start their day by playing together for 20/30 minutes. get them started on a project. Chances are they’ll give you an hour or more of uninterrupted work time.
Even if your partner is looking after the kids, break up your day and give them some quality time every hour or few hours. This will decrease the chances of them interrupting you or running into the office during a meeting. After all, they just want to show you their new art project or give you a cuddle.
Be fully present
When the time has come to leave your desk and be with the kids, forget about work. Leave your phone on your desk.
Be fully present, physically but also emotionally. It took me some time to realise this. I used to play with them, but in the meantime my head was elsewhere, trying to figure out how to solve a problem or what I should do next.
You’re kids don’t deserve that. If you’re there for them, be there 100%! You’ll be rewarded with more work time afterwards. And you’ll feel yourself a better parent.
Separate your parent role and business role. If you try to do them at the same time, you’ll find yourself being terrible in both.
Let kids be kids
Let kids be kids! Kids aren’t meant to be quiet for hours. They simply have too much energy. Every few hours, let them be kids! Let them go wild with water, a pillow fight or paint. It will buy you some quiet time afterwards.
Communicate with your partner
Communications is everything to make this work. We’ve been together 24/7 for years now, and it is talking to each other, sharing schedules, making sure we’re on the same page that makes this possible.
If you have an important meeting that day or a big deadline, let your partner know so they can take some pressure off by watching the kids. Maybe they can plan a trip outside the house so you get uninterrupted work time.
You have to find out what works best for your family and work schedules. We’ve tried different strategies, such as each working every other day or one working in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Sometimes we work both at the same time. Whatever works for our schedules or kids at that moment. Again, be flexible!
If it’s your turn to work, try not to be distracted by what’s going on in the house (besides the necessary break you need to take every few hours anyway). It’s tempting to go check when you hear a kid cry. But don’t! You don’t have to try to be responsible for all the household and parental tasks. Your partner gots this, have faith!
Create fun activities for your kids
Create a boredom box
Have you heard of a boredom box before? Essentially it’s just a box you fill with lots of fun crafts, games or other activities. Make a list of tasks for your kids, things they can do with the box or little assignments.
But the trick is you only give the box to your kids when you have tried everything else and you really need to get that task done. They will be much more focused on the activities when they are new and they don’t get to play them often.
Look for fun things to do
There are tons of activities for kids to find on Google or Pinterest to keep them busy while you are working.
We love scavenger hunts! Our girls keep themselves busy for at least an hour looking for everything on the list. This article gives you 50+ scavenger hunts for kids.
When it’s rainy outside or you have to stay in, look for fun indoor activities for kids.
One of the tricks we often use is to rotate their toys. If everything is accessible all the time, they soon will lose interest. If you rotate, toys will suddenly become interesting again.
Incentives always work with kids. If you define a goal or a target, promise a reward when they successfully fulfil the task. They will be focused on completing the target, which allows you to work.
The rewards can be anything, from a sweet to doing a fun activity together, watching a movie or playing a game together.
Give them work of their own while you are working
Something our kids really love is to feel important with their own work, assignments and tasks.
So sometimes we prepare a few worksheets with little tasks or educational exercises for them to fill in. Or give them their favourite book to read and some questions. They’ll love to sit next to you with their own tasks at their own desk.
There are lots of sites where you can find fun or educational tasks for kids of all ages such as these 10 educational sites.
Communicate with your boss
We are lucky, as we are our own boss. Which means we have to create our own income, but we don’t have a boss watching over our shoulder if we work long or hard enough.
If you work from home as an employee, your boss might have certain expectations about the hours when you need to work or how many hours a day you should work. Which can be very difficult to fulfil with kids around.
So very important is to show your commitment! Make sure you make it clear to your boss how much you appreciate being able to work from home.
Even though you might not be available at certain moments, you will be as productive as you would be in the office and fulfil all your tasks. Show your commitment by getting up early and sending out emails or completing tasks before other people’s workday has even started.
A second thing is to communicate! Make sure you both understand when or how many hours you are expected to be online, how you handle unforeseen situations, … Your boss also needs to understand what is or isn’t possible for you. If everything is clear for both parties, all will work out fine.
And last but not least, don’t work in your pyjamas. Not only do you not want to have an unexpected video conference while you’re still in your PJs, you feel much more productive, confident and business-minded if you dress up a bit.
Working from home with kids needs practice
Create clear boundaries and agreements
Children need clear rules. When you work from home with kids, use visual signs to make it easier for them to understand they can not disturb you then, except for an emergency. Practice the signs with them, even younger children will learn to understand. Although you could just explain the drill to older kids, they will also benefit from making the agreements visual.
Some ideas are for example wearing a tiara, a certain hat or cape to make clear they can not interrupt you or be loud in the room. If you are working in a separate office area, have signs at the door. For example, if the light is turned on, you are not to be disturbed, use a red ribbon to block the door or a stop sign if you are in a meeting.
Make sure to create boundaries so family life and business life don’t get mixed up. If you’re in the office, you are working. If you are with them, they get your full attention. Only that way they will clearly understand when not to bother you and reduce the stress for everybody.
Plan for interruptions and practice emergency drills
Oh yes, we all have been there. You have an important call or even worse, video conference, and the kids run screaming at you because their sibling doesn’t want to let them play with something. I guess you all know what I’m talking about.
When you work from home with kids, the trick is to practice the emergency drills and interruptions with your kids! You can learn them how they should behave when it is clear to them you’re not te be interrupted.
One of the favourite drills of a close friend of mine is the kids need to walk up to here and put their hand on her arm as a sign they have something to say. They can only do so if it is urgent. From the moment she makes clear it is possible for here to talk, they can speak.
How should you practice? First of all, you need to make clear when you are not to be interrupted. Using visual signs as we said earlier are very powerful signals. You can tell older kids you have an important call for the next 30 minutes and the emergency drills are in place. If it is an unexpected call, what is the sign? The phone ringing, the door that closes, a silent ‘do not disturb me’, …
Secondly, you have to practice the drill. Repetition is as always the key with kids and if you don’t want to practice with actual live calls, you better play some pretend calls with the kids. Go through a few simulations so they learn how to behave.
Make it very clear what you expect from them. Reward them if they do it right, give them a big hug and tell them how proud you are. Tell them how important they are to help mommy or daddy out.
Don’t try to block out the screens, use what works
We all want to be perfect parents by entertaining the kids with educational activities, learning them to play outside and reducing the screen time.
But let’s be fair. If you have to work, need to be present at an important conference call or have a last-minute deadline and your kids keep on interrupting you, turn on that screen! If you know it works, why wouldn’t you.
They will be safe, quiet, happy and you’ll get your work done. No time to feel guilty about it!
This being said, you can still look for some educational or fun alternatives to regular games or movies. We love this article with 35+ educational apps for kids and this one for the 11 free sites for homeschooling.
Look for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you work from home with kids and have to meet a deadline or have an important meeting.
You could, of course, hire someone to look after your kids such as a baby sitter or even full-time nanny. But this will cost you a lot and that’s not always possible for everybody. Unless you can share the costs with other work from home parents and hire one person to watch all the kids.
If you know other parents working from home or having some days off, you could ask them to swap babysitting. One looks after them in the morning, the other in the afternoon. And the kids have a whole day worth of fun.
Be realistic when you work from home with kids
Last not least, be realistic. Working from home with kids around isn’t easy, and let’s be fair sometimes downright frustrating. You can’t be the perfect parent, get all your work done, have a clean house and have happy kids.
Some days, you won’t get the work done you want to. But it does not always have to be work that has to give in.
Don’t feel guilty if your kids have been watching too much television today or you just don’t have the energy anymore to play with them. They will survive!
Don’t be ashamed if your house is a mess, but you decide to work or take the kids out for an hour instead. You will survive!
Is this not your most productive day? Do the kids drive you crazy with constant interruptions? Don’t feel bad, give it a rest and accept. Put your work aside for now. The next day will be better!
Finding the right balance between work, your family and your household, that’s all you need!
Have fun working, parenting and multitasking! I hope these strategies were helpful if you need or want to work from home with kids, without losing your sanity! Let us know what your strategies are in comments.
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