Working from home with kids can be challenging, even when they are older and more independent. As the lockdown continues, many parents are currently walking on a tightrope between supervising their children, homeschooling and attempting to keep up with demands from their actual employed job.
Getting the right balance between working from home (WFH) and homeschooling children can be difficult and it is only natural to feel stressed while trying to juggle a busy work schedule, disruption in your normal routine and children at the same time.
To help you find the right balance and strategy we have summarised the top tips from experts such as teachers and productivity specialists on how to best manage.
1. Start your day on the right foot
While it's tempting to start your day off snoozing the alarm and letting everyone stay in their PJs, after all, who is going to see you anyway? But getting up and ready with your children at the usual time will help you all get into the right frame of mind for the day.
While WFH and homeschooling have seen most people's routines go out the window as there are no obligations to follow a timetable or school hours, it is recommended to try to stick to your normal routine to keep your day from spiralling out of control.
2. Channel your inner director
“Getting one or two work things done early in the morning — before everyone else is up — can make a huge difference,” explains Laura Vanderkam, author of several books on productivity. She also recommends writing down general to-do lists every morning for yourself and your children, listing school activities and general activities to make sure everything moves forward and on schedule during the day. To make the tasks more enjoyable for the kids and yourself you can try implementing a reward system to keep motivation high.
If you have a printer handy at home you can download these customisable rewards charts to follow.
If you have a toddler and are looking for some activities to keep them entertained during the day then have a look at this Busy Toddler 35 Indoor Easy Activities Calendar for some inspiration for fun activities to do.
And most importantly, at the end of the day tick off all the things you have achieved during the day. Not only is it highly satisfying, but it will give you a sense of accomplishment and a reminder that while it is difficult to work from home with kids, you ARE achieving a lot and getting work done.
3. Create separate workstations
To maximize you and your children's ability to concentrate on work and school, and increase productivity, where possible, try to create dedicated workstations for each of your kids to do homework and attend video calls with their teachers. Even if the workstations are on the kitchen counter or the dining room table this will ensure that there is a separation between work and play, and they can get into the mindset needed to focus on their lessons.
If you don’t have a dedicated workstation at home and are sharing your area with your kids, try to work out the best way to share the space with a dedicated area for each on opposite sides of the table. Try separating the areas with some books or magazines to keep the clutter to a minimum. If your kids are of the artistic type and like to leave their daily artworks spread across the area, implement a 5-minute cleaning break in the middle of the day to declutter the workstation..
Get creative. If your child is doing work that doesn't require them to be at the desk, like reading, perhaps they can do their reading in a different area like the living room or bedroom. Or if you find yourself unable to concentrate, you can situate yourself in their bedroom and let them have the kitchen table or desk.
4. Meal Prep
Reduce the daily stress and become more productive by planning and prepping meals in advance for breakfast lunch and dinner. This will allow you more time in the day to complete your work. Make everyone's lunch the evening before so you don’t need to make it during the day, that way you can squeeze in some extra work time.
You can also create separate snack boxes in your fridge for your kids and fill them up for the day. This way you avoid getting interrupted by your kids asking for snacks, and they will know that when the box is empty that’s it for snacks that day.
If you are stumped for meal prep ideas, check out this article on 34 ridiculously easy healthy lunch meal prep recipes for some inspiration.
5. Divide and conquer
If you have a partner to share parenting responsibilities with you might find it helpful to structure your daily schedule with a morning and afternoon shift. Divide the day up into concrete four-hour shifts where one parent has the main responsibility of the children and the other parent can use the time to get work done, then swapping around lunchtime. This can work well for some, but may not work in households of single parents or with multiple kids with different needs.
Figure out when your child works the best and needs the least amount of attention from you and try to schedule your more pressing work into these blocks. The amount of time will be dependent on the age of your child and how independent they are. If you have an older child they might be able to concentrate on a task set by you or their teacher for 30-45 minute blocks, whereas a younger child might only be able to concentrate for a maximum of 20 minutes.
If all else fails then you can schedule some work time while they watch some educational programs. Video streaming platforms have lots of educational children's shows that have the dual purpose of keeping them entertained and learning at the same time. Such as the Wiggles, Sesame Street, Numbersblock, Forky Asks a Question, Out of the Box and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
6. How to tackle that important phone call or video meeting
Taking that important phone call or video meeting is probably the biggest stress factor for parents combining WFH and kids. How to best handle this situation will depend on your child's age and level of independence as an older child will most likely be able to occupy themselves for 30 minutes while playing or doing their homework.
A younger child or toddler will not understand your need to not be disturbed for that time and it can be more challenging to find ways to occupy them while you have your meetings. You can try to minimise the disruptions while you are in your meeting by allowing them some playtime, as not all parts of the day have to be used for learning. Perhaps this is the time to allow them to watch an educational program or play an online game.
Plan for your meeting by communicating with your kids. As kids love routines, let them know in advance and tell them your expectations. Reward them for their patience by setting a timer for your meeting (give yourself more time than the actual meeting) and scheduling some playtime or a nice lunch with them after your meeting is finished as a reward.
You can also make a list of activities that your kids can do when they are bored and stick it on the fridge so they know what to do if they are bored. This will hopefully help keep disruptions during your meetings to a minimum.
And most importantly make sure you are set up for your meetings correctly with your tech in order. Having a headset to take calls with will make it easier for you to multitask if needed. A headset will also ensure that you are taking your calls in the most ergonomic way possible and you reduce the chances of the dreaded ‘tech neck’.
If you have some grandparents, family members or friends this might be the time to enlist their help so that they can entertain them on a zoom call so you can take that important phone call or meeting.
And remember that the person on the other end of the phone is probably dealing with the same amount of distractions as you while WFH so they will be sympathetic to any disruptions on your call.
7. Get your kids Googling
If you have children old enough to use their devices unsupervised then you can encourage them to google and research. Parents know a lot, but kids can learn so much more when encouraged to independently research when placed in a difficult situation. There are a lot of resources available online that they can utilise, such as online calculators, informative websites and student forums that they can be used to keep entertained and up to date.
8. What about requesting carers leave to care for your kids?
If all else fails and your busy schedule simply does not add up, you can request for carers leave or flexible working arrangements to care for your children, if you have been employed by the same employer for more than 12 months. While it’s up to your employer to approve of this it is an option for parents that are unable to juggle the increasing demands of WFH and homeschooling.
And lastly, be kind to yourself! Don’t expect too much from yourself or your kids. Lockdown is a stressful time for everyone, some kids thrive in the homeschool environment, while others are struggling to do their assigned tasks. Don’t compare yourself to others, be patient and share your expectations with your kids. And rest assured that you are doing your best and so are your kids. Keep doing the best you can and expect the best from your kids (which doesn’t always mean the most).
If you have any questions on this content or want to speak with a member of the Tank Stream Labs team, feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org