How to Work from Home with Kids: 12 Surprisingly Simple Tips
It’s safe to say that life has changed dramatically in the last month or so. So many of us are suddenly working from home, while also parenting 24/7, and tutoring our kids in every subject.
Being in a job that could be transitioned to remote work sometimes feels a bit like a double-edged sword: You’re so grateful to still have work, but the pressure of trying to work from home with kids around—kids who need help with school work or e-learning technology—can be daunting.
But you can do it. It comes down to prioritizing what’s foundational, making a good plan, collecting the right resources, and being prepared to laugh at your mistakes.
1. Make space for yourself.
What you are doing is hard, on so many levels. There are strategic steps you can take to make it easier, and we’ll get to that, but first, recognize and accept that this. Is. Hard.
And because it’s hard (and unexpected, unplanned, and unprecedented), the first step is to make space for yourself.
Find and plan for 30 to 60 minutes every day when you can get some exercise, fresh air, and quiet. Your mental and physical health is paramount, because without it, all the scheduling, parenting, working, and homeschooling falls apart.
Maybe that means you’re up a little early to get a 30-minute walk or run—all to yourself—in the morning. Maybe it’s a glass of wine by the fire pit in the backyard after the kids are in bed. Maybe it’s both. Exercise and relaxation are not selfish or a waste of time, they are foundational.
Plan it. Schedule it. Stick to it—for your kids, your spouse, your coworkers, and yourself.
2. Make a schedule.
This will look different for every family, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. How detailed your schedule is will depend on how rigid your work schedule is, how old your children are, and how disciplined you tend to be.
Older children, tight work schedules, and/or Type A personalities will have detailed schedules. Younger children, lighter work schedules, and/or Type B mamas will use broader brush strokes, and that’s okay. What matters here is that it works for your family.
A few tips:
Include some time cushions, even in the tightest schedule. Something will inevitably go awry, so plan some buffers.
- Post it where your kids can see it. If they’re too young to read, use pictures and simple words.
If you’re really not the administrative type, and the idea of creating a schedule makes your skin crawl a little bit, try to just start with an outline of daily activities, with no times attached. Plan to do A, then B, and then C. As you get more comfortable with that, you will start to notice at what time different activities tend to happen.
3. Plan for your schedule to fall apart.
It will. Especially in the beginning.
Know that the first draft of your schedule isn’t the final and adjustments will have to be made. If you’re too committed at the very beginning, you will have set yourself up for frustration. If you hold it a little loosely, it will be easier to laugh off the mistakes and roll with the punches.
4. Make games and activities more available.
Pile books, games, magazines, etc., where you know the kids end up and/or in unexpected places.
Do they inevitably start to inhabit the space beneath your desk by mid-afternoon? Put a few books and quiet activities in a basket at your feet. (Or three feet away, on a floor pillow, if you can’t stand them under your desk.) Do they collapse on the couch to complain about being bored? Dump out a puzzle or set up a game on the coffee table.
Oftentimes, the same games that they ignore in their bedrooms get a whole new life when set up in a different space.
5. Do school work around meal times.
Schedule kids’ work times before and/or after meals, when they’re already at the table. Break it up and (for example) plan reading/writing before breakfast and social sciences after; then plan math before lunch and science after.
Especially if your kids are not excited about doing school work, breaking it up into smaller chunks makes it easier for everyone. It’s also easier to get them to the table for food, and keep them for some study, than to pry them away from a video game or outdoor activity for school work.
6. Take a (lunch) break together.
Anything you can do to take a proper lunch break, away from your desk, is well worth it. Stop working and have lunch with your kids.
First, because part of the silver lining in this madness is that you do have a unique opportunity to connect with your kids—whether they’re toddlers or teenagers. And especially if your kids are younger, taking a break to focus on them can recharge them for another hour or two of independent play. Plan to take five or 10 minutes mid-afternoon to read a book or play a quick game too.
Second, you also have a unique opportunity to model self-care. Healthy habits start in pre-teen and teenage years, so demonstrate for your kids how important it is to take a real break in the middle of the day. Eat good food and step away from the computer.
7. Work together.
If you’re working on a laptop, move to the table before and after meals so you can work near your kids while they do school work. Without saying a word, your physical proximity can:
- Be a comfort if your kids are emotionally struggling with social isolation and/or e-learning.
- Help your kids focus on their work, if they are easily distracted when left alone.
- Strengthen your relationship as you just do life together.
If your work device is not so mobile, consider ways you can set up a desk for your teenager near yours, or “mommy and me” workstations with your younger child.
8. Plan projects.
Look for kits or gather supplies for art or craft projects that will take time to complete—and I mean days or weeks. The key is to make sure they are self-service, so your kids can get to them whenever they want.
You could, for example, learn about mosaic art. Watch a few YouTube videos together and help them plan a project. Get canvas or cardstock big enough to keep your child busy but not daunted, glue, and a bag of paper squares.
A similar option might be pointillism. You don’t have to worry about paint with younger kits either: Get markers or bingo dabbers that they can make dots with.
You could also get a model car kit or any number of craft kits. Let your kids help choose, and be sure to explain to the little ones that they can put it away and take it out again whenever they want.
9. Establish quiet time routines.
If you have small children and need quiet for online meetings, set up a routine and/or a special treat to make sure these go smoothly. A simple routine might be a potty break, a book, a small glass of water and a snack, and a special game they only get to play when mom has a meeting. (Maybe this is when they get to work on their art project.)
You might also want to include a visual reference for reinforcement on or near your desk: an action figure that gets placed on the desk to “guard” you from being interrupted or a special hat you wear (if you don’t need to have a webcam on).
If your kids have a hard time not interrupting, talk with them through what is appropriate to interrupt you for. Let them list two or three circumstances, and recite it often. “We only interrupt mommy’s meeting if ___ or ___.”
And remember that new routines take time to establish, so lavish the positive reinforcement when they get it right.
10. Create quiet time boxes.
Quiet time boxes are small, shoe box-sized bins or boxes that contain a small collection of items for a craft, game, or activity. They are very familiar to teachers and homeschool parents with small children, but the theme can be expanded to middle school kids with a little creativity on your part.
Google “quiet time boxes” and you will be inundated with themes and ideas. If you create several, don’t show your whole hand at once, though. Introduce one new box each week and let the collection of options slowly grow over time.
11. Plan screen time strategically.
Some parents are loosening the reins on screen time, while others are maintaining pre-pandemic quotas. Do what you feel is best for your kids and your sanity.
However much screen time your kids are getting these days, you can still use it strategically. When do you need uninterrupted time? Maybe it’s a meeting. Maybe it’s just that 3:00 afternoon push.
It’s easier on kids, especially smaller ones, if this is the same time every day, but if your meetings vary then do what you have to do.
12. Know that boredom is not bad.
Boredom is good for everyone, even kids. There is no end to the list of articles and studies that extol the long-term benefits of letting your kids be bored.
Being bored helps improve kids’:
Kids who regularly experience boredom grow into greater mental health than those who don’t. So do not feel the need to fill their every waking moment with activity.
When they whine about being bored, just tell them to go find something to do. You might be surprised what they come up with, and they will be better off for having been made to suffer through some boredom.
You got this, mama
The most important part of making this whole working-from-home-with-kids arrangement a success is to give yourself—and your kids—grace when you fail. You will probably all cry at some point (if you haven’t already), and you might all have a temper tantrum or two, but that’s okay.
We are all learning new things, adjusting to new norms, and mourning the loss of our comfortable routines and social activities. No matter what your day looked like yesterday, or how it’s going today, or what it’s going to look like tomorrow—you’re winning as long as you’re still trying.
Make schedules and plan activities and prepare supplies, but, mostly, create some space for yourself so you can stay focused on what’s important.