Among the many upheavals coronavirus has caused, shelter-in-place orders and school closures have forced many parents to work from home—maybe not for the first time ever, but likely for the first time without any hope of childcare relief. When schools, babysitters and playgroups are no longer an option, WFH parents are having to figure out how to balance more than usual (Nurture Life parents included!).
We can all agree that there’s nothing easy about working from home with kids, where a five-minute bathroom break can suddenly turn into an hour-long meltdown and you can’t even type out a full sentence, let alone a full email, without little fingers finding something they shouldn’t. To help us all find our footing in these stressful circumstances, here are some tips and ideas for how to work from home with kids during COVID-19 stay-home orders.
1. Set a Flexible Daily Routine
From brand-new babies to tweens and teens, kids benefit from a consistent routine—all the more so when life is so unpredictable. You don’t need to stress over creating the world’s most amazing or creative kids’ schedule; just find a general structure that works for you. Don’t forget to schedule some breaks for yourself, too! For help building out a new daily routine, get a sample chart and list of tips here.
2. Explain WFH to Your Kids
If you’re working from home without childcare, your kids will inevitably have to spend some time entertaining themselves. Try to explain to them upfront that sometimes you’ll need “mommy or daddy quiet time” and what that means.
You could also let Daniel Tiger do the explaining! Episode 3 of Season 11 is all about Daniel Tiger learning to play independently while Mom Tiger is busy working. You can buy the episode on Amazon or stream it on PBS Kids for free with a 30-day free trial.
3. Create a Space That’s Work Only
Okay…maybe we’ll go with “work mostly” since we all know how hard it is to actually have your own space. Even if it’s a small standing desk in your bedroom or a little corner in the living room, allowing yourself some kind of dedicated work spot is important.
Not only will you feel more focused in a physical environment that’s made for work, but you can clearly explain to your kids, too, that this one area is mommy or daddy’s quiet space. You can even walk through specific scenarios to teach your kids how to react:
- If the phone rings and mommy steps away, do you follow and talk to her? Or do you wait until she comes back?
- If you see daddy with earbuds in, do you shout and scream until he hears you? Or do you wait and make a quiet gesture?
- If mommy is sitting in her work area, do you run to her desk to share what you’ve made? Or do you wait until quiet time is over so she can really focus on your creation?
If you want to get more elaborate, make a game out of it! Ask your kids to write a little play to act out these different work-from-home scenarios. Or turn your work space into a “top secret agent zone” that requires quiet voices because you’re doing super-spy things. Or maybe you make your kid the “Sheriff of Workland,” giving them a little cardboard badge and the very important task of guarding you from (real or imagined) intruders.
4. Prioritize Tasks
Although the days can feel endless, the number of hours you can actually concentrate on work are likely far from it. You’ll probably have to work in short bursts whenever your child is napping, playing independently or working on e-learning assignments.
To help you get through each day, write out a list of what absolutely has to get done, what would be nice to get done and what could slip through the cracks for a few more days. Remember that it’s completely normal, expected and okay to not get everything done when you’re working from home with kids.
5. Have “Emergency” Activities
There will inevitably be moments where something unexpected happens and you need to fill some time. Maybe an urgent phone call comes in or maybe your kids’ planned learning activity finishes up 30 minutes early. For times like these, it’ll help to have a list of “emergency” activities sorted by supervision required. Take these short lists as a starting point:
Low-Supervision Activities for Kids
- Reading a book
- Doing a puzzle
- Finishing homework
- Drawing pictures
- Watching TV
- Playing an approved game on a tablet
- Sitting in the baby bouncer
- Playing in a playpen
- Building with legos or blocks
Medium-Supervision Activities for Kids
- Doing arts and crafts
- Playing in the yard
- Video chatting with trusted friends or family
- Building a pillow fort
- At-home scavenger hunt
Higher-Supervision Activities for Kids
- Cooking or baking something
- Doing science experiments
- Going for a walk
- Playing a family game or sport
6. Be Open with Your Team
If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that we’re all more connected than ever—and we’re all experiencing similar problems. Being honest with your team about what’s going on can help everyone set realistic expectations and learn how to work from home more effectively.
To keep the conversation productive, it’s helpful to have some specific alternatives prepared. For example, if you’re running behind on a project, you might schedule a quick call to discuss actionable options:
- Rescheduling meetings to a more realistic time for you
- Splitting the project with a teammate or two
- Moving to a more detailed project management system
- Dividing the project into smaller, more achievable milestones
- Narrowing the scope of the project
- Contracting some portion of the project out
- Moving the deadline back
7. Make Healthy Meals Easy
For parents working from home without childcare, mealtime presents yet another host of challenges. Eating healthy is incredibly important to staying well, but as WFH parents, most of us have less time than ever to think about preparing healthy meals.
At Nurture Life, we’re more committed than ever to making healthy eating the easy choice, especially during these extremely stressful times for families across the country. Our baby, toddler and kids meals are nutritionally balanced (focusing on organic produce, antibiotic-free protein and whole grains) and can be ready to eat in less than 2 minutes.
We’re working hard to maintain normal operations and are still delivering across the entire contiguous United States. If you need a helping hand to make it through your day, we want to support you in every way that we can. Read more about what we’re doing to maintain safety and health during coronavirus.
8. Stay Connected
Even as we social distance for COVID-19, we can still find creative ways to connect with our networks. Here are a few ways to lean on your network of family, friends and neighbors for a little help and encouragement as you work from home:
- Visit family through video apps. Many grandparents probably feel bored and isolated themselves and would love to help you out. Set up a call so that your extended family members can talk to your kids, read them books or teach them a fun game or skill. If your kids are old enough, this could even become a sort of “virtual babysitting,” where you can get some work done as they spend time with a trusted family member.
- Set up a virtual playgroup. Reach out to your work-at-home mom or dad friends to set up a time for your kids to play together over video chat. Try using a creative theme to make the playdate feel more real, like a music party, dance-off or arts and crafts. If one parent is in charge of leading the group’s activity, other parents may be able to sneak in a few minutes of work while casually supervising.
- Write messages to neighbors. If you have windows and dry erase markers or construction paper, you have everything you need to send a note of love to your neighbors! Your kids can write large notes of encouragement or a simple “Hello!” (and you can get some work done while they’re crafting).
9. Celebrate the Small Wins
Whether you have one child or many children, whether your kid is 18 months or 18 years, whether you’re a one-parent or multi-parent household—it’s probably fair to say that we’re all stuck here wondering, “Am I doing this right?” And the short answer is yes. You’re doing the best you can, and that’s all any of us can say!
The New York Times has published a list of small victories from parents working from home with kids, and we love the idea of finding and savoring these little moments of joy. They won’t change the fact that we’re all stressed and tired and that none of us know what happens next…but they can make working from home with kids just a little more gratifying.
As we’re all struggling to find a sense of normalcy and social connection, we’d appreciate the opportunity to share in your family’s small victories. Share them with our community on Instagram by tagging @nurturelife and using the hashtag #whatkidsdeserve—it doesn’t just have to be our meals—we would love to see any stay-at-home moments of joy.