Working from home is not a new phenomenon, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise as the WFH acronym has been used ad nauseam across media and social channels worldwide on a daily basis.
Pre-pandemic many of us had gotten used to the occasional WFH Friday, and we’ve also grown adept at juggling busy jobs alongside raising children for years with the help of nannies, grandparents, childminders, nurseries (the list goes on). However, with the above no longer an option and WFH being the daily routine for so many, we’re now faced with the incredibly unfamiliar and daunting reality of WFHWC (working from home with children).
If you’re in this boat: we see you mama. And if you’ve got toddlers on hand, it presents a whole new set of challenges. Though we’re not even sure if the word ‘challenges’ does it justice at this point…
You may be wondering: is it possible to hold down a job and look after my little ones without losing my mind in the process? We spoke to Health & Mindfulness Coach, Louise Murray, on how she is managing WFH life with a family in tow. And now, handing it over to you, Lou!
“I am going through this myself at the moment – we have a 5 year old, 3 year old and 1 year old at home with us whilst we are also trying to work from home too… it’s hard! There are some ways to help manage it – it won’t make it easy but it might just make it possible.”Lou Murray
9 Helpful Hacks for Working From Home With Toddlers
- Be realistic: If your children constantly demand attention during non-business hours, do you really expect them to sit in a corner with a pile of crayons, colouring books, or an iPad for hours at a time while you work? Remember, you are the main attraction for your little ones and they will probably just be so excited to be at home and have you there with them… so don’t set the bar too high in terms of what you hope to achieve each day.
- Run some ‘Emergency’ drills. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a sudden outburst from children during a conference call. To minimise this run through a series of simulations to prepare your troops. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s worth a shot, so practice the most common scenarios. For example, if the phone rings and mommy quietly steps into the office, do you run after her screaming or quietly have a seat and wait for her to finish the call? Over time, I’m confident the children will get the hang of things and give me quiet time when I desperately need it. But until then, we’ll keep practicing and where possible I will manage my clients’ expectations too – I think everyone is going to be quite understanding.
- Offer incentives. I like the term ‘incentives’ but I guess it is really bribes! Set goals for your children to keep them occupied. If they successfully meet the target, offer them a reward. Whether it’s 30 minutes in the garden, popcorn and a movie, or a pizza night, give it a go.
- Plan activities that don’t need supervision. Create activity boxes that contain games and puzzles that require minimal adult supervision for toddlers and primary school kids. Have a backup activity jar ready to go for when these activities become boring. They can also be kept busy with trustworthy apps and their favourite TV shows. We are definitely stressing less about screen time!
- Work in shifts. Unfortunately for us, as our kids are all still super little, we will have to get up early, and work late at least a couple of times a week to make this work. We do ‘shift work’ so we will do 3 or 4 hour stints of work and then swap to look after the little ones. Our shift work pattern will be something like 5am – 9am, 9am – noon, then an hour together as a family for lunch/play/outside time, 2 – 5pm, 5pm – 9pm. This way we will both get around 7-8 hours of ‘work time’ a day. And the added bonus is we are getting to spend way more time with our kids during the week too.
- Nap times! Make the most of ‘nap times’ if you have toddlers that still take a morning or afternoon nap – make the most of that uninterrupted time. Our 1 year old still has a 2.5 hour nap in the afternoons, so this is now ‘screen time’ for our 3 and 5 year olds. I never usually let them have screens during the day, but we have decided to get ‘waaay’ more relaxed about it – so this gives both of us a little more ‘work time’.
- Adjust your work space. Some children will entertain themselves for more than a few seconds at a time as long as a parental unit is in sight. If this sounds like your child, designate a small area of your home work space or area as the activity station. Load it up with your child’s favourite games and activities and crafts. And to make it more fun, submit requests for particular artwork to hang in the “office gallery”.
- Recognise when it’s not working. We are going to have good days and bad days working from home with kids. So if the kids need a bit more attention, and you are just not getting anything done and are feeling frustrated – take a break. Shower them with a major love bomb, and make up the time later that evening, with an early start the next day, or plan to catch up over the weekend. Rid yourself of any internal guilt and take a break to meet their needs. Take them on a bike ride, have a fitness competition, watch a movie, bake cookies, take a walk, or simply play catch. Regardless of the activity you choose, they will be grateful and stay out of your way when work resumes (fingers crossed)!
- Pat yourself on the back. Balancing children and a full-fledged workload is beyond difficult, but it can be done. Try and make a little space in your day for you if you can – even if it is just 10 minutes for a little self-care to help avoid burning out physically, mentally and emotionally. Micro self-care is where it is at! So allocate just 10 minutes a day for some micro self-care to avoid burnout and overwhelm.
Hopefully there are a few things here that might help you with working from home with your children around so we can all try and successfully manage some tasks. Most importantly, hang in there, this situation is new for all of us, and our kids, so be patient, and as we all adapt, our children will adapt too and it will get easier.
Louise Murray is a Health and Mindfulness Coach and has her qualifications from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. She looks at nourishing people ON and OFF the plate by coaching them around 12 different aspects of one’s life. For more, you can follow her on Instagram @live_well_with_lou.