Working from home with babies and kids during a pandemic is tough but parents are known for making the impossible possible. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in many countries, kindergartens are closed or are not safe for children to be there. Although there have been reports that kids are asymptomatic, infected kids are active carriers and pose virus transmission risk to their families – including parents and grandparents.
In these unprecedented times, many parents are coming to terms with working from home as companies opt for low-contact work environments to contain the pandemic.
As I sought to understand how many parents will need to juggle between work and taking care of their kids, I came across a Brookings Institute study that revealed that there are 23 million working Americans that do not have a caregiver in their family (2018 data). These parents without family caregivers must find a balance to concentrate on their work while trying to take care of their children.
If you have older kids, it may be easier compared to the situations faced by parents with infants and toddlers that require undivided attention while still having to deliver in their jobs from home.
We want to help parents manage their responsibilities and because this is such an important topic, I asked Minuca Elena to reach out to 15 mommy and daddy bloggers and asked them the following question:
What tips do you have for parents that are working from home with babies and kids under 7 years old?
Keep reading to see what they had to say.
Sandi Schwartz – Happy Science Mom
My biggest advice for parents who are working from home while having to take care of kids under 7 years old, especially children who are doing online learning, is to take nature breaks together.
Study after study shows how connecting with nature is beneficial to our health and well-being. It calms us down when we are feeling stressed and boosts our mood when we are feeling down.
We are all dealing with a great amount of stress these days, and it is imperative that we get nature breaks on a daily basis. It is even better if we can do this with our children. This doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment. Grab your lunch and head outside. Bring school projects out back while you are finishing up your work or encourage your kids to read under a tree.
There are so many fun options for an outside time after the workday, such as starting a family garden, riding bikes, going for a family walk, practicing yoga outside, and doing an art project in your backyard. Building a nature habit can help your family get through these tough times.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus – Impact Parents
I’ve noticed in the pandemic — first in the early months, and now again that school is re-starting — that parents of younger children, roughly ages 5-8, are really struggling. Some parents are seeing a lot of regression. Some parents are dealing with their kids’ physical need for more movement. Some are managing emotional intensity or social isolation, others are desperate for more structure. All of them are trying to figure out how to get anything else done besides school!
Young kids are struggling for a lot of reasons. First, they are still concrete thinkers and see things in ‘black and white, so they’re not very good at ‘future’ thinking. A week or a month is a significantly larger percentage of their lives, and so it feels like this pandemic has been and will continue to go on forever.
Younger kids often see school as a place to learn and home as a place to play, and so now that home and school are blended, it can be disorienting and confusing. Besides that, let’s be honest: the world is in turmoil. We’re all trying to cope with daily changes in logistics and still keep a handle on our emotions. This is a lot to ask of younger children — a kind of ‘invisible burden’ we’re asking them to carry.
Suggestions on how to improve resilience in young children:
Don’t Pretend that Nothing’s ‘Wrong.’ Kids feel it when things are out of sorts — like emotional sponges.. There’s a huge opportunity to help children see that they can handle uncertainty, and that starts with handling it ourselves. Let your kids see you navigate changes with confidence.Show them that you will figure things out even when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Focus on building their trust in you, and show them what it looks like to be resilient.
Meet Them Where They Are & Acknowledge Them. If your kids have regressed (as many did this year), focus on where they are now, not where you think they ‘should’ be based on their age. They’ve dealt with a lot this year.
Skills they may have once mastered (like sleeping well, getting dressed, or playing independently), may be difficult to stay on top of when they are emotionally also trying to focus on handling life without daily play-dates or weekend outings. Help them see what they are handling well. Look for the smallest victories to celebrate!
Practice Radical Compassion – For Them and For You. Let’s be honest — it can be difficult to be present for yourkids right now. Try to recognize feelings (yours and theirs) and lean into compassion. Your child may be feeling insecure; you may be worried about your own loss of routines or productivity.
Allow everyone to feel whatever they’re feeling. Don’t ‘correct’ the emotions. When kids (or you) feel seen or heard, it allows them (or you) to find strength and courage. Picking yourself up and persevering starts with self-compassion.
Practice Failing Forward. Mistakes happen. Life doesn’t always go as planned (the key lesson of this year!). So make it okay to make mistakes, and teach your kids to learn from them. That will teach your kids to become flexible problem-solvers — potentially the greatest skill they can bring into adulthood.
Hayley Gallagher – The Centered Parent
Here are a few tips for parents working from home with little ones:
1. Rely on Routines: Get serious about your schedule for the day and rely on your routines as if your life depended on it! Create visual schedules (chalkboard, poster board, dry erase board, etc) that your children can see. If they aren’t able to read yet, incorporate imagery and graphics to help them understand. Involve them in the creation of the visual routine boards so they will be more likely to follow them. This will help you manage the day when you only have a few minutes here and there to supervise them.
2. Schedule Designated Learning Time: Make educational YouTube channels and software your best friend. There are lots of parent-approved, kid-friendly YouTube channels that offer educational content you can feel good about your kids consuming. A few of my favorites are The Brain Scoop, Crash Course Kids, and SciShow Kids.
3. Build in Chill Out or Quiet Time: Even if your kids don’t nap anymore, it’s okay to reintroduce something similar. Building in a block of time that is devoted solely to chilling out can be super helpful for getting work done. Help your kids design their own Chill Out Space somewhere in the house and stock it with their favorite quiet activities. Things like books, journals, art supplies, pillows, blankets, music, etc. all make excellent additions to the space.
4. Call in Reinforcements for the Big Stuff: If you are lucky enough to have family and friends nearby, don’t hesitate to lean on them for support. Got an important meeting? Ask your friend to come over and sit with your kids while they do online learning. Worried about getting that big project finished on time? Ask a relative to take the kids to the park for a couple of hours.
For most parents, it’s not realistic to have daily child care support, however, if you can prioritize the major work events that may require extra hands on deck, don’t feel bad about reaching out. Your loved ones are probably more than happy to help.
Kealy Hawk – Little Bear Care
I would say my biggest tip is to foster self-play! I’ve baby-proofed my living room and made sure it has books and toys for my kids to play with. Great toys include duplos (big legos), an etch-a-sketch, and colorful wooden blocks. Those are the ones my kids like best and they help foster imaginative play.
Self-play helps kids foster creativity, imagination, and decision-making skills. It helps to play with them for a few minutes at the beginning of the day and show them how to build different things. As you play with your child, let them choose what toy to play with.
As they start taking the lead, let them continue playing while getting away to get your work done. I’ve found that self-play has allowed me to work while keeping my kids happy and entertained throughout the day.
We are all aware of what unprecedented times these are, but for parents of young children, the world does not stop turning. Food does not put itself on the table and toddler tantrums do not diffuse themselves. Parents, who are experts under normal circumstances at spinning several plates at once, are up against the challenges of a lifetime as they trudge through each day of this pandemic.
Communication and planning ahead are imperative to ensure both parents are on the same page about which meetings can coordinate with nap times, which meals can be prepared ahead of time, and so on. Young children experience and explore their world through play. This means that it is crucial that they get time for imaginative play, learning activities, and physical exertion each day.
For parents who have previously trusted daycare or preschool providers to handle these important elements, it is now up to them to weave them throughout the day.
The number one tip I have for parents juggling the stressors of working from home and caring for young children during this pandemic is patience. Patience with yourself as a parent, your partner or spouse, and especially with your children who are going through a difficult time as well, is crucial.
Tonya Mickelson – The Writer Mom
I have a 4 year old, an almost 2 year old, and I also babysit a baby while his parents are at work.
I have been working from home off and on (previously for an employer, and now for myself) since my first baby was a couple months old, and it’s certainly had its ups and downs!
My advice for other parents? Prepare LOTS of activities to keep them busy! I have put together little boxes with various activities, such as paint sticks, play doh, kinetic sand, puzzles, and so on.
Make time to take care of yourself. Take a break and get outside with the kids every day, even if it’s just a quick trip to the mailbox. Keep water at your workstation so you don’t forget to hydrate.
Be honest with people when you’re on the phone. Let them know you have kids and you’re working from home. Most people are pretty understanding! And if it’s a bad time, just ask if you can call back shortly.
Honestly, I learned pretty quickly how to type one-handed while holding or nursing a hungry baby! While it’s hard to work from home with a baby, it gets much easier as they get into toddlerhood.
Gert Mikkal – Dad Progress
When our daycare was closed, I stayed home for two months and took care of our two-year-old. I’ll share a simple trick that helped me also to get some work done.
As there are so many distractions, working from home isn’t easy, even at the best of times. Things are even worse when you’ve got the little bundle of joy running around and craving for your attention. So it would be best if you came up with a game plan. Make a list of at least four easy indoor activities every evening. This helps to save a lot of time as you don’t have to figure out the game plan on the spot. Make the necessary preparations beforehand, and the next day will go much more smoothly.
I rotated my boys’ favorite activities every couple of days. I made a sensory pin with rice and took it out every now and then. He also happens like puzzles, drawing with water, and treasure boxes. As a result, I was able to squeeze out two to three hours of deep work every day. And by doing this, I didn’t have to feel guilty for letting my kid watch TV for the whole day.
Barbara Nevers – Neo Little
This pandemic has forced people to work from home. As a mother of two, I already know the hustle of having to take care of kids while doing other chores at home. It’s now even more challenging adding office work into the equation. Here are 3 tips for making work from home with kids less stressful:
Get up early. Set up an alarm, probably an hour or two before the kids wake up so you can prepare and plan your day ahead. It would also be better to check emails and do the work that needs your concentration while there are no distractions.
Stimulate independent play. If you have toddlers, prepare simple and safe activities for your kids to keep them busy for a couple of hours. As soon as they tire themselves, they’d be taking a nap then there would be more time for you to concentrate on your work.
Swap sitting with another parent. If it’s really impossible to get things done with kids at home and it’s also not an option to hire a babysitter, you can try a babysitting swap. This means a parent will take both kids for a few hours so the other parent can work and vice versa. So while you can enjoy your quiet workplace your kids also get to enjoy playdates.
Sarah Miller – Homeschooling 4 Him
My kids have special toys and activities that are reserved for playing with only while I am working. I brainstormed a list of activities that they could do independently and that they enjoy, and we get out a couple of these each day during my work time. My kids really enjoy these toys because they don’t see them very often, and this gives them something to look forward to while I am working.
I’ve also found that it really helps to stick to a routine during the day. My 5 year old has a quiet reading and rest time every day after lunch during my 2 year old’s nap. This allows me to concentrate on my work with no distractions during this time. It also gives me a time to schedule a meeting or phone call that will likely be distraction-free.
I have found that it can be hard to fit work in around caring for my kids, and that often means that I am trying to squeeze in a few minutes of work whenever I have free time. I am learning to put up boundaries around my family time. Evenings after dinner and before my kids go to bed are reserved for family time only. My kids are more understanding that I need to concentrate on work when they know that they will get their time with me, too.
Allie Schmidt – Disability Dame
My tips for working from home while taking care of a kid under 7-years-old are:
Establish Clear Boundaries: It can be hard for children to understand the difference between when a parent is available for them versus when work has to take a priority. It’s important to establish clear boundaries with your children by zoning off sections of time and space for work.
For example, maybe your child isn’t allowed to come into your office (unless there’s an emergency) between the hours of 1:00 – 3:00. By setting aside chunks of time in specific locations, your child can more easily understand the difference between work life and home life.
Create Rituals: Create daily rituals to help your child know when work has started and finished. For example, maybe you eat breakfast each morning with your children. When the dishes are cleared, mom “goes to work” next. On the flipside, create an after work ritual such as going for a walk with your children. Overtime, these rituals will signal to your child when you can and can’t give them your full attention.
Make DIY Solutions: If you’re busy and can’t immediately tend to your child, set up DIY solutions for them. For example, go ahead and make sandwiches or pre-portioned meals that they can find when they’re hungry. If they’re bored, create a basket of activities that can entertain them until you’re finished working. Anticipating their needs and creating ways to easily solve their problems will not only help you but will foster their own sense of independence, as well.
Crystal Garman – Simply Full Of Delight
Make realistic goals for yourself the night before. You aren’t going to be able to accomplish the same amount as you would at the office. Prioritize and make a written to-do list to keep yourself focused when you are constantly being interrupted.
On a similar note, when you get the children engaged in an activity (or down for a nap) take advantage of that time frame to do the work on your list that takes a lot of concentration, like writing or creating. Don’t waste your quiet time checking email or promoting on social media. These easy tasks can be done at any point.
With specific goals in mind and a specific time frame to work on them, you are more likely to actually accomplish something and be satisfied with your workday.
With parents balancing work and their kids’ home learning needs, it’s not surprising that many families are struggling to find their groove. Distance learning requires focused attention and effort, which can be challenging for kids even under normal circumstances. At first glance, this list can look overwhelming to caregivers and kids. To start, implement one or two of these ideas at a time.
Create Structure and a Study Space at Home: Neuropsychology research tells us that kids have better retention if learning takes place at the same time and location as much as possible. Work with your kids to set up a consistent workspace and daily schedule. What time will at home learning start and end? Make sure water and supplies are on hand to minimize distractions. Schedule movement breaks to best meet your child’s needs.
Catch them Doing Right: To encourage growth, acknowledge small successes, such as “I appreciate how you were at your desk this morning at 9am.” “Do you know you just worked for 15 minutes straight? Great work!” Recognize the effort that it takes to get to the desired outcome.
Movement Breaks: Notice what blend of focused work and movement breaks work for your child. Studies show that 15 minutes of intense movement a day, such as jumping on a trampoline or jogging around the block helps with focus and attention.
Break Work Into Manageable Chunks: A full day of on-line learning or a big project can feel overwhelming. Help kids break tasks into manageable chunks.
Build the Foundation to Learning: A healthy diet, sleep, exercise, and routine is foundational to learning. Establish consistent bedtimes, eat breakfast, and get outside for exercise every day.
Balint Horvath – Project Father
Being forced to stay at home is a time of bonding when you can have uninterrupted family time. During such moments (typically after working hours) anything and everything can be turned into fun at home. You could try cooking with your children, teaching them how to prepare their favorite meals.
You could practice drawing, coloring, and other artistic activities. Even cleaning out wardrobes with your children can become a fun activity. We share such fun “duties” between my fiancée and me since both of us are at home. When one is occupied with the kids, the other can get done with some work.
And when you do need to work concentratedly, another productivity tip I have is related to getting rid of distractions. Listening to music can have some major effects: it gives you less distraction and it elevates your mood. When you listen to music, everyone around you will be less likely to bug you.
Marissa LaBuz – Just Simply Mom
Having a schedule is absolutely necessary. Designate specific times for work, teaching, play, lunch, etc. This will increase your productivity throughout the day.
Keep routines the same. Changes in routine are going to be especially stressful for both you and your children. It’s best to keep them as close to the previous (pre-pandemic) schedule as possible. Kids thrive on structure and will appreciate a good routine.
Take turns with your spouse. If you have this luxury, use it to your advantage. This way one of you always gets time to really focus.
Designate the best work and play space. Decide where everyone can do their work most effectively and without distractions. Decide where the kids are most comfortable, but also include a novel space that will be fun and exciting to keep them entertained.
Capitalize on nap time. If you’re lucky enough to have kids who still nap, that’s a huge chunk of time that you should focus 100% on the work you need to get done.
Be more strict with your work time. You’d be surprised at how much more productive you can be if you set up specific parameters for yourself, like setting short term goals, no using your cell phone, and adjusting the lighting in your room.
Separate mom and business roles. You will need to give your full concentration to one area for a set amount of time. If you don’t do this, you will never feel accomplished or productive.
Amelia Zamora – Mama Bear
My tip would be to have your child “work” with you. My oldest is almost 5 and my youngest is 2.5 so in order to get any work done, I will have them set up a little work area right next to me (or at least in the same room). I give them paper, pens, an old tablet or laptop and have them “work” like mommy does. I will also give them tasks to do to help them feel like they are a part of it all. I will say “I need a drawing of __” and ask them to draw it for me.
If that doesn’t work or wears off, I will set them up with playdoh, kinetic sand, or some sort of hands-on activity on the kitchen floor next to me while I’m working so they are occupied but I can still watch/hear them.
Aside from the expert advice above, here are 5 tips to stay productive when working from home:
- Child’s Sleep: Take advantage of your baby’s sleep period to tackle pressing stuff.
- Share parenting chores: If you work from home with your partner, you can easily take turns attending to your baby and this will increase your productivity without reducing your baby’s care.
- Planning: Depending on your week’s schedule, make sure you plan accordingly so you allocate time to the most pressing stuff
- Work while you breastfeed or pump: If you barely have time to attend to the most basic needs, consider using a hands-free breast pump so you can keep working.
Thank you so much to all the parenting bloggers that contributed to this expert roundup! Please share this post with your friends and followers on social media. So many parents right now are overwhelmed by responsibilities and they will benefit from reading tips and advice from other mothers that are working from home with babies and kids