COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has many schools and businesses scrambling to quickly find ways for employees and students to complete work from home. Teachers are preparing virtual lessons and employers are assigning work, but a problem remains: how will parents keep their children busy and meaningfully engaged while also completing their own work in a timely fashion? I started working from home in June of 2018 when my sons were 3 and 5 years old. My husband is home several days a week and my kids were both in school for at least part of the day for part of the week, but I often have to meet deadlines, write curriculum, develop online courses and conduct virtual meetings while my kids are playing right outside my (home) office door. The rewards of this scenario outweigh the costs for my family, but the road to productive work from home has not been easy! Here I share some five of my most important sanity-saving tips for working from home with children for those of you who may be experiencing this unique scenario for the first time.
1. Create a separate space.
If at all possible, even if it is temporary, create a space in your home that is dedicated to your work and your work alone. Ideally, this space will have a clear surface and a door that will close. I find it helpful to get dressed for “work” and enter and exit my work space during set hours, just like I would if going to work at an office, rather than working bit by bit all day long and into the night. I explain to my kids that my work space is not a play space and they must ask permission to enter it. Nothing in my space is a toy and they can only enter when invited (which I try not to do, even when it would be convenient to quickly resolve a conflict or answer a question!). It’s important to mean this and to not compromise in any way. Kids need clear boundaries to fully understand, especially when a situation is new or unique.
To soften the blow, you can set up a similar “work” station for each of your kids. Their dedicated space can be equally off limits to other family members and they can design their space with all the materials they need. They can “work” while you are. For my youngest son, this often means building something with blocks or train tracks while my older son enjoys time to read alone or play an educational game. Think this:
2. Set clear boundaries… and a timer.
Classroom teachers know the importance of establishing class rules and routines before instruction begins. Temporary home school is no different! We invest time in creating a daily and weekly schedule when I must work from home while my kids are not in school. I help them choose acceptable activities from broad categories like “play together”, “play alone”, “learn something” or “take a break”. We talk about options in each category so they can choose at the beginning and end of each period. We set a timer and when it is time to transition, we all stop what we are doing and clean up. We take a break, move our bodies, have a snack, talk about what we just did, and get ready for the next segment.
I try to schedule my own time to complement what the kids are doing. For example, the “learn something” block for them is often a break time for me when I do not schedule phone calls or plan any kind of timed activity. “Play together”, because my kids are young, sometimes requires intervention or mediation so that is often a good time to complete household chores or simple tasks that do not require much brain power. “Play alone” periods are sacred and we talk about them ahead of time- how to take care of each other by not interrupting. We carefully plan what to do, with several back up plans and I level with the kids: I explain what I am working on and why it matters. I also let them know exactly when I’ll be done and stick to it as best as I can.
3. Mean what you say and your kids will believe you.
If you are not used to working from home and neither are your children, feelings can get hurt when you close a door and ask for peace. If you mean what you say and stick to it, however, kids can quickly learn to trust the boundaries you set. For example, it is important not to ask for a few more minutes or check emails during a time you told your kids you would play with them. They will be less apt to interrupt if they know you actually mean you will pay attention to them when you said you would. Believe me- I learned this one the hard way!
4. Work in bursts.
You may be surprised by how productive you can be when you have a sense of urgency. We take for granted that work takes 8 hours per day and 5 days a week. One of my greatest lessons since I began working from home is that I am a superhero when I plan my work for when I am at my best and most focused. If you are lucky enough to have a spouse, older child or other help at home, you may be surprised what you can accomplish with a good night’s rest, no activities to run to, headphones on, some kind of “concentration music” playlist on Youtube, a full glass of water and a commitment to not check your email or phone until your task is complete. Set a goal, set a time and you may be surprised what you can accomplish!
5. Listen to your body.
It will be stressful. The minutes will seem scarce. Everyone will want a piece of you. It will be more important than ever that you get a good night’s rest, drink plenty of water, eat regular and healthy meals, stand up frequently, exercise for 30 minutes when you can and just be a whole person. It’s easy to get worked up and stuck in your own head, but your head has a body that it needs to survive and thrive. Move your body, feed your body and make it as important of a priority as keeping your kids occupied and your boss happy. When you are physically well, your mental and emotional wellness will improve or at least not worsen.
Now, if you actually HAVE COVID-19, grab that weighted blanket, box of tissues and TV remote. No one should bother you and you should bother no one. Just get better, for all of our sake! Do you have any tips to share for how to keep your sanity while working from home with kids? Please share here so we can all learn from each other!