The easy answer to the question posed in our article’s title; “How to work from home with kids around”, is that there is no easy answer. However, there is some great advice available. Not every tip will work for every family, the key is to figure out what will work best for yours. Much will depend on your job, home set up, the age of your kids and how flexible both you and they can be.
It’s Not Your Average 9 – 5
First of all, it’s important to recognise that even without kids around, working at home can be tricky. It can be tough to adjust to not having a team around, having to work in a space that wasn’t designed for that purpose and a less structured day. Add kids into the mix and it becomes even more challenging. One of the key aspects to consider when working from home is structure. You may find that this helps your kids too. Even the youngest children and particularly those who attend day-care quickly become used to a structure. For primary and secondary school kids, it’s ingrained in their daily life.
Creating a schedule for the day can be reassuring for kids. It can also help you to plan your work too. Make sure that you plan regular breaks and spend them together. It’s tempting to try and get all your work done quickly without taking a break so you can get back to the kids. This is particularly true if you have older children, who can self-occupy. The downside of this is that you can get carried away and end up spending longer away from them. Taking regular breaks is good for you and gives kids some time with you. This may mean fewer interruptions when you get back to work.
Planning your day
Age is an important factor and can help you determine how to structure the day for your kids. Once you’ve established some sort of schedule for them, you can then plan your work around it. Younger ones may still take a nap and this is a great time to get some work done. They may also go to bed early and you could use this time to work on something that requires more focus and concentration. Many parents with small children try to start work much earlier than usual. This does depend though on what time yours tend to get up.
When planning your day with younger kids, you may have to break your schedule down into smaller chunks. If you know, for example, that there is a particular CBeebies programme that always has them glued, use this time for a particular task you need to get done. With younger children, you can also set them up with activities such as colouring. You can supervise this whilst you answer short emails that can be answered quickly or deal with straightforward work. As mentioned earlier, it’s worth saving work that requires greater concentration, needs a longer chunk of time and focus for nap times and after bedtime.
Older children tend to have a greater degree of self-sufficiency and you can plan activities that will absorb them for longer periods. That said, they also tend to be more demanding when disaster strikes and their favourite tech has stopped working. You can’t plan for this and sometimes you just have to accept a break from the schedule. Some older children will sleep in which can give you some valuable extra working time if you make an early start. Others can dress themselves, make their own breakfast and find things to do without any input.
One of our team finds that her 9 and 11-year-olds are perfectly happy to stay in their PJ’s and will occupy themselves until late morning. However, by the afternoon they’re bored and arguing. With this in mind, she frontloads her work to the morning. She then makes sure she spends some time with them after lunch. She’ll then carry on working later in the day. Other families may differ and it’s worth considering what will work in your house. Building in an activity for lunchtime can help. This could be a family football game, board game or just sitting down to eat together. Once they’ve had some time with you, many older kids will go back to their own activities or the ones you’ve planned for them.
Toys, Tablets, Tasks and Bribes
These are a parents friend when children need occupying. There is also the opportunity to be slightly manipulative too and buy yourself some valuable time. Rotating toys can be a great way to keep children entertained for longer periods. You can also choose toys and games that take longer for children to spend working on, such as Lego or jigsaws. Gareth John, one of our founders likes doing big (500 pieces) jigsaws with his 11-year old as she is happy sitting alone for periods of time and then he can ‘dip in and out’ when he takes breaks from work to help her with harder sections.
For younger children, it can also be worth replicating what many day-care settings do. Arrange toys in a particular way so that it encourages a game. For example, laying out all the toy medical equipment and playing doctors with teddies or dolls. Primary school children love to play teacher and this can work in a similar way.
Our AAT Distance Learning Director, Nick Craggs recommends getting all of your garden toys out on a sunny day. If the weather has suddenly turned nice, this can suddenly reintroduce your child(ren) to lots of new toys. Another team member suggests that this is the time for painting equipment to come out. If you’re able to, you can even take your home office outside.
Kids love them, parents hate them but they are an invaluable tool in your working from home armoury. Every parent has to decide how much screen time they want their child to have and we make no judgements. If you have any concerns about how much your kids use their devices, there are few things you can do. Put some restrictions on to control what they can access. If you’re concerned about the endless videos many seem to watch, download the Kids YouTube app rather than allowing them to roam freely in the generic version. You may also be able to sneak in some learning activity too. Our Chelmsford Marketing Manager, Shelly, recommends the Prodigy Maths App. After downloading it, her kids quickly became competitive in achieving the challenges. Kids are set maths questions, score points and then convert these to play games.
If you’re not keen on your kids having too much screen time, then it can be worth having this up your sleeve for times when you need to concentrate or have to take an important call.
Tasks and Activities
Younger kids love being given small jobs too and providing this doesn’t make too much mess, can buy you some work time. You could set them a task to do and ask them for something specific. For example, asking them to create pictures to decorate your home desk. Nick Craggs recommends having easy to set up activities such as colouring, Play-Doh or kinetic sand. These can occupy children and you can build this into your schedule, changing the activity after a break.
Older children may want to earn pocket money and depending on their age can do a variety of small jobs around the house. This might include washing up, tidying their room, sorting out old toys or even cleaning the car (for much older kids). It might cost you a few extra pounds but providing you don’t have to get heavily involved, could be worth the investment.
If you have pets such as dogs or cats then a good technique, if you need to have some undisturbed time for a call, is to give your children responsibility to help out mummy or daddy by ‘looking after the pets and keeping them quiet’. Many children will respond well to this request to help their parent out for short bursts of time.
Pets are also a good excuse to then have a break together and go for a walk as a reward for helping.
As parents, we have some secret weapons up our sleeve. We may feel guilty but the threat of Santa, withdrawal of pocket money or the lure of a sugary treat may be worth considering.
Food Glorious Food
Snacks, snacks and more snacks
Nick Craggs recommends having lots of snacks to hand. He suggests preparing these before you start in the morning and making up a packed lunch. This can avoid the endless ‘Can I have?’ and if you keep this near to where you’re working you can keep track of what they are having. Shelly agrees and makes her kids their usual packed lunch they’d have, adding a few items usually banned at school. With younger children, preparation can help save you time later in the day. For example, by cutting up or peeling fruit in advance if possible.
Hell hath no fury like a hungry child
Whilst many of us have developed the ability to sit in a meeting around lunchtime and ignore pangs of hunger, most children have not. If you can avoid scheduling calls, web conferences and tasks that require time and focus around lunchtime, it may help. However, once kids have got their food, many become quite engrossed. If you need to get something done this can be a good time. Unless of course, you’re using this time to take a break yourself to spend some time with them.
It’s also a good idea to get plenty of good nutrition into children early to help them maintain their concentration. Gareth always makes sure that during the week his daughters have a big breakfast with cereal, brown toast, fruit and yoghurt and then some kind of mid-morning snack. As well as helping their ability to focus on their own studying this takes the pressure off if Gareth gets caught up in work and lunch is a bit late!
Be Kind to Yourself
As we said right at the beginning, there are no easy answers here. Working at home while kids are around can be challenging and stressful. Our team recommends being honest with colleagues and clients if you’re children are in the background while you’re on a call or web conference. Worrying about the potential for noise and how others may react can create more stress. On many of these calls, you can mute yourself and only speak when you need to. Many people will be sympathetic and some will rearrange for a more convenient time.
If your kids are old enough, it can be worth having an honest conversation with them. Talk through the schedule you’ve created. Having some kind of reward, even if it’s a promise to play in the garden after work, can help.
Avoid work and parental guilt
Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You probably won’t achieve as much as you usually would in the office. Keeping things moving and being up to date can sometimes be as much as you can do. If getting meaningful tasks done during the day is tricky, a few solid hours in the evening may be more productive. We have all become very understanding when seeing or hearing each other’s kids on video calls. Gareth has even become quite comfortable with his youngest coming for a hug whilst he is mid-sentence talking to 60 employers on an online forum.
Be realistic about what you can achieve and honest with those working with you. Try to go easier on yourself as a parent too. It isn’t the end of the world, for a short time, if your kids are spending more time glued to a screen than usual and are chomping their way through endless amounts of sweets and chocolate
If you’re trying to work out how best to work from home or have been having problems adjusting you may also find our Top tips to working from home useful.