Working from Home with Young Children – A Survival Guide

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Anyone who’s found themselves plunged into working from home whilst self-isolating from the COVID-19 virus with pre-school aged children will agree that this is one challenge you weren’t prepared for in your daily work life. 

My son will be 4 years old this summer. I wanted to share my routine and some tips on how we’ve been coping so far since taking him out of nursery last week with juggling full-time jobs at home and the demands of having our child with us 24/7.

Routine. Now that nursery has closed, I think it’s important to try and keep to a routine. It helps give children the structure they need but also allows you to get the work done you need to do. The key thing though is flexibility. Children don’t understand the “9 to 5” day, so you need to accept that you won’t be keeping to your usual work routine. Maybe that means getting up earlier or working later to ensure some tasks get done in peace and quiet. Remember, this isn’t going to last forever! 

Share the load. If your partner or someone else lives with you who also has to work, I recommend taking staggered lunch breaks. My wife and I alternate between 12- 1pm and 1 – 2pm. That way our son has 2 solid hours of interaction with us in the middle of the day when we’re not distracted by a screen or phone call.

Exercise. Even if you don’t have outdoor space there’s lots you can do indoors, from practising throw & catch with a ball to mini “workout” routines. Joe Wicks is running free Kids PE classes live every weekday at 9.00am for half an hour and his YouTube channel has loads of 5-minute workouts for kids. My son loves it and already his squats and burpees are putting me to shame! You can sign up here: https://www.youtube.com/thebodycoachtv

Outdoors. Now the evenings are getting lighter (BST is just round the corner), if you have an outside space you’ll be able to go and play or do sports “after work” and spend time with your children. However, it’s just not practical to do that at the drop of a hat when you’re working, so give younger children projects they can do independently.

A bug hunt is an easy idea that can keep them occupied for ages. Some great resources are available for free online which they can use to identify bugs and make a game or competition of it. https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/go-on-a-bug-safari/

https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/PDF/Minbeasts%20pack.pdf

OK, so here’s my new Child-friendly Work Routine. It’s not perfect, and bear in mind this can go out the window at any point, but you just need to accept that. (Warning – if you’re expecting the perfectly timed, productive Mark Wahlberg type of daily routine, this isn’t it.)

  • Early morning. We stick to our usual early morning routine as much as possible (getting everyone up, dressed, fed and ready for the day).

  • After breakfast, we tell our son he can play until he has his “exercise class”, this gives us some time to focus on setting up our day and getting stuck into the important tasks. As this is the time of day he’d normally be going off to nursery, for him to get to play with his toys is a treat (let’s hope the novelty lasts).

  • 9.30am. Put on Joe Wicks’s 30 min kids’ exercise class or a few other 5-minute programs from his YouTube channel. Unless something pressing is happening, I’m going to be taking a break and give him encouragement or even doing some of the exercises with him (that’s not a promise though). Remember, it’s OK to take a break from work. It will still be waiting for you when you get back to your desk. These are unprecedented times but take it as an opportunity to play an even more active role in your child’s development and enjoy a mental break yourself.

  • Mid-morning to lunchtime. A mix of playtime and watching TV. There, I said it, those dreaded 2 letters often felt to be the shame of any parents. It’s not ideal compared to the activities he got at nursery but let’s be honest, when you need a break it works. Don’t beat yourself about utilising TV and you can still control what your kids watch. We always try to sneak in some educational stuff inside a Paw Patrol marathon.

  • Lunchtime. Two solid hours of interaction with us, as my wife and I take staggered work breaks to eat lunch and play with our son. This really helps if you have tasks to do that require your complete, unbroken concentration. Hats off to any single parents having to go through this right now without any help.
  • Afternoon. This is where you need some independent projects up your sleeve for your kids to do whilst you work. Bug hunts in the garden, painting/drawing, anything toy related (and preferably bedroom bound) and then, to be honest, a mix of free time playing and more TV. If they’re happy, occupied and you can get stuff done, don’t complain. Our son tends to get bored with TV after about an hour so here’s where you schedule in your “tea breaks”. Remember all those people who were constantly popping out of the office for cigarette breaks? Well these are your cigarette breaks! Even taking 2 x 10-minute breaks to go and interact with your children is better than being so consumed with work that they feel neglected, get bored or cause you stress.
  • Dinnertime. Get the children involved. Our son now helps prepare every meal with us. At the risk of sounding like Jamie Oliver, no matter how little they can do, get them involved.
  • Log off. From dinnertime until our son’s bedtime, the workday for us is either over or put on hold and we spend quality time with him, playing, reading, etc.These are stressful times and running my own recruitment business, I’m used to working after my son’s gone to bed, either finishing what I didn’t get done in the day or prepping for the next day. I hope most employers will be flexible and understanding when it comes to how their staff manage their time during this crisis. At the end of the day, if you have kids at home, you’re going to have to adapt the way you work. 

Final thoughts – whether you have kids or not, give yourself a clear cut off point where you stop work, log off and relax. I’ve also stopped checking the news and social media after dinner. As hard as that is to do, it will help you relax and sleep. Above all, enjoy this time with your children when you can. Don’t miss out on time with them; as good as it is for them, it’s also a great break from the stress of work and worrying about what’s going on in the world right now.

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