As many organizations continue to work remotely, and now many school districts are doing remote learning as well, the challenge of managing bodies at home, all with different needs, agendas, goals, and emotions, continues to grow.
One of our corporate clients asked us to put together some techniques and tips they could share with their employees who have young children at home. My husband and business partner Mark has a master’s in clinical psychology and had a private marriage and family therapy practice for 28 years. I have certifications in English, business, and secondary education, as well as having run a business from home since 2002, with little ones running around. So, we have a few tips up our sleeves.
We also asked our community for ideas, especially from those in the trenches right now, and we’ve combined those ideas along with our own knowledge and resources to help parents navigate working from home and managing their households in a way most of us have not had to do… ever.
Before I get started, I do want to emphasize that for those parents who have infants to 18-month-olds at home, this is difficult. There’s just no getting around it. Relaxing your standards (perfect mommy, clean home) is a first step. Getting help is a second. Being transparent with your supervisors and co-workers is a strong third.
Onto our tips and techniques for managing life (and work) at home with children.
- First, the more structure and routine you have, the better. I’m not recommending a drill sergeant kind of structure, but rather that there are expectations around how you do certain things, like mealtime, homework time, etc. I remember my wise pediatrician telling me that my four-year-old’s behavior issues were a result of her world getting larger, and she needed rules and routine to make that world a little smaller. So, we had her start making her bed every morning, and poof! The behavior issues improved dramatically. At seven years old when behavior issues reared again, we had her start doing her own laundry. Again, amazing results! (Side benefit: you are teaching your children to be independent and fend for themselves, which will serve them very well as they get older and eventually become adults.)
- Spend focused time with your children in segments – without your phone or computer, if at all possible. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end; 15-30-minute blocks can do wonders. The important key here is to be present. Be present when you’re working; be present with your children when you’re with them.
- If you can, hire a babysitter to come into your home. For young children, find a neighborhood mother’s helper to come in and play with kids, read to infants, and the like. (Of course, we must keep in mind health protocols. The babysitter or mother’s helper can wear a mask, for example.)
- If your quarantine circle has extended to another family with children, consider trading off with the other parents. Perhaps two days a week, they watch all the children for three hours, and you watch the children for three hours two other days a week. Mark calls it “respite” for the parents, and it is not to be confused with daycare. (I remember doing this even before I had my business. It’s good for the parents to get a break, and it’s good for the children to be socialized around others.)
- Make a large card with a smiley face on one side and a frown face on the other. Teach your kids that they can interrupt if the smiley face is showing. The frown face means wait because you are on a call (unless blood, broken bones, or imminent severe injury is involved!). For older children, a closed door is equal to the frowny face – do not enter!
- As part of the structure and setting up expectations (and depending upon age), quiet activities (Legos, building blocks, reading, drawing) could take place in the office-work area. Other activities (vroom-vroom cars, play-acting, etc.) need to take place in a separate room.
- For school-aged children, have a dedicated space for them to do their schoolwork. (Hint: parents, you should also have a dedicated workspace so that your children know that when you’re there, you are working. Even young ones will start to get the patterns, which is why routine and structure is so important.)
- Also, have a schedule with breaks. For example, when school “is over,” do after-school snack time. When my daughters were in school, every day when they came home (back in the good ol’ days when they left the house to go to school), I prepared a snack and tried to make it fun. After snack time was homework time. This became a rhythm that repeated throughout all their years in school, even when I was no longer initiating it in middle school and high school. You can implement this even with school-at-home. When school is done, the kids leave their designated school spaces and come to the designated snack space.
- For 3rd grade and up, if you have important meetings scheduled (i.e. you can’t be interrupted), put that schedule on the refrigerator so that everyone in the household (including adults!) can see at a glance what’s happening.
- Finally, take care of you. If you are constantly giving to others and being there for others, where does YOU come in? Self-care is critical. You’ve probably heard this before: there’s a reason airlines tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, for if you can’t breathe and live, you can’t take of others.
We wish you the best of luck and success!