Being a parent requires an awful lot of balancing. You have to balance your busy work days with errands and your kids’ own jam-packed schedules. Even when you’re off work, you’re helping with homework and tackling chores around the house. And during times when both you and your children are stuck at home, this balancing act can become even more difficult. How can you possibly focus on getting work done and keep your children occupied?
Trying to work while caring for your kids is challenging. But it doesn’t have to be impossible. With the right approach, some boundaries, and innovative ways to get both jobs done at once, you can tackle both your work and your kids’ needs.
If you’re struggling to balance your kids’ needs with your own workload while everyone’s stuck at home, here are five tips that may be able to help you.
1. Set – And Stick To – A Schedule
Schedules and daily routines are important, both for adults and children. But when you’re all stuck at home trying to combine your lives and your routines, it can be tough to figure out a new schedule.
However, a set schedule can help you be productive. Scheduling time for work in the midst of busy days at home will ensure you’re getting time to accomplish tasks for yourself. And routines and schedules for children can help them work towards goals¹.
Plan a daily schedule for each day of the week. You should schedule everything, from meal times to chores to meetings to kids’ learning activities. But, if you’re looking to set a more general schedule for each day, you can instead focus on the key components. Schedule your work meetings, household tasks, and children’s activities.
Within your schedule, Harvard Business Review recommends creating blocks². Each block will focus on either childcare or work, and they can be long (four hours) or short (30 minutes to two hours). For example, you can schedule blocks like:
- A 4-hour block from 8AM to 12PM, when your partner watches the kids and you work in your home office. The block then switches, and your partner works from 1PM to 5PM.
- A 2-hour block in which you help the kids with homework or a fun, creative activity.
- A 2-hour block in which kids watch TV while you work in the same room.
Scheduling each part of your day into blocks can help you break up work and play, childcare and career responsibilities. When it’s time to work, you can let kids know they have a different activity to work on. When it’s time to play, you can step away from work for a bit of childcare.
2. Set Up Virtual Experiences for Kids
It’s a challenge to keep kids busy when they’re at home and stuck inside for the most of the day. Distractions are everywhere, and children can become bored even with the best-laid plans.
But there are ways to bring the fun activities of their everyday lives into your home. You just have to do these activities virtually, over the internet, rather than in person. Here are a few virtual activities you can set up for your kids right at home³:
- Virtual playdates with friends: Kids can spend 30 minutes to an hour chatting or playing with friends over a video call. You can schedule a virtual playdate over Google Hangouts or Zoom, and kids can perform activities like coloring, reading out loud, or even just talking together.
- Online classes: There are a ton of different classes and step-by-step activities available online for kids of all ages. You can set up a yoga class, an art class, or even an educational program for them to watch for 30 minutes to a few hours. Instructors or the computer course itself will lead kids through steps and keep them engaged.
- Book clubs or movie clubs: You can link up with other parents and their kids to create a virtual book or movie club. Kids can read together over Hangouts or Zoom, then chat about what they liked and didn’t like.
Setting up these virtual activities can help keep kids busy and engaged while you work. You can set up your workspace near where the kids are “working” to keep an eye on them. And you’ll have some flexibility to make calls or check in on your email while they’re busy.
3. Work During Activities That Don’t Require Supervision
Setting up activities for your children can lead to more distractions and less time to work at your actual job in some cases. And whether or not this happens when you’re working at home, it’s always a good idea to try to get work done when kids are doing something that doesn’t require constant supervision.
Of course, kids of different ages require different levels of supervision. Older kids will be perfectly fine entertaining themselves throughout the day. But there are still moments in which younger kids can be kept busy, freeing you up to get work done.
Try working on your own tasks while your kids are kept busy doing the following activities.
- Taking naps.
- Swinging or sitting in a bouncy chair.
- Watching a video.
- Listening to music.
Toddlers and Young Elementary-Aged Kids
- Watching their favorite TV shows.
- Playing an online game.
- Coloring or drawing.
- Doing homework or school assignments.
- Watching TV shows or movies.
- Playing video games or other online games.
You can also try to encourage or schedule these activities for your kids during times that you need to focus on work. For example, if your children are old enough, you can have them read for an hour while you’re on a work call. Or, you can schedule a meeting during your child’s usual nap time.
4. Schedule Time Outdoors
Kids have a lot of energy – and when they’re cooped up in the house all day long, they can begin to go stir crazy. In turn, that can make it even more difficult for you to focus and get any work done.
So, to help kids burn off some of their endless energy, try scheduling some time outdoors each day. You may not be able to take them to a local park, but you can encourage them to be active, to run around, and to enjoy a change of scenery.
You can schedule outdoor activities like:
- Playing catch.
- Reading outside.
- A walk around the neighborhood.
- Playtime in the backyard (unstructured, so kids can play as they please).
- A game of hide and seek.
- Games that encourage exercise, like tag.
- Exercise, such as soccer drills or a game of basketball for older kids.
You can fit in some work while you supervise kids’ outdoor activities. Or, you can join in to burn off some energy of your very own.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules
Lastly, parents are often very hard on themselves while trying to balance working from home and taking care of their kids. But sometimes, the most important thing to remember is that rules are meant to be broken.
You might have the best-laid plans and highest hopes for being able to provide stimulating, engaging, and educational activities for your kids at home. However, you might also discover that trying to keep kids engaged in learning is incredibly difficult – especially if you need a few minutes to make a call or get a task finished without interruptions.
And in these cases, it’s okay to break all of the rules you’ve created. As Money Crashers points out, when you need to prioritize work, it’s okay to turn to activities that aren’t educational but are safe and quiet⁴. For example, you can give your kids a less-than-healthy snack. You can turn on Netflix or allow extra TV time.
When things get tough at home, it’s perfectly fine to increase your kids’ screen time. It’s safe to turn on a streaming service and let them watch cartoons. And it’s okay if the day isn’t filled with educational activities.
Sometimes, you simply need to entertain kids in any way that works to ensure your job isn’t getting left behind. As long as your kids are safe and occupied, they’ll be just fine.