We live in uncertain times right now. And as more people suddenly find themselves working at home, many people are discovering that working at home with kids (especially toddlers and babies) can turn into another job.
At FlexJobs, we generally do not advise working from home with small children unless you have in-home help. However, these are not “general times,” so all of that advice is out the window for now. That means you need a way to get work done when you have a baby or toddler (or both!) at home for the foreseeable future.
Fortunately, it’s not as if no one has ever worked from home with kids. If you live in certain climates, snow days are a reality, and so are natural disasters, which means work and kids can coexist under one roof! But to make the arrangement work, you’ve got to get a game plan together, and you’re going to have to be flexible.
How to Work-from-Home With Kids (of Any Age)
Before we give you specifics about working from home with babies and toddlers, know that there are some general tips and tricks to use when you have to work at home with kids of any age.
If you have a partner that is also working from home, try dividing the workday and the childcare duties. Split your days up, so you each have an equal share of work and kids.
For example, one of you could work for a solid, uninterrupted four-hour block in the morning, while the other one watches the kids during that time. In the afternoon, switch roles. While it’s not a full day of work, some work is better than no work. Combined with other creative solutions, you might find that you’re able to put in a full eight-hour day, just not all at once!
Take Advantage of Sleep
While you might want to do nothing when your kids are asleep (or even sleep yourself), consider using nap time, bedtime, or even a few hours in the morning to work. It may not be your first choice (or second, or third), but working when your kids are asleep can almost guarantee you a solid block of time when you can work in peace and quiet.
Embrace Screen Time
As much as you might limit screen time, consider throwing screen time limits out the window right now. Sometimes there’s nothing like a movie marathon to keep the kids occupied and give you some quiet time to work in an uninterrupted sprint.
And screen time doesn’t have to mean silly cartoons and funny movies. There are plenty of educational options for kids to binge on (and we’ve got tons of suggestions below!).
Talk About It
Before you start any work conversation with colleagues, let the people on the other end know your situation.
Letting people know your situation is a crucial step toward maintaining professional relationships. If nothing else, the warning demonstrates that you’re trying to stay ahead of any potential problems. And your coworkers might be in the same boat as you, so they probably have their own childcare demands to deal with, too.
Plan for Interruptions
Like it or not, working from home with kids means you will be interrupted. While you need to set boundaries, babies and toddlers may not always understand that you’re on a call and can’t deal with them right that second.
Take the interruptions in stride and understand it’s part of the gig. You could probably use a break anyway, so why not embrace it and join your little one for a 10-minute dance party?
Bribes Are Acceptable
And sometimes, interruptions are not acceptable. We’ve got more details below, but, in short, when your child behaves and follows the rules when you need it most, praise and reward the good behavior. With any luck, you’ll see more of that behavior as you work from home.
When rewards don’t work, but you’re desperate because meetings need to happen now, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of bribery. Letting your kids play video games for two hours while you deal with a difficult client may be the tradeoff you have to make right now.
Ditch the Guilt
Lastly, most of us are in the same boat. Did your kid do nothing but binge not-so-educational programming so you could finish something up? It’s fine. These are strange times, and there’s nothing we can do but embrace it and move on.
How to Work From Home with Babies
Combining parenting and working has always been a delicate balancing act. Working from home with a baby is a harder balancing act. Under normal circumstances, you’d have a nanny (or grandparent) that could come over and help out. Or, you’d drop your child at daycare.
However, this is a new normal, and you may find that you have no option but to work with one hand while holding a baby in the other.
But having your hands full doesn’t mean you can’t get anything done. Here are some tips that can help you balance working at home with a baby.
The Playpen is Your Friend
If your baby is old enough, don’t feel bad about placing them in the playpen with a few toys. You can put the playpen close to where you work and keep an eye (or ear) on what’s happening. With this setup, you knock a few things off of your to-do list, while your baby is in a safe place and can entertain themselves.
Alternatively, you can use an activity mat for babies that aren’t mobile yet but need something entertaining to do. Attach a few toys to the arches or mat and let your baby bat away at them.
The littlest ones (and sometimes the fussiest ones) are happiest when you hold them. Constantly. When that’s the case, strap on the baby sling or carrier, and roll with it. This keeps your hands free and baby fuss-free (or, at least, less fussy).
While it’s not the most ergonomic setup, a baby carrier lets you type while you hold your baby. Just keep the baby facing in, so you don’t get extra “help” with your document. And you can walk around to calm a fussy baby while you take a call or even tap out a few emails on your phone. Again, this generally isn’t recommended, but this is different.
As much as you might want a mute button for your kids, that hasn’t been invented (yet). But, when you speak with coworkers or clients, make sure you use the mute button when you have calls.
Babies can have less-than-ideal timing, and you never know when they’re going to decide to add to the conversation. As cute as it might be to you, others on the call may not share your opinion. Plus, if the baby is doing all of the talking, the other people on the call may be cut off, taking away from the meeting.
How to Work From Home with Toddlers
For working parents, the terrible twos and threes are more challenging than the baby years. You can place a baby in a playpen for a bit if needed. But your toddler can climb out of a playpen and quickly wreak havoc.
Working at home with a toddler is possible. But, it will require a little more creativity, patience, and flexibility on your part.
Explain That This Isn’t a Snow Day
Your toddler may understand that you have a job. They may even understand that you work at home. That doesn’t mean they understand everything that’s going on right now.
While you may not want to explain all the reasons why you’re working from home right now or why your toddler can’t go to school right now, you should take some time to explain how work works.
Let your kids know that you have to do your job, which isn’t only taking care of them. You have to do things for your boss right now and you need to do your job. Explain that leaving you alone while you work helps you get your work done faster. And the faster you get your work done, the sooner you’ll be able to play with them.
Explain to your toddler that when the door is closed, they can’t come in without knocking first. If you don’t have an office with a door, you may need to get a little creative for those moments when you need privacy. In a pinch, a closet with a door or even the bathroom works!
Furthermore, you should create a stop sign (or have your toddler create it) to place on your door for those moments when you can’t be interrupted. Period.
Let your child know that when that sign is up, you are busy and can’t help them. You’ll check on them as soon as you’re done, but in the meantime, they have to wait. Praise them when they don’t bother you when the sign is up. And explain to them (again!) what the sign means.
Set a schedule
Children thrive with routine and structure, which is hard to provide when you’re trying to work. But, if you take some time the night before to plan a schedule for the next day, it’ll make things easier.
When possible, try to stick to the current routine. For example, if your toddler already gets up at 7:00 AM, eats breakfast at 7:30 AM, then watches TV until 8:00 AM, stick with that schedule.
Then, create blocks of time for them to work on activities while you work. Don’t worry. We’ve got plenty of fun and educational suggestions below! However, don’t plan long blocks of time. Break up your day into smaller sections. Maybe you work for 30 minutes while your child does a puzzle, then you take a 15-minute break together.
These shorter blocks work better with a toddler’s short attention span. And, they let you check in frequently with your kid to stay connected and engaged with them (and to make sure they haven’t flooded the bathroom out of boredom).
Grandparents and relatives can be an invaluable resources when we need them.
Ask if grandma and grandpa can arrange video calls with the kids. Have them read stories to each other, draw pictures, or whatever other activity the two sides can agree on.
Inevitably, you will hear, “I’m bored,” and “I don’t want to do that.” When that happens, you’re going to need a boredom buster.
Normally, we’d advise you to prepare boxes and activity jars chock full of fun things to do. The thing is, a lot of these require you to run out and buy supplies, which you may not be able to do these days.
So, look for things you can use around the house.
For example, one FlexJobs employee pulled out an old box and had her kids create a whole town for his cars.
Susie Allison has tons of ideas for toddlers and younger kids to keep them occupied. Some are educational, and some are just plain fun (like using tape to create a parade route for the animals).
Resources to Help You Work from Home with Babies and Toddlers
Fortunately, there’s a whole world out there offering help to parents who need it. There are plenty of free resources to help you entertain your kids while you work at home. What’s great about many of these activities is that they don’t require your hands-on involvement!
Take a Virtual Field Trip
Stuck in the house doesn’t have to mean any fun adventures. Here’s a fantastic list of virtual field trips you can take.
100 Activities to Do at Home
Your kids can’t possibly get bored with a list of 100 things to do at home. Yes, you may have to help out, but many of these you can do with stuff you already have around the house.
Khan Academy has always made education accessible for everyone. In addition to their classes, they’ve added sample schedules for every age group.
Yes, there is probably some binge-watching in everyone’s future. But why not throw in a few educational videos, too?
Drawing with Mo Willems
Draw with Mo Willems! Every weekday at 1:00 PM Eastern, he’s posting a new Lunch Doodle episode. Grab some paper and crayons, and learn how to draw, doodle, and sketch.
Follow Josh Gad on Twitter at his account @joshgad and #Gadbookclub. Every night at 7:30 PM Eastern, he’s reading a bedtime story.
Pete the Cat
Every day at Noon Eastern, there will be a live reading of a Pete the Cat story. Follow @petethecatoffical to hear them!
Who doesn’t love a good race? Marathons and other sporting events might be canceled, but the Iditarod starts March 27, 2020. Live stream it here.
The problem with being cooped up is that you’re cooped up! When working from home with toddlers and babies, don’t forget about physical activity.
Go Noodle provides workouts for kids—including dance and yoga.
Online Art Lessons
After-school activities are canceled, too. But that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Check out this list of art classes on YouTube.
Play Some Games
Krazydad (AKA Jim Bumgardner) is a Disney Imagineer. Along with creating all things Disney, he designs games, puzzles, and mazes you can print for free!
Take a Virtual Ride
Speaking of Disney, your vacation may be canceled, but that doesn’t mean you can’t “ride” your favorite rides. Head over to YouTube and search “virtual Disney ride” to get a list of video ride-throughs. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s something to do! And, you don’t have to limit yourself to Disney rides. You can check out Universal rides and Six Flags rides, too.
We Can Do This
A common misconception about working at home is that you’re on your own. But nothing could be further from the truth. We’re in this together, and by helping each other out, we will make it through this!