Working from Home With Kids – Tips, Tricks & Techniques

by Chris Durst    Updated June 1, 2020

OK, let me start by saying, working from home is not a replacement for childcare! If you try to juggle work and children without a plan to do it well, you’ll probably end up feeling like you’re letting down your kids and your employer/clients.

With certain types of jobs, you can blend the two into a “mostly harmonious” goulash. With other jobs, it’s nearly impossible.

So, here are a few of my thoughts on the topic!

1. Size up your kids – and be completely realistic!
They’re your “little angels,” but maybe there are a lot of other “A” words that also describe them – active, affectionate, absorbed (as in “self”), adventurous, amusing, awesome, assertive, and yes, even annoying at times. 🙂

For now, let’s focus on this “A” word – ABLE!

What are your kids truly ABLE to handle and are YOU ABLE to patiently redirect their attentions and behaviors to create a work from home environment that works for your whole family?

For, example, if your kids are used to having your undivided attention when you are at home, you’ll need to ease them into the idea that “Mommy is here but not available.” You can’t just announce that things will change on day X and expect it to stick.

2. Break the news and set the stage.
For children aged 5 and up, sitting them down for a talk is a good idea. Let them know you’re planning to work from home and ask them how they feel about it.

Explain to them that it might be hard because you’ll be there, but you’ll need to focus on your work when it’s time to work.

Ask them if they have any questions or concerns and address them up front. Really listen – you NEED them to do a great job of helping you, so respect their input.
Present it as an adventure – one that you’ll need their skills for in order to succeed.

3. Make promises and keep them!
I am not a fan of bargaining with children. I grew up in a “this is how it is” house, and there wasn’t a lot of, “if you promise not to knock all the jelly jars off the grocery store shelf, I’ll buy you a toy,” going on in my childhood. 🙂

That said, I take a different perspective when it comes to working from home with kids. Why? You are asking your kids to be your work partners. Their buy-in and good behavior is paramount to your success as a home-based worker, and they should be rewarded for their “work.”

Many work-from-home parents set up a calendar on which kids earn “stars” for great behavior, and those stars, once achieving a certain goal amount, can be cashed in for an agreed up reward. It can be as simple as a trip to the dollar store with $5 when you’ve earned 10 stars.

In addition to helping you achieve the work environment you need, it teaches kids the value of work.

If you don’t want to reward your kids with “things,” make the rewards experiences instead. A hike with you (phones on silent), movie night and popcorn on the couch, picnic in a living room blanket tent, etc.

4. Set up audio and visual reminders
In the heat of the moment, kids can easily forget new rules and revert back to old behaviors. Setting up visual cues can really help!

Here are some ideas for visual cues:
Emergency Call Hat – Some calls are more important than others. When a REALLY important call comes in, put on a hat that will stop them in their tracks when they dart toward you to ask for a cookie. This works best if you let your kids pick and/or create the hat themselves. Do NOT overuse the hat. If you do, it will lose it’s impact.

Stop Sign – Some WAH parents keep a small hand-held stop sign on their desk so that they can quickly hold it up when they need to keep the kids at bay while they finish an important task.

Cuddle Bell – Put a bell on your desk and, when you have a few spare minutes, ring the bell to let the kids know that YOU could use a hug or some cuddle time. It’s good for both of you, but it’ll be fun for them because they’ll feel they’re supporting you and doing you a favor! 🙂

5. Enlist in-home entertainment assistance for a few hours so you can focus fully on work.
Bring in a local teenager to spend some time entertaining the kids for a few hours a week so you can really focus on tasks that require your full attention. The kids will appreciate the break from “doing their job,” the babysitter can earn a little money (and establish a great relationship with the kids so you will feel comfortable using him/her to get out on your own sometimes), and you’ll be able to work uninterrupted and guilt-free for a while.

6. Create a Boredom Bowl
This is something I did with my kids and it was VERY effective. It starts with a project that you can do with the kids and results in an excellent tool for helping them self-manage while you work.

You’ll find a post with the Boredom Bowl children’s story and “how-to” instructions here.

7. Set up a designated work space and rules for what can and cannot happen in that area.
Again, kids are very visual. Setting up a specific area that they can see and know is your office, will help to remind them that there are certain expectations within that area.

I know one mom who doesn’t have a separate space for an office, so she works in the dining room. She sets up traffic cones around the dining room table while she’s working, and tells me that as soon as those cones go up, the volume in the area goes down.

After you’ve been working at home for a month, bake a cake and have a little celebration to thank your child(ren) for helping you to make it work. The more you appreciate their positive contributions to your success, the more they’ll want to hold up their end of the partnership.

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