We live in uncertain times right now. And as more people suddenly find themselves working at home, many parents discover that working at home with kids (especially toddlers and babies) can turn into another job.
More parents are ditching the commute for work-from-home job opportunities. For many, working from home gives parents the best of both worlds—the ability to be available to their young children while still bringing in a paycheck.
But having your home be your office can cause problems—mainly if your toddler is home with you during work hours.
Attempting to be available to work when your toddler is around might be more complex than any other stage—your little one needs near-constant attention, but unlike an infant, your toddler is mobile. But it can be done.
If you’re struggling to stay productive while working from home, we’ve collated some great tips on working from home while looking after your children. It may feel overwhelming at times, but you’ve got this!
How to Stay Productive While Working from Home
Here are some tips for working from home with a child or children under three years of age:
Work While Your Child Sleeps.
Take advantage of your children’s naps to tackle the most pressing tasks.
If your children have a reasonably predictable sleep routine, you may be able to knock off essential phone calls or focus intensely on a project when they are likely to be sleeping.
Working before they wake up or after they go to sleep is another good idea, especially if your job allows this kind of flexibility.
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Share the Load.
If both you and your partner are home, you might like to take turns with one of you feeding or playing with your children while the other gets the chance to work.
By taking “shifts,” you can both get things done while your little ones are tended to.
Plan out your day and week as best you can. Schedule when you will wake up and what you will do each day.
Having a plan and a list of tasks will help you focus on the most critical items in the face of distractions.
Work while you breastfeed or pump milk. If you pump breast milk, you may like to use a hands-free breast pump so that you can continue with working or a phone call.
If you’re breastfeeding your little one, you may be able to take phone calls or read reports as you do.
Dress for Work.
You may find it helpful to dress professionally to feel you are “at work” during work hours and then change into more casual clothes in the evening.
This also helps break up the day and may help you get into the mindset for both work and leisure.
On the flip side, you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to work in the comfort of your leggings and T-shirt.
Working While Your Children Play.
You may be able to get short bursts of work done while your children occupy themselves. However, if possible, the kind of work you attempt while your children are up against should be the kind that can be interrupted, as your little ones will likely be trying to get your attention.
Take Advantage of the Weekends.
For example, you might like to cook on Saturdays or Sundays so that you have lunches and snacks ready to go for the week ahead.
Another good choice for the weekend is to research some indoor activities for your baby or toddler so that you don’t get stuck mid-week.
Remove Other Distractions.
You already have enough on your plate with your little one. If you can, remove other “time-wasters” like social media.
You can use apps that block your access to social media during work hours, for example.
It might also help to schedule half an hour each day for chores so that you do not constantly want to get up and put things away.
You may need to be more flexible in how you work and more creative in using the hours you have at your disposal.
Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do everything or can’t do everything perfectly—no one can! Instead, a more reasonable goal for a working parent is to be efficient and productive, which you can do by trying some of the tips in this article.
Take Time for Yourself, If You Can.
It’s natural to get cabin fever if you’re working from home for an extended stretch while caring for your child.
If you can, during their daytime nap or once your children are asleep, take some time to do something for yourself like watching a series, having a pampering bath, or doing some exercise.
Stick to a Schedule
If there’s one thing we heard time and again from those who successfully manage working and parenting, it’s that schedules are non-negotiable.
Breaking up the day into clear chunks of time for yourself and your kids lets everyone know what to expect.
Having a written schedule listed on your door is essential. If your child can’t read, have pictures on your schedule and constantly open up the dialogue about what your day looks like.
Don’t forget to talk through expectations with your kids, too. For example, if you have an urgent meeting where you can’t be interrupted, then let your child know in advance.
It is also essential to give them the rundown and show them and list things they can do. For example, “Jack, here are the top five things you can do when mom is working.”
Schedules may change, of course, and sometimes work tasks get dropped in your lap on short notice, so be prepared to make adjustments as you go. (And cut yourself some slack!)
If you can’t align your schedule so you and your child can both get your work done at ideal times, then don’t be hard on yourself and do your best.
Do Screen Time Right
You’re not alone if you’ve thanked your lucky stars for the blessing of kids’ shows on Netflix.
But while screens keep kids’ attention engaged, we all probably know it’s not healthy to rely on them as a babysitter.
So how do you do screen time right as a work-from-home parent? According to experts, it has to do with boundaries.
Working parents need to get their stuff done, and popping their kid in front of technology may seem like an easy solution, but in the long run, it leads to many arguments about loose boundaries. Therefore, setting clear guidelines about how much time your child can spend on their device is very important for both parent and child.
Include screen time on the daily schedule you make for your child, and when the allotted window has passed, try to be sure devices get turned off.
That being said, there are times — whether it’s during a global pandemic or just a more demanding workday — when your kids may get more than their usual screen time.
Give yourself grace, and don’t feel too guilty or stressed if you need to relax the rules at these times.
Focus on Positive Reinforcement
The WFH parent life is a give-and-take dance. It can take a while to find your rhythm.
But what do you do when your kids can’t seem to respect the boundaries you’ve set?
(There are only so many times you can stand to have a critical call interrupted with a loud request for a wiped bottom.)
It’s OK to provide meaningful consequences to children who repeatedly overstep the boundaries of your work.
Even so, with kids of any age, it’s best to focus on positive reinforcement. Children shouldn’t be punished for pushing the boundaries you created around your work schedule.
Instead, they should be rewarded when they do a good job being appropriate.
When we reinforce the behaviours we want, including respectful work from home boundaries, they are more likely to learn and repeat those desired behaviours.
It’s also often helpful to think about the “why” — why is the child acting out?
If you empathise with their underlying need and understand the broader issue, coming up with a solution and positive reinforcement become a little easier.
Working from Home With a Toddler
Get up Early
The best way to work when your toddler is around is by getting as much done as possible when they aren’t.
This means setting the alarm an hour or two before they are up for the day. So if you do your best thinking in the morning, tackle your most significant projects sans distractions during this time.
But if you’re not a morning person, getting up early can still be helpful. So have a cup of coffee and use this time to organise yourself, respond to quick email requests, and plan out the rest of your workday.
Encourage Independent Play
Independent play is essential for toddler development and should be encouraged.
For working parents, independent play can give mom or dad some needed time to get work done.
Busy bags are a great way to entice your toddler to play by herself. They’re exactly what they sound like: bags of simple activities designed to keep toddlers busy.
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Hire a Babysitter or Parent’s Helper
Sometimes, if you want to work from home successfully, hiring help is a must.
It depends on your situation, but all kinds of arrangements exist—from a full-day nanny to a parent’s helper that comes for a few hours a few times a week—and setting up a routine with a sitter can help ensure you have dedicated time each week to get your work done.
Swap Sitting Services With Another Parent
Know another work-from-home parent in your neighbourhood? Then, setting up a babysitting swap is a win-win-win!
A swap means that one parent takes both kids for a few hours so the other can work, and then the first parent returns the favour.
In addition to getting some much needed time alone to put your nose to the grindstone, your kids get a fun playdate. Bonus: It’s free!
Take Advantage of Nap Time
When you’re a work-from-home parent, enforcing a nap time each day is not only crucial for your little one’s health and development, it’s critical for you.
If you can, encourage a long nap—two to three hours for most toddlers are not too much time to nap in the afternoon.
Keep nap times consistent so that your toddler has a routine.
Give Your Toddler Undivided Attention
Working from home has obvious benefits for many parents, but it’s not always easy. Leaving work behind physically is not possible, and it can be tough to let it go mentally. But if your toddler is trying to get your attention, chances are, he’s not going to stop until he succeeds.
Put your to-do list aside, log off the computer, and give your toddler the attention he needs and deserves.
Set boundaries and make sure there are plenty of work-free times throughout the day. After all, the biggest perk of working from home is spending time with your toddler—so make sure you take advantage of it.
Explain That This Isn’t a Snow Day
Your toddler may understand that you have a job. They may even know that you work at home. However, that doesn’t mean they know 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, not only taking care of them. You have to do things for your boss right now, and that you need to do your job.
Explain that leaving you alone while you work helps you get your work done faster. And the quicker you get your job done, the sooner you’ll be able to play with them.
Explain to your toddler that they can’t come in without knocking first when the door is closed.
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, it would help if you created a stop sign (or have your toddler make it) to place on your door for those moments when you can’t be interrupted. Period.
Let your child know that you are busy when that sign is up 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 signal 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. For example, 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 resource 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.
Working at Home With Your Newborn
Your newborn will likely be sleeping in three- to four-hour stretches all through the day, so you may be able to get solid blocks of time to work during her daytime sleep periods.
Keep in mind that you’ll also be waking up for feedings, even if you’re splitting these with your partner, so be prepared to feel a little groggier during the day.
As you work, you might like to “wear” your newborn in a baby carrier, sling, or wrap so your newborn can enjoy feeling close to you while you get things done.
Although it’s just a nice-to-have extra, a bassinet can be helpful for a work-at-home parent, as it can easily be moved to be right by your desk or table, allowing you to remain close to your newborn as you work.
Of course, if the width of your doorways allows it, you can also move your little one’s crib from room to room. However, keep in mind that for your baby’s safety, she should sleep only in her crib or bassinet.
How to Work from Home With Babies (in General)
Combining parenting and working has always been a delicate balancing act. Working from home with a baby is a more complex 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 wrong about placing them with a few toys in the playpen.
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 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 holding 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 called.
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.
As working from home becomes more mainstream — whether due to COVID-19 or other circumstances — so, too, will working in the same space as your kids.
Though it may not be easy, it does become more manageable as time goes by.
Implementing the right strategies can get you through the day with a little more productivity. (But remember that your productivity doesn’t determine your worth.)
And keep in mind that having a WFH parent can be hard on kids, too. So when work hours are done, do all you can to give them plenty of love and attention.
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