Working from home with kids

By Jackie Guzman - Learning Child Educator, Nebraska Extension in Scotts Bluff County

When parents or grandparents find themselves working from home with kids, your work world is bound to collide with your family life.

If your first several weeks working remotely were like mine, you have been joining your colleagues online for meetings while at the same time tending to children – children up and down off parents’ laps, little voices or crying in the background. Fortunately, my remote team is an early childhood group.  There were just chuckles and empathy from those on the other end of the camera.

I had this experience myself as a grandparent, helping out with four kids under 5 years of age and one with special needs.  There were somethings I did right and others that didn’t go so well.

So, how do we combine work and home office with children? I’ve been doing a little research on this, and found that some things I did were right on target and gained some new ideas.  First, of all when things don’t go well don’t beat yourself up. This is new territory for all of us.  Give yourself a break!

It’s important to communicate with your colleagues what your situation is and communicate with your family. When communicating with your co-workers let them know you are going to do your best to do your part. The reality is until you figure this out you may be less productive.

Your work and home schedule may need to be more structured when you have to work around your family.  Change is not easy for adults and the same goes for children. Remember children thrive on routines – it gives them continuity and they know what to expect. At this moment in time their world has just been turned upside down, so your children may be exhibiting some difficult behaviors, until they adjust to the new routine.

You have a schedule or routine every day to get your children out the door to school and for activities at the end of the school day. Maybe the night before you pack lunches, do homework, take baths, lay clothes out for school, etc. That planning still continues – you just have to do it in a new and different way.

Create a new daily routine for you and your children. Make a schedule and write it down and post in a prominent place (the fridge). Depending upon the children’s ages, it might start out with 7 a.m. wake-up, get dressed, eat breakfast. Include a schedule for daily chores.

If your children are old enough, have them make the schedule. Make certain even the youngest members of the family have a chore. Sorting socks is a great matching game for young children. My grandchildren love to wash dishes, so when they visit my house (in normal times), they wash dishes by hand. One washes, one rinses, and one dries. We make a schedule for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. They really look forward to this chore. They clean up before they leave.  There’s minimal mess for me when they leave for the day. This kind of system can work when everybody is homebound, as well.

Screen time is OK, with boundaries. Limit the time, work it into your schedule, and make certain that what they watch on television or on their devices is quality or educational. There are even podcasts for kids. Build in time for the fun stuff, too – this might be a reward at the end of the day. 

Since everyone is at home, mealtime can be a time for everyone to come together. Children of all ages can help plan meals and snacks, prepare meals, or do some meal prep at the beginning of the week.

Make it simple – it doesn’t have to be complicated. A sandwich, fruits, and raw veggies with milk or water make a quick meal that you can make in advance and put in the fridge. Make the most of your time together at the table. Turn off all electronics (parents, too). You might want to start your meal with conversation starters.

After dinner turn off the screen and enjoy a dessert together or play a game. It doesn’t have to be every evening. Make it a time to connect and talk about your schedule – how it’s going, what you can do to change or improve.

Don’t forget physical activity. Get outside, remember social distancing, go for a walk, play outside games, enjoy your pets, and get some fresh air. When was the last time you needed to leave your desk to clear your head and you could go outside get some fresh air and play a game of soccer.

We have work teams that make our jobs easier and we all share the load, so why can’t this same concept work at home? It takes a lot of work to run a household, so let everyone lend a hand. Host family meetings either daily or weekly so that your children are aware of what your work schedule demands.

You might want to build your quiet time around your work schedule. You might want to let co-workers know that you are available during this quiet time or naptime – build it into your schedule.

Children also need to know when and how to interrupt before they interrupt. For example, if you’re in a Zoom meeting and they really need you, they can stand out of view of the camera and give you a sign. Maybe it’s a special hand signal or a colored piece of paper that they wave at you in order to get your attention. You may have to negotiate work time and kid time with another parent or significant other. While one works, the other will tend to the needs of the children.

Most important, take time for yourself and your significant other. Build this into your schedule, too. Be creative – it might be before the kids get up or when they go to bed. Have a cup of tea, coffee, a special dessert, a walk, be creative. Take care!

Some Extension resources for kids: 

Living Room Learning ( )

Beautiful Day (