16 Tips for Working From Home With Kids
Wondering how to work from home with kids around? If it feels like your current life is in a state of chaos, you’re definitely not the only one. Not only are some of you figuring out how to work from home for the very first time, but you have the added challenge of working from home while your kids are there too vying for your attention.
I’ve been working at You Need a Budget—a company that is 100% remote—for the last few years. I also homeschool my two boys—which means I know exactly how you feel as you’re juggling the constant complaints of “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” while your video conferencing audio refuses to start. I’ve been there.
When I first started working at YNAB, our boys were 3 and 5 years old (now they’re 6 and 7). We do a lot of juggling and communicating for sure—but I hope to give you a ray of hope as you navigate these new waters.
Growing up, my parents homeschooled nine of us while building a successful business (and in case you’re wondering, no—we didn’t make it easy for them!). My dad often said, “The success of this family depends on everyone working together.” I still love that saying—when you’re working from home with the kids around, you’re all working together on the same team.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite strategies:
1. Keep Realistic Expectations
As much as I’d love an interruption-free shift, if that’s my expectation I will set myself up for a miserable, frustrating day. If I instead recognize that yeah, there will be some interruptions but we’ll roll with it—I’ve found my day is guaranteed to be much more peaceful for everyone.
2. Prepare to Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast Your Kids
What are the most likely interruptions during your shift? Plan your strategy ahead of time. At my house the number one interruption is “Mooooom, I’m so hungry,” so I prep snacks before work and then just let them know what and where to get them. Plan for how you’re going to handle things like sibling squabbles or boredom ahead of time so that when (not if) they arise, you’re ready to play the game.
3. Keep Independent Assignments Handy
If you have assignments from school, save the ones that can be done independently for when you’re working. This keeps ‘em busy for a bit.
4. Start Your Day With a Family Meeting
For us, working from home is a family endeavor. We start the day with a team meeting (which sounds so official, but it’s really just us in our PJs going over what the day holds). We talk about what we have to do and what needs to happen. It might look like, “Okay, we have school today and then mom has to work. I also have a meeting today so you’ll need to stay quiet during that time—but you’ll be able to play the iPad then. After work we’re going to play a game with dad.” Letting the kids know what I have going on helps them plan and prepare.
5. Plan Their Favorite Things Strategically
If you allow screen time or have a favorite thing the kids like to do, save that for when you really need it. For example, a screen time allotment or the box of train tracks can buy me deep work or a quiet meeting every time.
6. Check in With Your Kids Before a Work Meeting
Check in with the kids before a meeting—even if they’ve been playing like angels for hours and hours. If you don’t, as soon as you start that meeting they’ll have 1,000 needs (and now my manager will know whenever I haven’t prepped my kids before a meeting ). Our check-in usually sounds like this “Alright guys, mom has a meeting in a few minutes. I need you to stay quiet for 30 minutes. Do you have clothes on? Keep your clothes on. If you get hungry grab the pretzels on the counter top.” Why clothes? Just in case they decide to join the meeting. If your kids are younger and in the stage of constantly undressing, this step is critical.
7. Plan Your Camera Placement Strategically
If you know the angle your kids are likely to attack from, you can angle your computer to have a blind spot. The kids may join a meeting, but they won’t be visible on the screen.
8. Avoid the Parental Time Warp
You know the one, where “give me just a minute” turns into 65 minutes later. A Pomodoro-style timer works wonders. The Be Focused app on Mac is my favorite, I set 25-30 minute increments with a 1-2 minute break in between. If the kids interrupt, I can glance at my timer and let them know “Okay, 6 more minutes and then I can do/listen/get/see whatever you need.” And bonus, it also helps me stay focused throughout the day.
9. Know Your Kids’ Time Limits
When the boys were younger, they could handle me working a four-hour straight shift. But, that still involved me moving my computer to the desk, to the porch, to the rocking chair, to the floor as we worked together. When I was full-time, they could handle a six-hour shift and I’d fit my other two hours in either before they got up or later in the evening. If your kids are older, they’ll likely be able to handle a longer work shift. If they’re younger, consider breaking up your shift into shorter time increments for now.
10. Keep Your Workstation Flexible
This is especially important if you have younger kids. I work at my desk, on the floor, in the rocking chair, on the couch, on my bed, on the porch, really anywhere. On that note, don’t be afraid to set your workstation up temporarily right in the middle of everything. It sounds scary, but you might be surprised how quickly you can adjust to working with the kids around.
11. Dedicate Time With Kids Before Work
I find it’s helpful to spend some dedicated time with the kids before I work. This is when we do school, talk, and laugh. When I start work they’re usually ready to do something without me for a bit.
12. Do Important Things Early
If you have a bigger task at work, do it early in your shift when the kids are still in a good mood and off entertaining themselves.
13. Give an On-Air Warning
If you record videos for work, give your kids a warning and let them know what is expected. I might say, “I have to record a video—I need you guys to stay quiet for 10 minutes and then I’ll be done.” You may also need to find the quietest room in your house and go there to record—even that ends up being the bathroom! Don’t forget to let the kids know when you’re done with the video.
14. Set Expectations for Non-Interruptible Tasks
For example, I work in chat and do need to be able to focus for a couple hours. I let the kids know when I really can’t be interrupted and how long that time is going to last. Once I’m done, I make sure I can listen or get to what they need. They also know that this is a set period of time. And to be clear, my kids still forget and interrupt here and there and I do have to remind them that I need to focus for a bit. But because we’ve talked about it and set up our game plan ahead of time I only need to give a quick reminder and they’ll be patient knowing it won’t last all day.
15. You’re More Stressed Than We Are
If your kid interrupts a meeting, don’t worry! I think I can safely say we all enjoy getting to see your kids. We also give the benefit of the doubt and we know you’re doing the best you can. And whatever happens, my kids have probably done it too. Once when my youngest was three years old he burst into a meeting and shouted that his apple tasted like pee. Ah, life with kids. I turned eight shades of red, we laughed, he got a new apple, and the meeting carried on.
16. Don’t Be Afraid to Roll With the Punches
This is especially fitting when your kids are young. If one of them is just having a hot mess moment, we understand if you need to hop out for a bit. Sometimes, it takes more time and effort to fight the interruption than to step out for a bit and just embrace it—I mean that both figuratively or literally, sometimes your kid just needs a hug.
Finally, what we expect influences our perception. If we expect a lot of frustration and irritation, we’ll find it and then some. On the other hand, if we look for opportunities and fun as a family we’ll find that too.
I learned all the skills I’ve used at every job I’ve had by watching over my parent’s shoulders as they worked (I gave a lot of back rubs—use that to your advantage too!). Those learning opportunities and experiences contain some of my most favorite memories and that time was (and still is) priceless to me. You’ve got this—have fun together. You might look back at this time and cherish the memories more than you realize.
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