5 Tips: Working From Home with Young Children

work at home mom

“She just threw a handful of skittles on the floor. Conference call.”

God, I love Honest Toddler. But seriously, this is kind of the reality of working from home with young children, yes? Here are some tips to help make it easier.

1. Invest in Books that Read Themselves.
Best thing since sliced bread. My daughter has just about every Disney Read-Along Storybook and CD that’s available and I love them. My husband loaded the books onto my daughter’s iPod so she can listen them to whenever and wherever she wants. And now the CDs are split between our family cars, with the books either in the cars or at home; I love anything that can be used in more than one way. She cheerfully listens to the stories (over and over and over…) with or without the books. You can also check your local library; my county libraries have a selection of read-along books for young children.

I also like ebooks that read themselves. Nothing with any bells or whistles—no moving pictures, no tapping on the screen to make the illustration do something, no interaction. But books that light up the word as it’s being read are awesome—they’ll help her learn sight words or something. At least, that’s what I tell myself so I don’t feel like I’m rotting the kid’s brain by letting the iPad read to her.

If you need quiet, you can hook up some kid-friendly headphones to whatever device they’re listening on and you’re good to go!

2. Use a Timer.
“Momma? Do you want to play with me?” “Honey, Momma’s got to get some work done right now. I can play when I’m finished.” … “Are you done?” “No, sweetheart. When I’m done, I’ll come to you.” … “Are you yet finished?” “No, dear. What did I say a minute ago.” “That you’ll play when you’re done.” “Am I playing yet?” “No.” “Then am I done yet?” “No.” “Okay.” … “Momma, can you play now?” *headdesk*

Sound familiar? Try using a timer. When you sit down to work, put a limit on your work time and tell your child. “Momma needs to get some work done. I’m going to catch up on my work email for twenty minutes. When the timer goes off, we’ll play. Until then, I need you to find your own fun.” Repeat the pattern as needed. (Also, I learned the phrase “find your own fun” from Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis. I highly recommend this book!)

My daughter loves to turn off the alarms on our phones, and we use the timer for tons of things. (“When the timer goes off, it’s time to get out of the tub.” “When the timer goes off, it will be time to clean up.” “There’s the school alarm! Let’s get in the car now.”) At school, her teacher’s phone is set to quack when it’s time to come in from the playground, and my daughter loves “the quacker” so much that we set her iPod alarm to quack. If you don’t have a timer handy, be the timer yourself! Places I’ve done this include the playground to indicate when the two-minute warning is up and it’s time to leave and at bath time when I don’t want electronics near the splash park that is the bathtub. Nothing keeps the fun rolling like Momma making crazy alarm noises at the top of her lungs. My personal favorite is the “bee-do bee-do” noise the firefighter minion makes in Despicable Me 2.

3. Work During Nap Time.
I’ve got to be honest here. This one doesn’t work for me. I manage several chronic illnesses, and naps are key to staying healthy. That being said, I know lots of people that do use their child’s nap time to work—and on days when I’m feeling particularly good and can skip my nap, I absolutely love how productive and accomplished I feel! And working during nap time? Mom-guilt free, people.

4. Create an Office for Your Child.
Frequently, when I explain to my daughter that I have work to get done, she says, “Yeah, me too. I have to do work.” Then she’ll sit down at her table and do paperwork (which involves scissors—wouldn’t that be nice to do to grown-up paperwork?!) or type at her “computer,” which is a box in the style of an old cigar-box that she pretends is a laptop.

One of the most popular of the rotating centers in the kid’s preschool class has been the office center, which proved to be such a favorite that some of the pieces found a permanent home in the classroom. Now the children use the large blocks in the block center to make desks and chairs and they place office during free play! So, what do you use to stock a child’s office? Here are some suggestions: a desk tape dispenser with tape, writing utensils with a pencil cup or pencil box, kid-sized notebooks, message pads, and paper (think handwriting paper or notebook paper). Bonus points for things like a desk pad calendar, old landline or cellphone, and an old keyboard or even a lap top that’s breathed its last. Oh my gosh–can you imagine the fun that could be had with an old Rolodex?!

If your child is struggling with office play ideas, give them a “job” or even make them your administrative assistant and put them in charge of seeing that you’re not disturbed while you’re working. Don’t forget to take a snack break or eat lunch together when the work is done—it’s good for the boss to mingle with the little people.

5. Don’t stay indoors.
When I was finishing up my Master’s, I discovered a local play place that would watch my child in the play area while I sat in their attached café and studied. Now there’s another one that doesn’t provide staff to watch your children, but does not require you be at their side in the play area. There’s a bar set up on the perimeter of the play space (with outlets, natch) so—depending on your child’s ability to separate from you and to hold their own in the little Lord of Flies zone—you can get some light work done while your child plays. Some play places even offer brief drop-off services (90 minutes or so).

I’ve also noticed over the past couple years that, with the rise in entrepreneurial endeavors (hi, Etsy!) and as more companies are introducing flex time and remote work options into their corporate culture, coworking spaces are popping up. While I’m sure that not all of them are child-friendly, I know of two in my area that provide childcare in one area and a variety of work spaces (meeting rooms, lounge spaces, and desks, plus free wi-fi) in another. You can drop your child off in childcare and focus on your work. I love that this option allows you to meet with clients or coworkers in a space that is not Starbucks. You may even luck out and find a space that allows you a brief drop-off period so you can leave the building for a quick lunch meeting or appointment.

Striking a balance between work and family is never going to be easy, regardless of where you work. Hopefully, these tips give some new ideas to make working from home easier. When you’re done tasking, be sure to thank your little one for their patience and self-reliance. And then give them the very best reward of all: your time and undivided attention.

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Christina lives in Northern Virginia with her husband, daughter, and two English Springer Spaniels. Before becoming a reluctant stay-at-home mom, she worked in a variety of customer-service-oriented jobs while dreaming of living in the lap of luxury as a housewife. Unfortunately, having a child threw a wrench in Christina's plan to do nothing but eat bonbons while lounging in the Jacuzzi reading all day. Now, she spends her time looking for fun activities and crafts for her daughter and easy-to-prepare meals for her family, while trying not to land the kid in therapy when she grows up. Christina volunteers at several different places, and her particular passion is for her role as a sexuality educator. She loves to read, and to learn about--and share--new products and resources.

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