5 Tips for Working From Home With Kids In A Crisis

Coronavirus has upended everything.

Many people are suddenly working from home. (If they’re lucky enough to be working at all.) Kids are either off school entirely or doing some sort of online/homeschool hybrid. Headlines read like the plot synopsis for the latest YA dystopian novel.

Literally everyone is stressed and questioning if there’s enough chocolate or toilet paper to get us through this.

I can’t get you toilet paper or change the headlines, but I can help you get work done with kids in the house with your sanity intact. Most of it, anyway.

These five tips are my tried and true methods for working from home with kids.

Why I Know What I’m Talking About

If I could give myself a job title, it would be Chaos Coordinator. Job duties include:

  • writer
  • freelancer
  • parent
  • and, up until recently, a homeschooler (by choice, not pandemic)
Angela's husband working from a coffeeshop with our first-born as a baby.
Working around and with kids has been a part of our parenting from the beginning.

It’s a lot to juggle. Which is part of the reason I rely on bullet journaling and planners to keep all those plates spinning.

Working from home with kids is hard in the best of times. These are not the best of times.

So you’re probably wondering…

How Do I Get It All Done?

I’ve been fielding this question for a long time. It comes in various forms: “How do you get writing done with your kids at home?” Or “How do you work and homeschool at the same time?” Or just “How do you find the time?”

Whether your work is writing, freelancing, or something entirely different, the answer to “how do you get it all done?” is the same:

I don’t.

There is only so much time in the day. Instead of beating yourself up, try to focus on the freeing part: you can’t do everything, so it’s ok when you don’t.

You have to make choices and prioritize so you get the most important things done. Then let go of the rest.

One priority I strongly encourage right now: mental and physical well-being. That goes for both you and your kids.

What To Expect

In a bit, I’ll talk about how to make the most of your time – but how much time can you get? How long can they really take care of themselves while you work?

Nothing stresses you (or your kids) out like setting expectations that are impossible. And no one needs extra stress right now.

What to Expect From your kids

What to expect from your kids depends on:

  • age: younger kids will need more help and more supervision
  • development and neurological wiring: kids don’t develop at the same rate, and if they have a developmental delay or neuro-atypical brain wiring they will need more help and supervision
  • stress level: Kids are feeling the stress too. But instead of binging on junk food while mindlessly scrolling through social media, kids will have more crankiness, clinginess, meltdowns, and behavior issues.

What to Expect For Yourself

What to expect from yourself:

  • Less than the normal: these are not normal times. You don’t normally have pint-sized coworkers interrupting you by singing Baby Shark at top volume. Productivity will go down and that’s ok.
  • Imperfection: You can’t do two jobs as well as you would do one alone. You wouldn’t expect to do brain surgery while playing a violin solo, why should your normal job and childcare/homeschool be any different?
  • Your kids will still love you, imperfections and all. (They already do!) Your boss doesn’t have to love you, but it might be worth assessing what tasks are critical and what can wait.

5 Tips to Maximize Your Time

Kids will still need you and work interruptions will happen. Stress is inevitable.

These tips will help you make the most of this time, so you can get (enough) work done and keep everyone’s sanity intact.

5 Tips for Working from Home with Kids infographic summary
Click the image for full-size infographic

TIP 1: Meet Your Kids Needs First

Ever notice how when you’re the busiest, they get clingier?

Kids with unmet physical or emotional needs get will try to get those needs met. They live in the right-now and “five more minutes” can feel like an eternity when they’re scared, hungry, sad, or tired.

So meet their needs before you try to get your work done. Filling those needs and keeping them filled will let your day go much more smoothly.

Ideas for filling emotional needs:

  • Give them your full attention and cuddles before work.
  • Stay connected throughout the day by including them when you can. let littles sit in your lap or set up a work station next to yours so they can “work” on coloring or building with blocks. Older kids doing online school can sit nearby and share your bowl of stress snacks.
  • Take breaks and be fully present with your kids. it’s tempting to try and squeeze in another email over lunch, but giving your kids your full attention then will make it easier for them to let you work later.

Ideas for filling physical needs:

  • Kids need physical activity! Kids who don’t expend energy will misbehave more. So make sure they have a chance to move. Go for a walk and look for signs of spring (maintain social distance), get them on wheels (bike, skates, scooter), have a dance party, do a yoga or dance video on Youtube.
  • Anticipate needs, so they aren’t pushed to the edge. Set meal times so they eat before they get angry. Connect with them before they hit their emotional breaking point.
  • Prep before you work. You can eliminate a lot of interruptions if you make sure all their needs are met before you start work or go into that important conference call. Feed them meals, run off some energy, get some connection time in, get them started on an activity, and help your toddler go potty.

TIP 2: Increase Your Kids’ independence

Giving kids the ability to meet their own physical needs is another way to make sure those needs are met.

Babies are helpless. Toddlers are somehow even more work. But once kids are about preschool age, they can begin to take care of some of their needs, some of the time.

Early in my parenting journey, I was inspired by the Montessori concept of enabling kids to be independent by teaching them the skills and creating an environment that lets them safely take care of their own needs.

Independent kids don’t always make the same choices you would – but if ever there was a time for your preschooler to wear 3 pairs of pants at the same time, this is it. While they are living their #bestlife, you can get through one more email.

Ideas to foster independence in younger kids

Learning new skills takes time, so your younger child won’t learn these skills overnight. Most toddlers can begin learning these skills, but it will take them longer to master.

Note that they may not always want to do things on their own. Especially if they need more emotional connection, they may demand you do a task for them in order to get time with you and meet that emotional need. Some days you just have to roll with it.

  • Make a Self-serve snack station. Pre-make snacks and drinks and placing them in a place they can reach safely. Prepping a week’s worth of snacks at once is a time saver!
  • Put things within reach (and hide things they shouldn’t have). Make sure they can use the bathroom by themselves, reach their toys, and anything else they commonly need. Prevent problems by hiding things they shouldn’t have (like the kid-sized bagpipes and the permanent markers).

Ideas to Foster Independence in Older Kids

Older kids can learn some age-appropriate independence more quickly! (Willingness, sadly, does not always increase with age.)

  • Let them feed themselves. Most kids can safely make a bowl of cereal, toast, and assemble sandwiches with peanut butter or lunch meat. If not, now is an excellent time to learn these life skills.
  • Make checklists of tasks they need to do. This saves you from being their reminder for the usual list of morning/evening routines. That goes doubly on new routines you may put in place (like homeschooling). Post it somewhere they will see like the bathroom or the kitchen fridge. Consider offering a reward for completing the list so they have motivation.

TIP 3: Routines And Rules Save Time

Kids do better with routines: they’re less stressed and more secure – something they probably need doubly right now. (Don’t we all?) But also: lack of structure leads to problematic behavior.

Let me give you an example.

Last week was spring break here, which in our house means we toss out most of our routines and enjoy the freedom of wide-open days. It’s usually great for about five days.

By day five the kids were complaining about boredom every three minutes and breaking out into arguments. On day seven my seven-year-old woke up five times before my alarm to ask if she could play on the tablet.

And then when I tried to take a nap later:


I was not happy.

This week we have eased back into a routine (with a lot of grace for incompleteness because of the pandemic). The nagging immediately dropped, they’re saying “I’m bored” approximately a 1000 times less a day, and arguments between the kids have dropped back to normal levels.

So much better.

Having rules and routines can also be a big time-saver. Every time they interrupt to ask “can I…?” or tell you “I’m bored” it breaks your focus, takes you a minute to make a decision (weighing how much whining you’ll have to deal with if you say “no”), then after making a decision, you’ll have to deal with any fallout like whining and arguing.

So take note of these interruptions. What rules or routines can you make to eliminate them? For instance, we normally have a rule that on weekdays, screentime is limited to certain times of the day – once we went back to that routine, I haven’t been woken up even once.

But also…

TIP 4: Make an “I’m bored” list

Meeting your kids’ emotional needs does not mean it’s your job to occupy them every minute of the day.

Work with your child to make a list of things they can do independently. Make it things they want to do, so they’ll be tempted by the list and find something to do. For children who aren’t reading, draw pictures or make a photo collage. Post the list somewhere they can see it.

The next time they say “I’m bored,” direct them to their list. Hopefully, they’ll learn to reference the list on their own for ideas. If not, it’s still faster to tell them “look at your list” rather than stop your work and scrape your brain for ideas.

But when all else fails….

Tip 5: Use Screentime Strategically

Screentime is a godsend for most parents.

But it has its downsides. Kids may be blessedly still and quiet while attached to screens, but prolonged screentime often leads to meltdowns when it’s over.

Each family needs to weigh the pros/cons and decide on how much screentime makes sense for them. All I will say is:

Ahem.

Whatever you decide, make sure to use that screentime wisely. Since kids are occupied and out of trouble, it makes a perfect time for you to get focused work done.

Align their screentime with your most important meetings and work time so you will be distraction-free. But be aware that the more screentime they get, the harder they will crash afterwards.

So what’s keeping you sane today?

What’s working for you? One thing that’s getting me through the day: the amount of online support and connection I’m experiencing right now.



P.S. Most of this blog post was written on the couch with one child in a zoom class meeting on my right and another on my left doing an online math program. And then some more was written while they played videogames after dinner.

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