A Practical Guide for Working from Home with Toddlers
Working from home with toddlers means that many traditional work beliefs and systems have to go out the window, such as working straight from nine to five. You need to be prepared, patient, flexible, and ready to embrace the ups and downs as they come along. You’ll get to spend more time with the little ones, but not always when and how much you think it will be.
If you’re planning on working from home like this, then the most important part is the “planning”, sprinkled with acceptance. Having a plan and a schedule will be a great help, but knowing and accepting that things probably won’t go according to plan will make this a whole lot easier to navigate.
It is possible to get enough work done when you have toddlers running around, so let’s take a look at if this is something that you need to do.
Who Needs to Know How to Work from Home with Toddlers?
If your children are between one and three years old, you have toddlers. These can be wonderful developmental years for your children, but are oftentimes challenging years for parents, especially when working from home.
You see, toddlers start climbing and can’t be left alone to amuse themselves in a playpen without supervision. They also like to throw tantrums and test how much they can get away with, hence the nickname “the terrible twos”.
You need to know how to work from home with toddlers if you:
• Have to stay home to look after a sick toddler during work hours
• Have toddlers with you during the day and no child-care help
• Have to stay home to look after toddlers because daycare was cancelled or your area is in lockdown and there are social distancing rules in place
• Live in an area where there are snow days, and you have to work from home when this happens
• Work as a freelancer from home
• Run a business or a blog from home
• Have a full-time or part-time job that you carry out from your house
If working from home with toddlers is new to you, you may be feeling overwhelmed and frustrated while figuring this out. These feelings are completely normal: All the parents you see doing this are probably struggling just as much as you are, maybe even more.
There are many things you can do to make this transition easier for you and your toddlers. Here are my top tips on how to make working from home with toddlers more successful …
How Do You Work from Home with Toddlers?
If you are working from home with toddlers, it’s important to set a schedule and communicate with the children about how things need to run at home. You’re more likely to get what you ask for if you set clear expectations and make them consistent, so the toddlers know what is expected of them.
Explain to your toddlers that you need quiet time to work, and ask them to help by giving you space when you need it. Also let them know that once your work is done, you can spend quality time with them, so everyone wins.
Then do what you say.
There are many things you can do to make it easier to work from home with toddlers in the house, such as:
Get Up Very Early
Start by getting up early, with the sunrise or before. Your toddlers will be fast asleep, and you’ll have quiet time to fit in some uninterrupted work.
Each night, make a to-do list of the tasks that must be done the following day, and do the most important and urgent tasks first thing in the morning.
Challenge yourself to get an hour or two of solid, productive work done and tick off as many items on your to-do list as possible each morning.
Get Dressed for Work to Get into a Working Mindset
What you wear has a big influence on how you feel. Staying in your pajamas all day won’t make you feel like working, but they will make you feel like watching TV and eating popcorn with the toddlers when you should be working.
Each morning, get up and get dressed for work. Your outfit needs to be smart enough that you can answer an impromptu video call from a colleague without hesitation.
And don’t stop there – make sure your hair is brushed and tidy, and your face and teeth are clean.
Being dressed for work will put you into the right frame of mind to get things done that day.
Give Your Toddler Undivided Attention
When working from home with a toddler, accept that there will be time for working and time for toddlers. When you work, go all out and get the job done. But when you’re with your toddler, really be with your child.
Help your toddler make a STOP sign that you can stick on your office door. Explain that you don’t want to be disturbed when the sign is up, and that it’s your special time together when the sign is down.
Set 15- or 30-minute breaks throughout the day to spend with your toddler. When one of these break times starts, put your computer to sleep, close the office door and remove the stop sign, and focus all your attention on your toddler.
Make this play time, talk time, or cuddle time. Your toddler will let you know what they need most from you that day and you are making the time to give it to them.
Utilize Nap Time for Dedicated Work
Toddlers are busy bodies that are growing and developing at a rapid rate, so they need periods of rest during the day.
It’s very healthy for a toddler to sleep for two to three hours in the afternoon, and perhaps take short naps during the day after a good play.
This is a wonderful opportunity for you to catch up on some work, so take full advantage of every single nap. Do bigger work assignments during long naps and smaller tasks during short naps.
The idea of having a dedicated 2-hour work session aligns well to Deep Work, which we discussed in our post on productivity tips while working from home.
If your toddler is sleeping, make sure you are working.
Trade Babysitting Services with Another Parent for a Few Hours
If you are trying to work from home with a toddler, there’s a good chance that you know other parents who are trying to do the same thing. This is a good time to work with these parents and help each other out.
Essentially you will be trying to setup a babysitting co-op with your friends and neighbors.
Speak to them and suggest that you each take turns babysitting. You could set up a roster so you know how many hours each week you will be responsible for childcare and when you can rely on having someone responsible look after your children.
There are two big bonuses to this strategy:
1. Your toddlers get to socialize with other toddlers
2. It’s 100% free, so it won’t cost you a thing
Allow for More TV Time
Giving your toddlers more time in front of the TV can be a simple solution to a challenging problem, especially when you have a deadline looming or you need to hop onto a meeting and need the house quiet.
Give a little more leeway to TV time when your work schedule is hectic, setting a time limit on what you think is acceptable and just letting your toddler enjoy the show, which could be children’s cartoons, educational episodes, or an age-appropriate movie.
Don’t feel guilty for taking the easy route out once in a while. Just know when to cut off screen time and make the most of the time you get to work whenever you can.
Praise and Reward Good Behavior
When your toddler behaves well and gives you time to work, reinforce this good behavior with lots of praise and rewards such as quality time with you. Praise and approval are very important to a toddler, and dishing this out will make your toddler feel on top of the world (and more likely to give you time to work again tomorrow).
Set a timer for thirty minutes and ask your toddler not to approach you until the buzzer goes off. If your toddler does this, praise them and give them love.
If praise and rewards don’t work and you absolutely need quiet time, then you can try a strategy that many parents use but don’t always tell you about – bribery. Tell your toddler they will get something if they do something for you first…
Have a Zoom call to attend and your toddler is particularly boisterous today? Try offering your child a prize or a toy for keeping quiet throughout the meeting.
Just remember that toddlers work best with half hour time slots or less. It can be reasonable to expect a toddler to keep themselves busy for thirty minutes, but anything more than that might be asking too much for children of this age.
Set up the Play Area Near Your Home Office
Toddlers need to be monitored because you never know what they might get up to. Set up a play area near your home office desk, where you can see or at least hear your toddler playing while you work.
If you don’t have a safe area for a play room, gate off a section in your home office with a pressure gate.
Toddlers should be able to play independently for short periods of time, and they need to learn how to function without constant attention. This works in your favor when you’re working from home.
All you need to do is make sure your toddler has toys to play with. Get all your toddler’s toys together in one place, then divide these toys up into boxes. Each day, give your toddler a different box of toys to play with for the day. This rotation system means your toddler gets “new” toys to play with daily, so they are never bored from playing with the same toys over and over again.
Maintain Reasonable Expectations
When working from home with toddlers, it’s important to be reasonable with what you expect to get done each day and what you expect from your toddlers.
Take the time to explain your situation to your colleagues, who might even be in the same boat as you. Being open about this will make them more likely to be flexible on deadlines and understand why you are sending reports in the middle of the night or why they can hear shouting in the background when they call you.
Be kind to yourself, even if you can only get five or six hours of work done each day between all the interruptions. And be kind to your toddler, who is doing the best they can in a work world they don’t really understand or care about.
Celebrate the small wins and make a point of appreciating the time you get to spend with your toddler each day.
Working from home with toddlers has its challenges, but good planning and focus are the best ways to fit in the most productive work in small increments throughout the day.
Be sure to ask for help if you need it, and keep realistic expectations of what you can get done in a day while playing the roles of working professional and parent at the same time.