How to Work From Home While Caring for Your Child

Working from home with your child takes a little creativity.
Ronno Kaufman / Laurry Hirshowitz / Blend Images / Getty Images

As the number of freelancers and independent contractors in the United States grow (estimated to be around 65 million by the year 2020), so do the number of people working from home. Add in those who work from home to save on commuting, because of a snow day or simply because they want to, and that number goes up even further.

But when you have a child at home—no matter what their age—it can be difficult to actually get any work done. In fact, it’s so hard that federal government requires employees who telework to sign a contract stating that they won’t be the primary caregiver for a child when working at home.

If you don’t have a choice, though, you need to take measures to manage your little one’s behavior so you can juggle parenting and work.

Talk About Expectations

If you have a toddler, there’s pretty much no rationalizing with them. You’ll have to manage your expectations.

For older children, though, sit them down at the beginning of the day (or week or month), and talk about how the day will be structured. Mommy has to work for two hours undisturbed, you might say. And then we’ll have lunch and go to the park. When we come home, mommy has to work again until dinnertime. Only interrupt me if it’s an emergency. I expect you to play by yourself (or with a sibling) while I’m working.

Plan Ahead

If you know that you’ll be working from home with children only sporadically, create fun opportunities for your children on those days. You might arrange a playdate (bonus: If you can arrange it to happen at someone else’s house, then the kids will be out of your hair!) or designate one morning as a special movie marathon, complete with breakfast in front of the TV.

However, you can also take advantage of this helpful idea: a boredom bowl. Write time-consuming activities on a slip of paper, and challenge your little ones to pick a slip from the bowl whenever they complain that they’re “bored.” Ideas include:

  • Build the tallest Lego or block tower possible
  • Choose one chore off the weekly chore chart to complete in advance
  • Challenge your sibling/friend to a game of War or Go Fish
  • Read two chapters of a chapter book
  • Write a letter to Grandma or a cousin
  • Color a picture to hang near mommy’s desk
  • Create a puppet out of a sock or paper bag
  • Write a short story to read out loud at dinner

Co-Work (Within Reason)

Sometimes, a child only wants you to be near and not necessarily interacting with him constantly. If that’s the case, set your little one up with an activity table in your home office.

While you’re catching up on emails and proofreading reports, your child can draw pictures or read books near you. As your child grows up, you might be able to shuffle some tasks to him to help you out, such as filing papers or organizing a desk.

Go Somewhere

In an age of telecommuting, who says you actually have to be working from home? If you have a mobile hotspot (or a location in mind with free wifi access), take the kids to the park, the library to attend story time and browse the books or the community pool.

Just be sure to keep an eye on your little ones as you’re working—or make that fun outing a trip to Grandma’s house for a couple of hours.

When it comes down to it, working from home with kids around requires flexibility; you have to not only manage their behavior but also your own expectations. Instead of coffee or chit-chat breaks, you’ll need to take kid breaks to spend 30 minutes playing with your little ones.

But if you need extra help, there’s no shame in hiring a babysitter for a couple hours or asking a grandparent to stop by to watch the kids. Sometimes, you just need a little quiet time to get your work finished.

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