Working From Home With a Toddler

toddler girl playing with wooden toys

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Working from home with a toddler may seem like a nonstarter. Toddlers are typically busy pulling everything out of your cabinets, busy undoing all your safety locks, and busy talking up a storm when you need quiet. In short, they are busy keeping you busy.

So if you're a work-at-home parent with a toddler or two-year-old, recognize that you'll likely need some child care. How much and what kind will depend on your job and your child's activity level. That said, many parents of toddlers can be productive with children nearby. You just have to accept that you can only work in short bursts—a bit like a toddler.

How to Work From Home With a Toddler in Tow

Helping kids learn to entertain themselves with independent play activities benefits both parents and children. Finding your own fun is a life skill that will serve them into adulthood. In older kids, this means coming up with their own ideas for activities, preparing for their own fun and cleaning up afterward.

For younger children, that is too tall an order. (Even in older kids, how much parents must get involved varies depending on age.) However, toddlerhood is the time to sow the seeds of independent play.

Create a Safe, Stimulating Space

Taking the time to create a secure space for your toddler is the first step on your toddler’s road to independent play. If the area is not safe, then a parent must hover. And if a parent is hovering, the child will expect attention.

This is not to say that you should simply plop your child into the safety of a play yard and go to work. The safe area has to be stimulating as well. If you have a laptop, you can work where your child’s safe zone is. If not, you will have to create a safe area in your home office by childproofing your office and rotating a stash of toys in the home office.

Also, have everything you need nearby—diaper changing supplies, snacks, maybe an extra set of clothes. The less time spent looking for what you need, the more time to accomplish your goals.

Work Within the Rhythm of a Toddler’s Day

Toddlers have short attention spans, and they get tired easily. On a typical day, toddlers go from one activity or toy to the next, eat, and nap. After nap time, it starts all over again. The key is to know your child’s routine and plan accordingly.

Though life is always changing with little ones, in general, you’ll want to think about:

  • How long a particular activity will entertain your child so you can have the next one ready
  • How long your child can play alone happily
  • What makes your child transition peacefully into nap time and versus what makes for a fussy send-off
  • When your child usually gets hungry and how their behavior indicates hunger

While your child is awake, plan to tackle tasks that can be easily interrupted. Save conference calls or work that takes a lot of concentration for when you have childcare or when your child is napping. But remember that toddlers' schedules will change, so be prepared to be flexible.

Communicate With Management

When working with a child at home, it's important to keep the lines of communication open with your work supervisor. Children can certainly be unpredictable, so to ensure you and management are on the same page, it is helpful to remain transparent about your situation.

Research shows that effective communication leads to more productivity in the workplace, and that applies to working from home! The more open you are about needs and expectations, the smoother your work days will be.

Take Short Breaks

Work can be stressful enough without a toddler, so it's important to allow time for yourself to regroup. Even a 10-minute "micro-break" can help boost well-being and reduce fatigue.

Grab a cup of coffee, read a book with your little one, or catch some fresh air on the porch—whatever you need to briefly clear your head before getting back to work. Your child will appreciate the break as much as you do.

Stick to a Routine

This may be easier said than done, but creating a daily routine for you and your toddler can make all the difference. Children thrive in an environment that offers structure and routine, and they are less likely to struggle with time management or attention problems as adults.

Try creating a daily schedule for your work day. Whether you eat breakfast together at the same time or take consistent breaks, a routine can help you both anticipate the day and gives your little one some things to look forward to.

A Word From Verywell

Working from home with a toddler isn't always easy, but it's completely doable! By creating a safe play area, syncing with your child's rhythm, communicating with your supervisor, and taking some much-needed breaks, you can both make the most out of working from home.

Lastly, remember to keep an open mind! Some days will be harder than others, but as long as you are able to adapt, you’ll be just as successful as those working from an office.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Albulescu P, Macsinga I, Rusu A, Sulea C, Bodnaru A, Tulbore BT. "Give me a break!" A systematic review and meta-analysis on the efficacy of micro-breaks for increasing well-being and performance. PLoS One. 2022;17(8):e0272460. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0272460

  3. Malatras K, Israel A, Sokolowski K, Ryan J. First things first: Family activities and routines, time management and attention. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2016; (47):23-29. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2016.09.006

By Laureen Miles Brunelli
Laureen Miles Brunelli is an experienced online writer and editor, specializing in content for parents who work at home.