Now that I have a five-year-old and an eight-year-old in elementary school, it is more challenging for me to get work done when they are home compared to when they were babies. The biggest difference: they require constant engagement. They talk nonstop, ask questions nonstop… and oddly enough expect a similar level of conversation in return.
While I limit the work that I do in their presence (you know, so I can be that “fully engaged mom” that we are always guilted into thinking we’re not), let’s be honest: running a business from home requires work to be done when the kids are home. Yes, you can and should hire a sitter, send your kids to camp, and/or arrange playdates for them at other people’s houses when possible. But let’s put those options aside for the sake of this post and just focus on what you can do to stay sane, get work done, and have happy, active kids while working from home.
Top Tips for Working From Home With Young (Elementary School Age) Kids
1. Plan, plan, plan. Create a schedule for the day. I am in the middle of planning our Spring Break schedule for next week and also in the early stages of already planning daily schedules for our summer break three months from now. Schedules are everyone’s friends: kids are less prone to have meltdowns and you are more likely to be mentally ready for the quick transitions these days require if you plan down to the minute. Now, will everything go according to planned? Of course not. But having the day scheduled out ahead of time — and communicating the schedule in advance with your child(ren) — makes a world of difference. Post the schedule on your refrigerator or the family calendar. Include items like conference calls, writing time, meeting time, play time, out-of-the-house activities, mealtimes, clean-up times, and so on.
2. Get up earlier than your kids or stay up and work later. You do this anyway, right? When my kids are home during everyone else’s traditional work hours, we have a lot of together time during the day, and this means I have to plan for work when they’re asleep, or I’ll carve out more time over the weekend when my husband is home. Just knowing I have time mentally set aside in a few hours allows me to relax a little more and be more present during the times I’ve scheduled to be focused on my children.
3. Prep your clients. If you are in a business that is family-friendly, and you have chosen to accept clients that appreciate your focus on work/life balance, then prep your clients in advance of any schedule changes or potential conflicts with regular meetings that may occur. For instance, I clearly outline when my kids are on Spring, Summer, and Winter Breaks and work out alternate timetables with each client. Let your clients know that you will absolutely get the job done, but you may need to reschedule your regular in-person weekly meeting to a conference call instead, or that you won’t be able to travel during those dates but you can travel the weeks following. I find when I am upfront with my clients, they appreciate it. It also helps me focus on work when I need to, and on my kids when we have our time together.
4. Plan for interactive crafts they can do independently. What did we do before Pinterest? There are so many crafts that kids can do on their own, and I am a firm believer in giving kids independent activity time. My daughter loves to paint, so she’ll have independent painting time. My son loves building Legos, so he will have independent Lego build time. During this time, they know mommy is also focused on an independent activity: work. It helps to lay the ground rules before the activities begin: explain or list out the snacks they can and cannot have during this time, as well as activities they are allowed to do and not to do. Then at the end of those designated times, remember to circle back and talk about their creations.
5. Maximize meal times. Set aside enough time for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Turn off the phone and step away from the computer during meal times. Make eye contact with your kids. I’m a huge believer in making meal times count. This is when you get the full download: “what do you want to do later today? Tell me about your morning book/activity?” It is also a great time to review what’s to come in the schedule.
6. Take breaks when the whining starts. There will be times when, despite your best intentions and planning, your kids will not be able to NOT bug you. When you can, stop what you are doing, get up, and spend a few focused minutes with your kids. Give them the attention they need to let them know you are there for them, and ease them into resuming their independent activity. Sometimes the whining is a good indication that they’ve had enough independent activity time, too, so listen to their cues and if you have to, move around the schedule and have some quality time now versus later.
7. Set aside busy work to be done later. Entrepreneurs have many busy work tasks that can be set aside and completed after hours. With emails, consider downloading the Boomerang app for gmail, which allows you to have emails pop up again at a time that is more convenient for you. You can also star or set aside personal emails and other emails that you can respond to quickly in a folder (mine is labeled “Get Back To”) and set those aside to get back to later. Filing, paying bills, pulling reports, organizing digital documents, updating web content and scheduling social media posts are all tasks that sometimes can be put off and tackled outside of the times when your children are home & awake.
8. Save screen time or quiet reading time for your conference call times. When you have to make calls, this is a great time to set the kids up with activities that you know will take a while longer, such as their quiet reading time or movie time. Side note: I will sometimes stock up on DVDs that I know the kids would love but I won’t tell them I got the movies, rather I’ll save them for these times. It makes these movie times an extra special treat for them!
9. Get out of the house. Kids totally whining and riled up? You’ve tried everything you can think of but nothing is working? Pack up the laptop or tablet, pack up the kids, and get out of the house. I actually try to schedule at least two outside activities each day to help break up our days and keep the kids from getting bored. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Ride bikes around the block. Go for an unplanned trip to the library. Go to the park and let them run off some energy if you don’t already have that planned in the day. Kids get tired of being cooped up (heck, I do too!), and you can all return to the house recharged and refreshed, ready to begin again.
10. Enlist the help of your kids when possible. I have found there are almost always some business tasks that elementary school age kids can help with. My daughter likes to help put stamps on envelopes and count out papers that need to be sorted. She also likes to read my mail out loud. Is it necessary for her to do so? No, but it makes her happy, keeps her busy, and helps her work on her reading skills at the same time. My son likes to help me with ideas during the design process as well as help me organize papers. They both like to help shred paper (supervised, of course). They also like to ask me a lot of questions about what I am working on, so when I can, I will use those as teaching moments while also getting work done.
11. Go with the flow. What people who don’t work from home with kids don’t realize, is that often the most exhausting part of my day is simply the act of being interrupted a zillion times & having to start over (which sucks up another 30 minutes of the day); having to creatively come up with new ideas and solutions constantly; and being able to let go of plans A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and sometimes Plan H, and move on to Plan I. If this is your life, you know: this is no exaggeration. Working from home with kids is exhausting even only in the simple act of planning. You are forced to learn how to go with the flow which, I think, also helps make you a better parent.
Finally, let go of the guilt & stop trying to do things the way you think other people think you should. People who don’t work from home, even if they are entrepreneurs, may read some of this post and think “what a delinquent mother! Leaving her kids on their own to do their own activities! Such neglect!”
Our young children do not need us to be hovering over them every second of every day, watching and participating in their every single activity. They need space. They need room to freely explore and learn how to problem solve on their own, learn how to manage their time, and simply how to be kids so that they have a solid foundation on which they can learn how to be responsible, independent, caring, proactive adults.
You are a great mom, a great dad, and a great entrepreneur. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. These tips may or may not work for you, and that’s okay. They are merely here to help provide a starting point for you to find your own groove with your kids. And when you do, I would love for you to post a comment and share what works for you when you have to work with school-age children at home.