Stay Chill While Working from Home with Young Children

(Published on 02/2020)

Many parents need to work from home recently. Are you one of them? How do we deal with the round-the-clock demands from workplace and being parents? Here are some suggestions for coping with the challenges when you are working from home with your kids.

Mental Preparation

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind? "I can take better care of my kids when I am working from home", "I can concentrate on my work when my child is getting engaged in prearranged activities; I can then play with her freely after work." In fact, work demands often remain wherever you work from, and you will inevitably be distracted by children around. Working from home does not mean that you could simultaneously take care of work, child care, or other household duties. Before working from home, examine if you have such idealistic beliefs to avoid being distressed by these thoughts.

When you have to shut your children out in face of a pressing deadline at work, or struggle to focus because of your children's constant crying and interruptions, try to accept that we all have our limitations. Instead of striving to be perfect, set realistic expectations and try to achieve them step-by-step; take a short break to de-stress after achieving a small goal. Appreciate your efforts, be positive and compassionate towards yourselves, and try to view pressures as a source of motivation.

Plan Ahead but Stay Flexible

Before working from home, discuss with your employers or work partners to clarify the working hours (fixed or flexible), work requirements and arrangements which can be handled flexibly. You may also indicate your limitations and needs; for example, you prefer having conference calls after lunch, or there are certain periods that you cannot respond immediately. This helps you to make prior arrangements with your partner and family members on work, childcare, and other housework activities.

Before you start working, review your to-do list – which items are more mentally demanding? Which items are possible to handle amid interruptions? You may want to complete the former when your children are sleeping, while the latter can be saved for a time with some distractions (e.g. when dinner is being prepared and children are not closely supervised by others). Keep at hand things that you may need while working, such as water, coffee or snacks, to avoid coming in and out of your home office frequently; you may also need headphones when your little ones cannot keep their noise down. At the same time, be flexible and prepared to re-prioritise or change your plans, which will help you cope with any unexpected work or home situations.

Setting Limits for Children

Try to establish a clear working space. If you cannot work inside a specific room, at least work at a fixed location. Tell your children about the arrangements and rules before you work from home, aided by visual cues when needed. For example, you may post a stop sign on your door and tell your children, "When you see this sign on the door, that means I am working in the room; you can't come in or disturb me." It is best if you could close or even lock the door to minimise disturbances; else, you may keep your children out with a safety gate. For older children, you can post these rules together with your family's schedule on a door or refrigerator, in the format of pictures or texts, so your children could grasp them at a glance.

When you set limits with your children, you and other caregivers should also decide ahead on how to handle when they could not follow the rules. For infants and toddlers, you may need to soothe them first before distracting or taking them away from the scene. For pre-schoolers, there should be consequences that were agreed beforehand. At the same time, when the children could follow adults' instructions, praise them immediately to encourage continuous cooperation.

Keeping Children Engaged

When children are bored, they inevitably long for parental company. You can set a routine and arrange appropriate activities for your children, and ask the caregivers to follow to prevent the children from becoming idle and disruptive. Save special activities and favourite toys for the time when you are at work to keep your children interested, thus less likely to interrupt. For older children, you can also assign a "task list" with several activities set according to their abilities, such as colour-sorting pompoms, beads, or blocks; tearing off used papers for you; cleaning toys with wet cloth; and filling in a colouring page, etc. You can cultivate your children's ability to work independently in the process. Praise and reward them if they can complete the tasks on the list within an agreed period of time.

Your Children Need Your Company

Do not forget to get off work or overlook your needs and that of your family when you are working from home. Try to set aside some time daily for parent-child activities, during which you give your children your full attention. By doing so even just for 10 to 15 minutes, your children could feel that your love has not been changed by your work, fostering your parent-child relationship at the same time.