Working from home with kids? Guilt-free tips

It’s not you — working from home with kids is virtually impossible. But sometimes it can’t be avoided, which is when you need all the support and encouragement you can get. 

Former teacher Kristen Dias has been working from home since her daughter was born. Over the years, Kristen has questioned her sanity, grappled with guilt, and settled on some simple strategies for getting work done when her kids are around. Here’s what works for her.

There are a lot of hours in a day

The kids aren’t awake for ALL of them (well, most kids aren’t). I get up very early, about 5.30am, which gives me a couple of hours of uninterrupted work time. (Don’t overdo this: if you’re exhausted, sleep till a normal hour). I then do another couple of hours after the kids go to bed (on the days I can keep my eyes open and am not snoring on the sofa by 9pm). I also do this on the weekend, and get in a few hours while the kids are playing, or I ask my partner to entertain them so I can get some work done.  

Work while the kids are playing independently

Once I’ve set my daughter up with an activity, I can usually work on my computer near her and just be available if she needs me to help occasionally. I am armed with a variety of simple mess-free activities she can work through, like activity sheets and coloring pages, a wad of Play-Doh, and a jigsaw. It doesn’t have to be Insta-worthy!

There are many activities kids can do independently without your interaction but they often like to have you nearby. (As I type this in the garden, my daughter is playing on the swingset.)

Set up a snack station so kids can help themselves

If you have very young kids, you can set up a ‘snack station’ on a low table that they can reach. I’ve done this since my kids were one year old. I set it up with a variety of things they like, such as ,veggies, cheese, sultanas, crackers and fresh fruit. I also put their water bottle on the table. I take them to the table and show them what’s there for them to eat. As the kids get older, I’ve taught them to be more independent by getting the snacks they like from the fridge or cupboard directly. You need to make sure the snacks you want them to access are on a low shelf (a good idea to keep ‘sometimes snacks’ out of view). I take a break for lunch and we all sit down together to eat, but if they just want snacks throughout the day, mostly they help themselves.  

Be flexible about where you work 

There are many places you can work if you have a laptop and headphones, or even just your phone with email and video chat. I make work calls in the car while I’m driving the kids around. Work at the park or a play center while they play. Working is not limited to your workstation at home.

Make a deal with your kids if you need to do some really important work uninterrupted

Depending on the ages of your kids, you can just be really open with them and tell them you need to be on a call and they can’t interrupt you for a set amount of time. I wouldn’t recommend doing this too often. But if I set my kids up with a movie and snacks and ask if they think they’ll be able to let me work quietly for a while, they are pretty cooperative. The two-year-old asks the five-year-old for help. I also tell the five-year-old we can do something together when the toddler naps if she helps me out now. You can also resort to rewarding them with stickers or an activity they really like later in the day.  

With older kids, a fun do not disturb sign on the door to your workspace can send a signal that you need some uninterrupted time. It might take a few attempts before they cooperate, but stick with it and they might just surprise you!

Drop the guilt about screen time!

I do let my kids have screen time because they really like it and it keeps them engaged while I get work done. There are lots of educational apps on the iPad that support kids’ reading, math, and coding.

My kids watch TV together, and get moving with programs like Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. At the end of the day I might join in too!

Know when your kids need you and be present

You may be reading this thinking, gee, does this parent interact with her kids at all? I’m not necessarily highly emotionally intelligent, but I do try to keep in tune with what my kids need. Luckily they’re not exactly subtle when they need me. My son will slide between me and my computer screen and say I want to sit on your lap, or I want to cuddle you. When he does that I know that’s it for work for the moment and I just need to put the computer down and be present with him. My daughter will get exasperated at times and say, “Mama you’re not looking!”, so I try to understand that she really needs me then, and stop working for a while.  

Do you need entertainment and education at home for your child? 

As I was a teacher, I have created activities, writing worksheets, science experiments, letter practice, games and more for my daughter to work on. I’ve created 30 days of free activities, ready to be sent to your email inbox each day. If you’d like to join me, click here

Written by Kristen Dias. Kristen is a mother, teacher, former expat (she taught in India for six years), corporate education professional and founder of Travel Karma, providing travel activity kits for kids.

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