If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that lets you work from home during the coronavirus quarantine, you may be one of the many Americans who is working from home and caring for children at the same time.
I’m not qualified to give parenting advice myself, but much of the InHerSight team is. Sixty percent are parents, and they’re working from home with kids right now.
So I asked: How are you doing it?
Talk about the changes with your kids
“Change can be exciting for kids but it can also cause new behaviors to arise that hinder a productive work environment,” says my coworker Steve, who’s at home right now with his five children. “[We’re] helping our kids adapt to the change quickly through communicating clear expectations. Embrace the benefits that the change brings. Talk to your kids about the fun things they now get to do, but also the things required for them to enjoy those benefits.”
Steve and his wife are also talking to their kids about the good stuff too, celebrating the times the kids are doing well instead of focusing only on correcting behavior that interrupts productivity.
Be realistic about what success means
Be realistic about success when it comes to your kids and yourself.
Kids have short attention spans. It’s just not possible for kids to stay still and quiet all day, but it may be possible to achieve this for one- to two-hour stretches (depending on the age of the kids, of course). Kids also don’t understand that parents need solitude focus, and for longer amounts of time.
Working with children at home means your schedule will change, a lot. It may mean that you work only in very short time blocks (this is the perfect time for the pomodoro technique), or take shifts with your partner or other family member, or start adopting very strange work hours. There’s no single way to do it—what’s right is what works for you.
Being realistic also extends to how “enriching” this experience will be. My coworker Jenn, who has two young sons, is, in her words, not trying to win any awards: “Neither my husband nor I are trained educators, but we see a need for structure and learning. It's pretty overwhelming to know where to start, having kids at two different ages at different learning stages, but we're just trying to get something practical in place and not trying to win teacher of the year awards here.” After all, “nothing blows up a great 'plan for the day' like sibling rivalry and the dynamics of kids being home, bored, and fighting with each other.”
Give them structure
Sit down with your kids and make a schedule for them to follow. For my 6-year-old niece, this looks like getting dressed, brushing her teeth, making breakfast, and reading on her own in the mornings so her parents can start work.
This structure can give your kids some semblance of normalcy, and if your kids are old enough, it can give you time to handle work or household responsibilities.
Jenn is working with loose structure: “We see a need for structure and learning, so we spent some time this weekend trying to think through how to loosely organize the day, give them content, resources, activities, and structure, which they crave, but also some free time, which we need to get some work done while they play independently.”
Get on the same page with your partner
If you have a partner or spouse at home right now, you have to work together on this. Communicate often about how you will share responsibilities. Consider making a shared Google Calendar with all of your work meetings so you can create a child care schedule that works for everyone. And be flexible—what works this week may not work the next.
Take advantage of free educational resources
There are plenty of free, fun, and educational resources to keep your kiddos occupied right now. Scholastic has made available for free their Learn at Home materials—20 days’ worth of learning and thinking activities for pre-K through ninth graders. ABCmouse.com is another online resource that provides online learning activities for kids ages 2–8. You can try it free for 30 days, and it’s just $9.95 per month after that (plus, they’re offering discounts on their annual subscriptions right now).
Another free resource? Your friends and family. Ask them to video call your kids. Babysitting in the era of coronavirus.
Self-isolate while in self-isolation
Cordon yourself off in a physical space away from the rest of the household to find a small slice of quiet. My coworker Ashley is isolating within isolation. “I am going to need to move to a less trafficked area of the house, and the biggest help of all would probably be noise-cancelling headphones.”
If you don’t have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, try a white noise machine or an ambient noise app.
Make a space for the kids
Jenn did this, and with great success: “My husband and I turned what was our living room into a playroom and classroom. It's nice to have a dedicated space where they can play and "learn," and the change was fun for them. We asked them for help for what should be there, as my kids grabbed their markers, scissors, crayons, paper...and lunch box!”
Get outside. Play in the yard, go for a walk in the neighborhood or at a park, hike in the woods, roller skate in the cul-de-sac. Go for a drive and ask your kids to give you “directions” to a destination.
Make virtual playdates
“There are also additional challenges depending on the number of kids you have. [Having] one is really hard because they get zero interaction with other kids their age and they crave that,” says InHerSight CEO Ursula Mead, whose elementary-age daughter has been starved for contact.
“Thankfully, technology makes it easy to stay in contact when we can't be in person. Definitely doing more video chats with family and catching up with friends we haven't talked to in a while as the world slows down for a few weeks. For example, we're doing a virtual‘family dinner’ video conference tonight with my entire family to celebrate my sister's birthday. We can't be in person, but we can still be spreading joy and love, which the world seems to need now.”
It’s up to you to set the tone in the house. The team’s advice? Stay positive.
“My kids seem to be excited about the idea of not going to school for a while but they also can sense the nervous energy about the virus so we try to stay positive and realistic, without being alarming,” says Jenn. “Definitely not watching the news in our house, staying focused on the positive, and being judicious about our behaviors (distance, washing, etc).”