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How Do You Deal with Young Children While Working at Home?

In the last several months, juggling remote work and the needs of children has become a struggle as we adjust to a new world. Learn creative tips and ways to keep your children productive while you get work done from negotiation speaker, author and expert Linda Swindling.

Originally published by Linda Swindling, JD, CSP on 12 May 2020.

A member of one of my negotiation and leadership programs reached out to me this week with a great question about dealing with her young child. Several people know I negotiated a career and a family, but not many know I’ve worked out of my home for the past 20 years.

Her ask: Given the current situation with COVID-19, we have been working from home for more than 2 months. Now, I have a two-year-old daughter. She is a darling, plays on her own most of the time but sometimes craves for attention from either my husband or me. Managing remote work and her needs is our new “normal”. If you have any tips and tricks to progress at work in such situations, please do share. Of course, day to day work gets done, you know how it is here – we are always on top of our projects.

 Here is how I responded:

  1. Adopt a mindset that you need to be flexible and adapt for today. Your hours are not going to be normal working hours. Accepting that your life will be very different helps. (I wrote my first book after midnight each night. My son would not go to bed.)
  2. You may need to figure out which of your standards can be lowered. Does it really need to be a home-cooked meal every night? Could you do a breakfast for dinner or get a good take out meal? When I was working, exhausted, and mothering two smaller ones, my dear friend reminded me that paper plates would work for many meals.
  3. Is there a retired person, someone out of work, college student, a high school or even junior high student you trust and that really is sheltering at home? If so, hire that person to distract her and maybe do a little housework if she is sleeping. I had a college student come 3 mornings a week when mine were young and it made all the difference in the world.
  4. If you are lucky enough to have two adults, you have the ability to take turns. AND you are going to need to negotiate around each other’s most important meetings and commitments as well as “me” time to re-energize yourself. My blessing was a husband that likes to cook and is great at it. I do not like cleaning the pots and pans afterwards, but I love eating his food. Our kids saw from an early age that partnering includes home responsibilities. You know they will need to know how to collaborate with others later; they might as well learn about pitching in now.
  5. You are going to need to calendar your most important meetings like never before. You may have to lock yourself in a bedroom or barricade yourself in a closet. For some reason, self-sufficient, independent kiddos become extremely needy whenever they see you on a phone or heading to a bathroom. (Years ago, when I got into the bathtub to escape, I somehow signaled a family meeting. Suddenly one child would be in the tub with me and the other one would be sitting on my husband’s lap beside me. Everyone would want to talk to me or share something from their day. Not very relaxing.)
  6. Videos for them and headphones for you can be some of your best tools right now.
  7. On conference calls, find the shut off video and mute buttons on Zoom, Teams, WebEx, Blue Jeans, Go to Meeting, or whatever system you are using. Upload an attractive picture of you to show when you aren’t on video. Do the best you can to be muted when you know your kids are the loudest.
  8. If you have another adult, trade off. This isn’t easy but it works. If you child rises at 8, one of you might want to get up at 5:30 or 6 am and have your quiet, concentrated work time. Then, take a break, feed him or her and run around the yard or dance in the living room or whatever, so the other adult can get work done. If you are the early bird, your other adult may need to work later.
  9. Wear children out with exercise and play time. Join them when they are getting that excess energy out. It’s healthy for you, and they will nap longer. (Is there a mommy or daddy and me class so you can exercise with them? Can they join you on aerobics, working out with a trainer, or Zumba? Tell them to put on their workout outfits and follow along. (I still remember my mom and me exercising together when I was in pre-school.)
  10. Some of my friends are finding hidden talents. Others rediscover their passion for hobbies like gardening or building. Some friends are volunteering. For instance, one family creates masterpieces with their kids with sidewalk chalk. Another family bakes cookies and makes cards for those who are isolated with no connection to others. Some families are doing food drives and leaving a box in front of their homes for others to donate.
  11. Young children can “work” too while the adults work. Set them up their own little table with a timer. Their work maybe to color pictures for fire fighters, first responders, and health care workers to send to thank them. There are interactive computer and tablet games for all ages. Find out what programs are appropriate for your children’s age. Maybe they play a word game or do something interactive with math until the timer goes off.
  12. Make sure everyone takes a stretch break. My kids were great when I told them they absolutely, could not talk. They worked at their little desk beside me or did their “work” at the table. We reconvened after the call, usually for a snack or a walk. When they were older, they could reach their own snack and drink if needed.
  13. Perhaps they could Facetime or video chat with an aunt, grand parent, or someone who reads a book when you are busy. Many welcome a chance to color or read to a little one.
  14. Even as young as two, most kids are smart enough to play some role and be a “big helper.” When you are cleaning, they can be cleaning. Doing laundry, unloading dishes, or making dinner? You need someone to help. Pulling weeds? You have child labor available!
  15. Google what to do when you are working at home with a toddler. Find some of the chat rooms and communities where they share ideas. Home schooling families have many resources. Ask them for their favorite sites. My associate minister found a ton of activities to keep her almost two-year-old busy. Shaving cream and a kiddie pool are some favorites.
  16. Remember-You are in the messy middle right now. Life will not be perfect, but you can try to follow a schedule, share responsibilities, and be creative. Let older kids make a meal or help pick out the groceries. Give them a voice in activities.
  17. Plan some “recovery” time for each of you. Even in a small space, everyone needs a place and a chance to get a way for a while to think, read, or relax.
  18. Look for the good. Working, trying to keep a business afloat, or finding a job in this mess is not easy. Add family responsibilities and times become more challenging. In the mix of this stress, remind yourself and your family there are kind people who are helping others. Consider together what you might do to volunteer or encourage to feel your family is more connected and doing its part too.
  19. This is a once-in-a-life time experience for most of us. When will all the sports, classes, after-school activities be cancelled to this extent again? Probably never. If you are fortunate to have children, think of this time as a chance to really connect and find inexpensive fun together.
  20. Consider keeping some of these new activities as part of your family’s culture. When I had a pre-teen and teenager, my friend Tricia introduced me to the concept of Forced Family Fun Time or “FFF” Time. Anyone in the family can say an activity is for family only. That means, you will have the ability to declare, “Sorry. Your friends cannot come over. We are having FFF time this weekend and going camping or eating dinner or playing games.” Or your kids may say, “Can this just be FFF time and not invite everyone else?” Because you all have spent the last couple of months in a mandated FFF time, your family’s mindset has changed. Now, they know they can survive a few hours or even days without all the outside activities and other people. In a negotiation, we call that a win!

What would you add? What other ideas and resources do you have to negotiating home and work? Join the conversation on LinkedIn, where this article was originally published on May 12, 2020.

Go Negotiate!

Negotiation speaker, author and expert Linda Swindling, JD, CSP, helps leaders negotiate everything from big deals to workplace drama using proven strategies that drive results without driving others away. Linda is the author/co-author of more than 20 books, including her best-selling Ask Outrageously! The Secret to Getting What You Really Want and Stop Complainers and Energy Drainers: How to Negotiate Work Drama to Get More Done. She is a TEDx speaker and frequent media guest who has appeared on or been featured in Forbes, Fast Company, Business Insider, Entrepreneur Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Fox Business, The Huffington Post, and more.

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