EVERYONE who has tried to work at home with kids in tow knows it can be more challenging than dealing with a child surrounded by confectionery at a supermarket check-out.
Forget those advertisements depicting a smiling parent happily punching out a report on a laptop in a tidy, sun-lit office while a toddler harmoniously plays blocks in the corner.
Working from home, or WFH, with your offspring as company is rarely that harmonious.
There are temper tantrums when the internet dies, constant cries of boredom, the haranguing that goes with seemingly endless childhood hunger pains and, oh yes, the need to deal with an ongoing trail of destruction and mess as your kids move from one activity to the next.
Teenagers will cringe at the thought of being stuck at home with their parents, younger children will climb walls faster than a rocket full of monkeys and toddlers will spill drinks everywhere – even across your keyboard.
Even as parents who love spending time with their ankle biters, there is only so much you can handle before you start to sink like the Titanic.
Thankfully there are steps that can be taken to make WFH with your progeny a tad more palatable.
Beware, though, that your capacity to put in place some or all of these actions will depend on the age of the children, their level of independence, the amount of support you are able to access from others, the type of work you do as well as your patience threshold.
Many parents initially approach the WFH-with-kids scenario like a vacation, with very little structure. No wonder joy turns to frustration and flaring tempers after just one week.
Topping the list of things to do is to build a daily structure for not only yourself but also for children. The entire family needs at least some sense of what each day entails and where it is headed.
Adopt a realistic approach. While you might reasonably anticipate a teenager will occupy themselves, you can’t really expect a toddler to sit for hours on end without demanding at least some of your attention. After all, having you at home is likely to be a novelty and for many juniors a major attraction.
Some parents find it useful to try to get everyone in the family on the same page up front by kicking off with a family meeting to establish basic ground rules for the new-found workday reality.
We cannot assume children understand our jobs so talk to them to help them come to grips with what you do.
Those in dual-parent arrangements find it enormously useful to split their work shifts to free up one adult to look after the children. One partner might work early mornings until lunchtime, the other from lunch through to the evening.
Many WFH parents find that to be successful, though, they will need to alter their regular office work routine.
That might involve making a very early start on work activities before children wake through to working into the evening when the offspring is asleep.
Remember, too, that challenging times call for more flexibility. Be prepared to work a graveyard shift if your children have demanded much of your attention during regular work hours.
If you can, solicit assistance from friends and relatives.
Grandparents can come into their own during challenging times so consider having your children tutored through videoconferencing by a tech-savvy grandparent.
And if the grandparents are not up to it or simply unwilling, there are alternatives.
Just like there is carpooling to share the load when it comes to school drop-offs and pick-ups, there is always the chance that parents can rotate playing teacher – via videoconferencing.
Tough times call for us to make the best with what we have.
Take a more relaxed approach to your child’s consumption of social media – it’s their way of staying connected. At the same time keep things safe by being more vigilant.
And embrace tech to your advantage.
There is a plethora of apps, games and free online learning sites that are entertaining and educational and can keep children engaged, freeing you up to carry on with your work.
When it comes to the big screen, help your child to plan their viewing to include a good balance of educational programs (think documentaries) and shows that offer pure entertainment value.
While it might seem odd, some parents experience enormous success with WFH by rehearsing typical situations that might emerge during a workday in the presence of younger children. It prepares children to respond in a more effective way.
Just like you take breaks at work and chat with colleagues when in the office, take some breaks at home, too, but use that time to check in with the children.
Checking in with children is particularly important during the current crisis as they might be experiencing the same feelings of worry, anxiety and fear as many adults. Hearing children’s concerns will help children to dial down their worries and might prevent them from becoming unnecessarily unsettled or even disruptive throughout the workday.
Think also about what you can do to incentivise or reinforce the very best behaviour. A family movie together during the evening, a favourite meal or even some extra screen time might act as powerful rewards and secure the type of behaviour from your kids that helps you to boost your workplace productivity.
Trying to round out the day with some form of physical activity for yourself and the kids might pay huge dividends, as will taking a few minutes each day to reflect on what worked and what did not and revising your plans accordingly.
And avoid listening to sceptics who will tell you that WFH with children is a recipe for disaster. Do not let them drag you down or catapult you into feelings of hopelessness.
While it might take some time to perfect your approach, you will get there eventually. When you do, you will wonder what all the fuss was about.
Most importantly, remember to take care of yourself.
WFH with children by your side can, at times, be more challenging than finding a penguin in the desert.
A little self-care will go a long way to enable you to be a great parent at the same time as being an asset to your employer.
And if things still don’t work out as planned, cut yourself some slack and just remember there is no point in crying over milk splashed over your keyboard.
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