Tips to help you balance work and child care at home

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  Published on Wednesday, 06 May 2020

Tips to help you balance work and child care at home

Library Home  >  Work & Child CareParenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 06 May 2020
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Whether you’re a seasoned work-from-home parent, or new to the role, it can be challenging to complete paid tasks and care for your little one in the same environment.

Fortunately, there are ways to focus on the job at hand and balance productivity with parenting. Here’s some advice to help you manage two roles in one place.

  1. Create a mental separation

To get in the right headspace for work and show your child that you mean business, it’s recommended that you set up a designated work space at home.

Ideally, you want to be able to separate yourself from outside distractions, but if you don’t have a spare room for a home office, then find a quiet corner to work in, complete with your tools for success (e.g. laptop, phone, comfortable chair, good lighting etc.). This might be in your bedroom, garage or dining room – whatever works.

Some parents find that certain types of headphone music boosts their productivity and concentration. And when the work day is done, make sure you close the door of your home office or leave a to-do list on your desk to help you disengage from work and focus on family.  

    2. Create a schedule and organise solid blocks of work time

Late-running mornings, interrupted tasks and ‘scatter gun’ hours are not conducive to focused work or patient parenting, so it’s helpful to establish a schedule and set aside clear chunks of work time wherever possible.

One mum recommends running the day as if your child was going to day care, with a regular routine around getting up and getting ready, and work done in blocks through the day.

Depending on your job, employer and family circumstances, you might be able to combine child caring and business by:

  • Working when your child is having their daytime nap
  • Working while your child is having ‘quiet time’, e.g. when your baby or toddler is playing with toys in their cot, or your preschooler is reading a book or doing a puzzle
  • Working in the evening, after your child is in bed, or putting in some hours early in the morning
  • Working mirror shifts with your partner, e.g. you could work the first half of the day and they could work the second

You might be able to catch up on emails when your child is having lunch (ensuring they’re safely supervised), but once you’ve set aside a solid block of time, it’s best used for work tasks that require strong focus and deep thinking.

Turn off all non-work distractions (including social media notifications) and leave other jobs (like hanging out the washing) for another time. Young children can help with things like folding washing and washing lettuce, so complete domestic tasks outside work hours.

  1. Allow for flexibility, too

The best-laid plans can come unstuck, so although it’s important to establish set work hours, keep in mind that things can change. If your child is having an ‘off day’ or the sun is shining after some rainy days, make peace with the fact that you might need to be flexible. This could mean spending quality time with your child in the backyard, then finishing your contracted work hours later in the day.

  1. Keep a box of tricks up your sleeve

If you have an important meeting or need to concentrate on a specific task, then paediatric psychologist, Amanda Abel, says that distraction is a good way to keep your baby or toddler busy and guide positive behaviour.

She recommends that you, ‘Set up some boxes with activities or materials in them that are relatively novel’ for your child and bring these out when you need to focus on work.  

Busy boards come in handy, toy rotation keeps youngsters interested, and if you’re catching up on emails or doing a spot of admin, then you might want to set up an activity centre in your work space, so that your child can do their ‘jobs’ while you do yours.

  1. Help your child understand the passing of time and set some rules

Preschoolers have some measure of self-control and an understanding of boundaries and time, so Ms Abel suggests using a timer to show your child the passing of time while you’re working.

Another idea is to create a ‘visual schedule’ of the day to show them your blocks of work time. Ms Abel says it’s also important to, ‘Set up some house rules with the kids so they know what the behavioural expectations are during this time.’

The experts at Parents also suggest that you, ‘Give your child a non-verbal ‘Do Not Disturb’ when you need quiet time.’

This could mean wearing a hat when you’re on the phone to show them they can’t make noise or interrupt, unless there’s an emergency. If you have an office door, another idea is to tie a red ribbon around the handle when you can’t be bothered, or have your child make a ‘Stop’ and ‘Go’ sign for the door.

Keep in mind that, ‘Toddlers won’t understand that they can’t always have your undivided attention’ so if they interrupt while you’re on the phone, it’s best to reschedule the call for another time. 

Also, if you’re working out of a communal space, like the living room, then you can introduce a rule that all the toys must be cleaned up before nap time, so that you’re not wasting time tidying your work area when you should be working. 

  1. Factor in play time

Financial pressures, strict deadlines, serious meetings and ‘too much work, too little time’ can squeeze out playful moments, but even if your partner is looking after your child, it’s important that you take time out to play with your little one.

Spend time with them at lunch or outside work hours to enhance their learning, connect as parent and child and take a break from the pressures of paid work.

At the end of the day, every family works in different ways and experiences their own share of challenges, but by communicating with your partner, employer and child, it is possible to wear two hats – that of dedicated worker and caring parent. Good luck!

References

The Guardian

Parents

Make It

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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