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Parents are juggling childcare while working from home. Here are some tips from the people who’ve tried them.
Last updated: 27 Nov 2020 5 min read
Covid-19 has turned lives upside down all over the world, and one common challenge is looking after children while working from home. It’s a situation that can create tension and the need to totally rethink the working day. How do you fit in play, education, exercise and those all-important work calls? Here, four business owners and a child development expert share their tried-and-tested survival tips.
The key technique for Jane Sparrow, a business culture expert and author of the e-book Bank of Me: the remote working edition, has been to separate periods throughout the day for contact with her daughter Elouisa, 8. “I ensure I spend focused and high-quality sprints of time with her,” she says. “The result is much better than trying to have one eye on everything all of the time.”
“We’re all in the same boat,” says Carlene Jackson, CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight. She has three children: a daughter aged 17 and two sons aged 15 and 6. “It’s OK for people to hear your kids on a call – it’s a part of life,” she says. “Same with your pets. Shut the door if they’re making a real nuisance. On the other hand, you’ll be surprised how many people might actually want to meet them!”
This works for Anne Davies, owner of children’s bedroom furniture retailer Room to Grow, who is working from home while looking after her 12-year-old daughter. “I split the day into sections – so from breakfast to mid-morning break, to lunch, to afternoon break and end of working day,” she says. “This helps set tasks and have regular breaks to get together and see how everything is going before then heading on to the next task. It gives a structure and focus to the day while maintaining manageable working times.”
“My husband and I talk about our meetings in advance and what the critical parts of each of our days are,” says Jessica Morgan, founder of PR agency Carnsight Communications. “We try to ensure one of us is in the home office, and one is elsewhere and relatively accessible for the children if needed. We also try to tell the children when we’re on calls or have an important project to do and also roughly how long it will take. I find that helps, although they have been known to take it too literally and set a timer!”
“Don’t feel that you have to be their entertainer. Give them positive reinforcement if they are able to amuse themselves and let you complete your work”Dr Amanda Gummer, founder, Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide
“My daughter has a desk set up in the living room while I work at the dining table,” says Davies. “This allows us both to have our own space and time to work. Once the working day is over, we can clear away our laptops and books and our home becomes a home again.”
Likewise, Jackson strongly recommends having a playpen for younger children “so that you know they are safe, with safe toys, if you get distracted”.
“This is a lifesaver: get them chatting to friends and family online,” says Dr Amanda Gummer, founder of website Dr Gummer’s Good Play Guide. “Setting up a remote game with friends or your extended family for your children is a great way of getting you some time to work.”
“Don’t feel that you have to be their entertainer,” says Gummer. “Give them lots of positive reinforcement if they are able to amuse themselves, not just on a screen, and let you complete your work. You’re helping them learn a lot about themselves and develop decision-making skills and initiative so there’s no reason to feel guilty about it.”
“This has been particularly good for getting them to be a bit more independent, which helps us and also is good for them,” says Morgan. “They’ve been doing things like helping to prepare their own lunch or snacks, getting themselves fully ready and clearing away their plates.”
“We have a daily routine of going for a 30-minute walk at the end of the day,” says Davies. “This gives us a chance to catch up on our day while getting some exercise.” Sparrow recommends doing a workout with your children – or two mini workouts of 15 minutes each during the day: “It’s a way to connect with them and keep yourself in good shape too.”
Aside from what may be provided by your children’s school, there are many educational resources to explore. The Seneca Learning platform, for example, has been adding users at a rate of 50,000 a day since the prime minister announced that schools would close. Each evening Morgan and her husband print work sheets from various free resources online and their children’s school. They start the children working on them at around 8am so that it’s possible to supervise them before all the client work starts. “We also set them projects to do, like creating a rainbow for our window and writing down 10 things they want to do on a big sheet that we stick up,” she says. She adds that screen time is a necessity sometimes – so don’t feel you have to replicate a full school day.