3 Challenges to Working From Home With Kids—And How to Solve Them

Noise, family interruptions and lack of space—how to deal while working from home.

A man and woman working at kitchen table with child

Updated on April 9, 2020.

With schools closed and childcare options limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are struggling to find the right work-from-home balance. While some families are already familiar with the challenges of working remotely, others are trying to establish a new routine that involves juggling conference calls with supervising kids.

Whether you’re the parent of an infant or a teen, issues are likely to crop up when it comes to time, space and attention. Here are a few common challenges faced by working parents, as well as suggestions for creating a calmer, more productive workday routine when your family is at home with you.

Handling noise during calls

It never fails: The house is calm and quiet, then the minute you hop on a call with your boss or a video session with clients, chaos breaks loose.

If you have a partner at home, arranging dedicated work shifts can be key. One of you can work uninterrupted for a predetermined amount of time while the other tackles childcare—and then you switch. Scheduling essential calls during your work shift can reduce stress and ensure you’ll be able to concentrate.

Shayne Terry, a content strategist for an Illinois-based marketing agency and mom to an 8-month-old, says that working in shifts with her partner has been a game changer. “We've devised a split schedule where I get up and start working right away and my partner is on kid duty until the first nap,” she says. “Then I'm on kid duty from the end of the first nap until the second nap.”

Even with a schedule in place, it’s important to embrace flexibility during this time. “After the second nap, though, all bets are off and we just try to manage based on how the day has gone,” she adds.

Many parents are currently working from home while also parenting solo.

Jessica, mother to a 10-year-old and Training Program Coordinator for the State University of New York, knows that many others are trying to strike a balance between parenting and work during this time.

“The reality is that so many of us are in similar situations,” she notes. “So, instead of trying to pretend I don’t have a kid at home, if she comes over during a video meeting, I just introduce her.”

Riding out interruptions

Whether you need to change diapers or break up sibling squabbles, it can feel tough to settle in for a focused stretch of work. One solution may be to adjust your work hours, if possible.

“I typically start work early, before my daughter gets up, to get some uninterrupted time,” says Jessica. “Then I don’t feel bad about the multiple breaks I need to take during the day to do mom stuff.”

Evening hours may work better for other parents. “We just try to manage based on how the day has gone, and then both get back online after the baby goes to bed,” admits Shayne.

However, there is often no getting around the need to be present during typical work hours. There are ways to keep children entertained during this time, but your strategy will likely depend on the age of your child. Babies may feel soothed if you work with them in a carrier. For toddlers and preschoolers, you may need to put together a box of activities that they can use with little supervision or assistance, such as coloring books, Magna-Tiles or Play-Doh.

For older children, try to explain your need for space and concentration. Consider posting a “do not disturb” sign on your door when you need to work on something essential. Create a suggestion jar full of activities they can tap when they’re bored, such as working on a puzzle or walking the dog.

And now might also be the time to loosen the reins on screen time. Putting on a favorite movie or television show can give you an uninterrupted stretch when you really need it. “I’m lucky that my daughter loves to read, but I’m also not above handing over the iPad or putting on a movie if I have a long meeting,” says Jessica.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits on screen time, they also acknowledge that media-viewing will likely increase during this time, and that’s okay. Just make sure the additional screen time isn’t taking the place of essentials like adequate exercise or sleep.

Establishing space (and privacy)  

If you’re used to your own workspace, it can be a tough transition to set up shop at the kitchen table. Whether the distractions come from your kids, partner or the call of the fridge, working in a new environment can be tough.

If possible, consider carving out some space wherever you can—such as a guest bedroom, the garage or even a walk-in closet. If you’ll need to be mobile throughout the day (we see you, parents of toddlers!), consider cloud-computing apps that will allow you to work from multiple devices. For example, if you need to rock a baby to sleep or supervise a child’s video school session, being able to access documents or emails from your phone can be a time-saver.

Finally, be up front with your boss, co-workers and clients—tell them about your situation in advance. More likely than not, they’ll be understanding if some background noise pops up. They may also want to share their own struggles with working from home.

Article sources open article sources

Jacqueline Sperling. “School closed due to the coronavirus? Tips to help parents cope.” Health.harvard.edu. March 18, 2020.
Avni Patel Thompson. “A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents.” HBR.org. March 19, 2020.
“Caring for Children.” CDC.gov. March 28, 2020.
“Where We Stand: Screen Time.” HealthyChildren.org.

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