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Survival Guide: Working Remotely With Kids

March 31, 2020

A lot of people are going through changes that could be very challenging right now. Those who have never worked remotely are logging in from their homes for the first time, and many of us are also facing school and daycare closures. 

Mediacurrent has been a remote company for over 10 years, and in the last few weeks, many team members have gone from working remotely to working remotely and parenting kids at home. We have some tips from the trenches to pass on to our fellow home workers.

Christine Flynn Bryan and Rebekah Schnaubelt pulled together some steps you can take now to make working remotely as a parent a little easier.

Babies and Toddlers

Babies and toddlers are perhaps at the easiest age to entertain, but they are by no means quiet and docile. Every parent knows that paying attention to your baby or toddler’s needs is a non-stop ride, and their cries can come at the most inopportune moment. Mediacurrent parents to this youngest age group have the following advice.

There is a lot of support for babywearing. Kelly Dassing, Senior Director of Project Management and Damien McKenna, Community Lead, are both at home with some young children and highly support babywearing for working parents.

Christine Flynn Bryan, Senior Project Manager, is at home with a toddler and reconfigured her workspace to accommodate her daycare’s closure:

“I set myself up for success by putting together a new office space that overlooks the baby-gated part of my living room. I know this crisis is temporary, but even if it lasts a few weeks I’m going to be happy I put time into setting up a desk and hanging a hook on the wall for my headphones.”

Additionally, entertainment can be slightly easier to manage at this age. There were a few suggestions on how to fill your toddler or baby’s time from Danielle Barthelemy, Senior Digital Strategist, and Christine:

“Entertainment doesn’t have to be complicated! I put some crayons in an empty spice jar as a toy and my son would play with it for a half hour a few times a day.” - Danielle 

“I’m taking a break from screentime fears. By putting on some Daniel Tiger, I can be confident that my kiddo is safe and entertained while still meeting my responsibilities to my teammates and clients.” - Christine 

Children and Pre-Teens

Children that are in school need structure during these times, and they’re not getting it from their school anymore. The disruption to their schedule can be stressful and increase the emotional impact of the changes that they are dealing with, so putting in place a flexible schedule to give them structure that works with their needs will help alleviate their stress.

Justin Rent, Front End Developer, described his kids’ schedules and how they have incorporated it into their day-to-day: 

“For grade school kids, it helps to have a defined schedule each day. We have been putting the schedule each night on a chalkboard in the kitchen. That way when they wake up they know what the day will be like. We balance their virtual school with free time, quiet time, and outside time. When I’m done with work we have dinner together and take a family walk.”

“I second that!” said Nathan James, Director of Development and father of 7. “I’m not always the primary parent, but when I am, a schedule that my kids can see and understand is critical for me.” 

Jesse Golombieki, our Marketing Manager at home with three kids, is using a more flexible activity list so that the ideas don’t run out halfway through the day:

“My kids are all school-aged (5, 8 and 10) so they can keep themselves pretty occupied during the day. We have created a chore list that they mark off as they get things done each day. I created a list of other activities they can do for ideas. They did an egg hunt on Monday where they hid eggs for each other to find!”

Kelly also recommends a distinct space for working from home, if there is another adult taking a shift to take care of the kids, so that there is a separation that is obvious to the children between working time and family time. That also means not leaving that space when possible, which Kelly does by “packing” her lunch:

“...keep little snacks in your office, and consider packing your lunch as if you were leaving the house. This means fewer trips outside of your office, which might rile up your kids and make them sad that you’re not playing with them.”

Teenagers

Children that are in high school are working on complex problems at school and developing a lot of critical thinking skills, so giving them some screen time or entertaining them with a jar of crayons or a coloring book isn’t going to work as well as it would for the little ones. When discussing how to handle a teenager that also needs structure, but additionally needs activities that fit their stage of development, our team had to think more about their childrens’ whole day:

“Some kids have trouble adjusting from a school day at school to a school day at home. From my experience with homeschooling, I know that it can help to point out how much ‘non-schoolwork’ time there is in a day at a regular school. Waiting on others to finish work, time between classes… that can help with a kid who is struggling with working too much, because they think they need to be at school all day.” - Grayson Hicks, Senior Front End Developer.

“I’m allowing [my 13-year old] to work on projects he’s been itching to do rather than schoolwork, like making a video game. I’m also encouraging exercise and reading, and he still has some chores to do. Then we add on to that some scheduled family time to play games or watch shows together. We set up a very simple schedule. There are only requirements for bedtime and chores. Everything else is in his hands. That works for us.” - Becky Cierpich, UX Designer.

Get Ready Even If You’re Not Affected Yet

With the coronavirus running through the US right now and different locations implementing quarantines or shelter-in-place directives, it’s very possible that even if this doesn’t already affect you, it might soon. You can prepare by setting expectations and having plans in place in advance.

With your team, communicate clearly:

  • Make sure your manager and close co-workers have your cell phone number, so they can reach you in case of unexpected unavailability.
  • Work with your manager and teams to let them know how your normal working hours will be affected. There may be times when you will be fully available, as opposed to when you will be available by phone while making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Establish the expectation that you will work nights or weekends as needed to keep up with your day-to-day activities. 

For your kids, spend some time putting together a plan:

  • Create a simple, general schedule that you use while you adjust to a new routine or expand upon if your child’s school closes.
  • Make sure you have a comfortable place to work that will accommodate your needs if you end up working from home with kids. Whether that’s a distinct separated space where you won’t be distrubed or making your kitchen table comfortable for a conference call while you keep an eye on the toddler in the living room.
  • Plan some activities so that during down-time your kids have something to do and aren’t disrupting your work, especially when you have that very important meeting.

By communicating in advance and being dedicated to both your teammates and your kids, you can continue to demonstrate a solid work ethic and be dependable, even in tough times.

Consider How You Can Help Others

There are a lot of people with and without kids who can’t work remotely at all, and you depend on them. The waste collectors who take your garbage from the curb, the plumbers who keep fresh water coming to your house, the doctors helping the sick, the technicians keeping the internet running—the list goes on. When the carrot sticks are flying, or your toddlers discover that the toilet is a great place to throw toys, or your teens are going stir-crazy, it might be hard to remember you’re in a lucky spot. One way to show your kids who you are is to help others. 

Without breaking social distancing, see if you can lend your neighbors a hand. Leave a bag of sandwiches on their front porch. Have your teenager mow their lawn. The next time you get groceries ordered, see if they could use someone to order and refrigerate some milk until they get home. 

You can incorporate helpful and inspiring gifts into your kids’ activities list. Consider having your children write a thank you card to a necessary worker, send a “hello” to someone at the local nursing home, leave a care package for your mailman or delivery driver, or deliver a packaged breakfast to your hospital—all of course with thorough handwashing. 

Be that good neighbor that they need to keep going.

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