It can feel like we’re all treading on each other toes and getting in each other’s way. It can also feel like a never-ending job just preparing meals and snacks (so many snacks), washing, and packing away puzzles.
Toddle spoke with Julia Challenor, a behavioural play therapist for children, to find out how parents can differentiate between work time, family time, and quality one on one time with our kids.
Give the kids cues
It can be tricky for little ones to understand that you might need to do some work from home if this isn’t your usual way of doing business. They might get frustrated when you say that you can’t play with them right now because you have to work.
For this reason, Julia explains, it can be helpful to give children some sort of signal that you are in work mode. One suggestion from Julia was to consider putting on your work uniform or name badge (if you have those) so that your children can see you looking physically different.
Another option could be to light a candle, put some headphones on, or sit down at your workspace as the signal that you’re not available to play right now.
Then, once work time is over you can remove the cues and let the children know you’re ready to engage with them in their colouring-in or blanket fort building.
Go away and come back
If you have the luxury of a separate space for your work or relaxation time (and another adult to watch the kids!) it can be helpful if you can take yourself out of your children’s line of vision when you need to.
Julia suggests working from a spare bedroom, reading a book outside, or taking personal phone calls with friends out of earshot of the kids. Often for little ones, when you are not physically there, they are more likely to stay engaged with their game or activity with another carer.
Find work time that suits your family
If your little one is still napping, Julia suggests this might be a good time to power through some work that requires your full attention. Other parents find that getting up early, or working at night, is the way they get around the juggle of working from home with kids.
If you’re a working parent and eligible for the free child care offered by the government, this can give you some solid hours of time to focus on your work. Then when the children get home, it can be playtime and quality time for the rest of the day.
Don’t try to multitask
As parents, it’s natural that we want to get lots of items ticked off our to-do list. But if you’re trying to respond to work emails while you’re on a walk with the kid, it can end up feeling frustrating for everyone. Try to really separate yourself when you are spending quality time with the kids.
Could you leave your phone at home or in your bag while you go for a walk or scooter ride together? Could you close your computer while you’re building LEGO so that your email isn’t pinging and distracting you from the moment? It’s hard to allow yourself to be fully present, especially when you’ve got work to attend to or meals to organise. But the payoff for our children is significant, and they know when you’re not all there mentally.
Top up their love bucket
Kids don’t actually need hours and hours of your time, Julia explains. ‘We can top up their love bucket with some physical play, some reading together, or playing little games,’ Julia explains.
‘Get down on their level, play on the floor, really focus on them,’ Julia says. ‘Once they’re set up and have had some quality time with you, you can explain that now you need to go and do some work or exercise.’
Set up activity stations
Julia explains that we can’t expect little ones to entertain themselves for too long, they need some direction. ‘A great way to keep the kids happy and encourage independence is to set up activity stations for them,’ she explains.
‘Whether you do this before you go to bed, or first thing in the morning is up to you. Set up three or four activity stations for them using a range of different equipment,’ Julia says.
So you might have a colouring activity, some blocks to build with, some paper and glue to create a collage, and some bubble wands to try out.
‘You can explain to them that once they’ve finished all the activities, you’ll be able to take them for a walk or whatever special plan you want to make,’ Julia says.
‘Get organised with the systems to enjoy the payoff later,’ explains Julia. ‘Set yourself up for success.’
Make a schedule
Kids are visual creatures, explains Julia. They also love knowing what’s going to happen. That’s why it can be really helpful to have a loose schedule in place for their day.
If they’re not old enough to read, it could be a visual schedule where you show different activities, snack times, meal times, exercise and special events.
Show the whole week if you can, explains Julia. ‘Kids love knowing that they’ve got a movie night, a pizza night, or a special treat coming on Friday. Keep that going!’
Put Julia’s ideas into practice and see if it helps you while you’re parenting through coronavirus. You’ve got this!
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