Working from home…with company
As schools close across the region and more of us are forced to work from home, maintaining our sanity and our health are just two of the major challenges facing working parents.
By Helen Bowman
This is unchartered territory for most of us. We might have juggled the kids during the school holidays before, but that was when destinations were open for business, soft plays welcomed visitors and childcare was readily available if needed.
Home working and self-isolation could get complex and frustrating before the sun rises over a normal society again. That’s why the High Life North team has come together to provide some helpful tips to get us all through this strange new episode, unscathed.
Communication and empathy
Talk to your children – in an age-appropriate way – about what’s happening in society and why their freedom of movement has been stunted so drastically. Some will understand, others won’t. But it’s important that we try to help them understand that we all need to pull together to help the more vulnerable in society.
When it comes to work, tell your colleagues or clients that you’re working from home and your child might walk in any minute during a conference call. We all need to be more understanding of the slightly frenetic atmosphere surrounding our lives, and homeworking is something that most of us will have to do.
This isn’t forever and so many of us are in the same boat.
Set boundaries with your children
Let your children know that, while they’re allowed more screen time and freedom than usual, this is a special exception and won’t last forever. Explain to them that you have work that can’t be left until another day. Tell them you need to work between certain hours and allow them to select engaging activities (even if that’s screen time) to keep them happy and settled while you get your work done. Choose your weapons strategically to keep them the quietest at the times you most need them to be.
Plan noisy, boisterous activities at times when you don’t need peace and quiet, tire them out and then there’s more chance of them staying quiet when you’re on that important conference call. Here’s some activity ideas to keep them safe and happy:
Get them to make a ‘do not disturb’ sign for your office door and make sure they know that when they see that they mustn’t come in.
Set up a colouring station and write a short list of things for them to draw and colour while you’re busy.
Allow them to mimic you by creating a mini workplace for them. They can ‘copy’ you with a laptop, mouse and notepad – they’ll feel like they’re working too.
If the weather’s nice, why not get them to ‘paint’ the fence or wall in the garden with water and a clean paintbrush?
Buy them the latest edition of an engaging kids’ magazine – there will be activities, little toys and stories in there to keep them quiet for a little while.
Challenge them to make you some jewellery with wool or string and beads or pasta (if you can find any…). It encourages creativity, develops fine motor skills and you’ll have a beautiful piece of jewellery when you finish your call.
Create a routine and stick with it
While some parents will insist on educational activities all day to mimic the school day, others will allow more screen time than usual in order to get things done. Why not strike a balance between the two?
Create a schedule from first thing in the morning until mid-afternoon, leaving late afternoon and evening aside for relaxation and enjoyment. Ask your children to help you create the schedule and include getting dressed, having breakfast, getting outside for exercise and fresh air, music practice, reading time, online educational apps, and creative time.
And why not work some life skills in there too? With the kids home all day, household chores will mount up quicker than usual – get them involved in the responsibility of the washing up, hoovering, dusting and clothes washing. If they come out of this with improved helping skills, we all win.
We’ve found this fantastic checklist that will allow your children the freedom to manage their own time within the boundaries of achieving something fun and educational too.
Make time for outdoors
Even though we’ve been told we must stay away from other people when we’re self-isolating, there’s no advice that insists we must stay indoors. In the North East, we’re incredibly lucky to have stunning countryside and coastline on our doorsteps.
Getting outdoors with the kids is just as crucial during self-isolation as it is at any other time. Staying indoors and breathing stale air will eventually cause stuffiness, headaches, frustration and boredom. Try to build some time outdoors into your everyday routine. Fresh air will clear everyone’s lungs and provide stimulating opportunities that you just can’t get indoors.
Whip out the bikes or scooters and build up some speed, or have a sedate amble along the seafront or through your local park. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife and talk about the colours and plant life you see. Grab a takeaway cuppa to support your local businesses and tuck into an al fresco packed lunch while you’re out. You’ll all feel more relaxed, more alive and energised and everyone will sleep better too.
If you’re self-isolating with your partner and children, it’s time to set up a tag team for childcare. Take it in turns to take some time away from work and keep the kids distracted, happy and engaged in activities.
Once you or your partner has got a good chunk of work completed, swap over and plough on. The kids will love the attention they’re getting, and you and your partner are sharing the ability to be productive.
It’s crucial to communicate with your partner about how your day looks. If you’ve got video meetings you have to attend, tell your partner so you can plan your day around each other’s responsibilities.
If all else fails, embrace technology
In these unprecedented times, we can’t all be model parents in the face of adversity.
Sometimes we have to accept that we need technological help to get the bare minimum done. If Netflix and popcorn will keep the kids happy for a couple of hours, use it. If Minecraft and biscuits allow you to finish that important presentation and meet the deadline, embrace it.
The kids are happy and safe, and you get your work done. This is relatively short-term. Go with it.
Here are a few suggestions for educational websites to keep the kids entertained and stimulated while they’re online:
There are loads of fun and free games at the CBeebies website
Topmarks has some lovely numeracy and literacy games for children from 3-14 years old
Try the National Geographic website for games and quizzes for children of all ages
Cookie.com has loads of games from maths and reading to puzzles and science.