I am a Mum of four and when my youngest son (who is now eleven) was born, I took a break away from my career and spent several years caring for children in my own home. I cared for up to three other preschoolers as well as my own and it was not unusual to have an extra after school. On some days, I had up to nine children, varying in ages from 0-13, in my house at one time. I am certainly no childhood development expert but I have some very real “in the field” experience of how not to lose your mind and get stuff done with toddlers in tow.
Over the last few days, I’ve seen a lot of chatter on social media about working at home with kids, especially working at home with preschoolers. So, I thought I would offer up some practical and tactical ideas to help everyone who has suddenly found themselves working from home and wrangling kids.
Be a thermostat, not a thermometer
A thermostat sets the temperature, a thermometer reacts to the temperature. When things are falling down around you or you can literally feel your blood beginning to boil – be a thermostat. If you bring the temperature back down or keep it down, the kids will follow your lead. Bottom line – if you lose it, you’re all toast.
Have a plan – but be prepared for the plan to not go to plan
Tamariki love routine, and generally respond well to a rhythm of some kind. By having a regular routine, your kids will begin to predict what’s coming next, but make sure the plan suits the ebbs and flow of your workday e.g. plan your people-facing business during naps or screen time and admin tasks during playtime etc. Don’t forget to have some independent activities up your sleeve that can be set up in a few minutes, like filling up the kitchen sink with water and letting them go crazy with measuring cups and utensils (put a towel down on the floor because most of the water will end up on the floor!).
Do the mahi before the day starts
Make lunch, and plan some activities the night before – I would even pack you both/all a lunch box, maybe even do it together. By doing these tasks the night before, you won’t need to do it during the day and you can all take a break, and use lunchtime to spend some quality non-work time together.
Gamify the day
Kids love a game, they love a bit of excitement and adventure. Spend 20 minutes in the morning building a fort together and help to settle them in with activities or a movie. If you can, shuffle inside with your laptop and do your work in there too! After the Christchurch earthquakes, I created a magical wonderland under the kitchen table for the children in my care and we all played under there together until I was 100% confident the coast was clear and there were no more aftershocks. The kids thought it was great and had no idea there was anything worrisome happening.
Use a timer
Young children have very little concept of time – telling them to wait 10 minutes might as well be 1000 hours. Find yourself a timer; a kitchen timer, Alexa, phone timer etc. Tell the kids you will work for 30 minutes and then you will play for 10, or whatever works for you and your workload and the attention span of your children. Set the timer and stick to it. Once the kids get the idea that if they wait for the timer to run down that you will instantly stop and build a duplo tower or sing some songs, they’ll quickly get the hang of waiting and should respond to the cues.
Take the toys away
Yes, you read that right! When the kids next head to bed, take some of their toys and activities away and stash them somewhere safe and out of sight. Have a limited amount of choice available at any time. On the days when they simply aren’t playing ball, magically find one of the lost toys/activities. Not only will you have hopefully bought yourself a much-needed reprieve, but you’ll be a hero as well.
Use a reward system
I know reward systems are controversial but the fact is, most children respond well to positive reinforcement. If every time you spot your tamariki doing something that makes your life easier, reward it. Kids live to please and will very quickly work out how to do more of the things that you are rewarding. Put a smiley face on a piece of paper, a sticker on a chart or a stone in a jar. Once they have filled that bad boy up, reward them with extra bedtime stories, bake together, play a game – whatever is special for your whanau. A note on this, all attention is good attention to a child. If you focus on the negative, you’ll encourage the negative, so flip the script and pile your smiles and attention into the good stuff.
Spend quality time
Kids are love cups, so keep their little cups full of time spent doing anything in the world, without a device and preferably outside burning off some energy and they will most likely be less demanding of your time when you need to focus on other activities. Now, this is not an exact science but generally, if you have invested some time and energy into your tamariki they will gladly watch Paw Patrol for 40 mins while you get some mahi done. In an ideal world, TV is not the best way to entertain little spongy brains, but these are not ideal times and we need to make our new normal work for us as best we can.
Make your home a safe place
There is nothing more stressful than worrying your toddler will escape from the house or drink the dishwashing liquid. It goes without saying, but make sure the house or space you are in while trying to work is safe and secure. Try to eliminate hazards so that your tamariki can play and potentially cause havoc without harming themselves. Put any cleaning products, medicines, beauty products, poisons etc. out of reach or in locked cupboards, move or secure large heavy furniture that could be climbed or pulled down (including TVs), make sure stoves are switched off at the wall and chuck a towel over the top of doors to prevent little fingers from being jammed.
Lastly, be kind to yourself and don’t sweat it if it all falls apart
Every day is a new day and if it all turned to custard yesterday, give your tamariki a cuddle, put them to bed, have a glass of wine and start over again tomorrow!