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Working From Home with Kids

Illustrations credit: GoodStudio /

Working From Home with Kids

6 Rs to a new rhythm for the family

Published on 02 April, 2020

Illustrations credit: GoodStudio /

Focus Singapore


Helping families thrive

What first comes to your mind when you think about working from home? Do you imagine it will be more difficult to get work done or do you think it will be a less pressurising way of working? While telecommuting has its perks, like time saved from travelling, it definitely has its own set of challenges as well.

To limit the spread of COVID-19, many working parents are now working from home. With students doing home-based learning, our school-going kids are home at the very same time we are figuring out this new work arrangement. Distractions and interruptions can come more easily, potentially impacting our productiveness.

As you work towards a new norm with work and family life, consider how these 6 Rs could help you create a more successful and less stressful environment for everyone in the family!

1. Ritual

Before the new measure of working from home was implemented, the “ritual” of getting ready for the day and commuting helps us to shift to “work mode” by the time we get to our workplaces. It would be helpful to create something similar even when we work from home—stick to a standard waking up time for everyone, continue to do the usual morning rituals of showering and breakfast with the kids.

Some people find it helpful to change into clothing that’s slightly more like their usual work wear. Pro-tip: wearing pajamas won’t help you feel productive!

Others mentally prepare themselves for work while doing some exercises or having a cup of coffee before they start the work day. Continue these morning rituals, set a time for work or school to start and keep to it every day as well as you can.

2. Room

There are those who can get productive work done when propped up in bed, but for most of us, that may not be conducive—especially when the kids or work kept us up late the night before!

Set up a well-lit designated workspace in your home that allows you to have good sitting posture and minimal distractions. Try to avoid spaces that might draw you toward doing something else, like the bedroom or kitchen. Parents of younger children may need to work near their children, so as to keep an eye on them as they play or nap, while parents of older kids can use a separate room as their “office”.

In the same way, we can set up a space for home-based learning for our kids. Make sure they understand that it’s a space for them to focus on online classes and homework, and not for playing or other activities.

As you consistently utilise these designated spaces every day, you will be drawing “boundaries” for your kids and they will understand that’s Daddy’s or Mummy’s work room or this is where I sit for school time. This adds a sense of our third “R” to their lives.

3. Routine

Just as it is useful to us to know what’s ahead in our work day by planning a schedule that includes time for work, breaks, and meals, our kids would also benefit from having such a routine.

For older children, plan each day’s schedule with or for them. Tell them that just as they have a set of school tasks to finish, Daddy and Mummy also have work tasks to complete, so everyone will have to work together as a family to get our work done. Think of ways you can increase your kids’ ownership over this schedule, say, by letting them write/type or decorate it. Then put it up where it can be easily seen, and follow it as closely as possible.

For toddlers, printing out visual cue cards can be a great way to communicate schedule. You can print out photos of what you want to fill their day with—whether playing, reading, eating, sleeping—and stick it somewhere prominently. Every time you move on to the next slot, remove the former card and make a big deal about the new card. You can even put a timer on if you like and every time the timer goes off, it signals the time for the next activity.

If you have children who are too young to keep themselves engaged while you’re working, you may need to plan your schedule around their routine, say, naps, meals, playtimes, and baths. This may mean starting work earlier before they wake, taking breaks during the moments when they need you most, and returning to work after they have gone to bed.

There’s no perfect routine—take time to experiment with different approaches before settling into a rhythm that works for your family.

4. Restraint

Self-discipline has been found to be key for those who work well from home. After we’ve planned our schedule, we need to stick to it to concentrate on our goals for the day. That means not doing lots of housework or heading out for a long trip in the middle of the work day!

When we practise self-discipline, we are also setting an example for our children on how to set limits on themselves. It’s important for parents to explain to their kids that when Daddy and Mummy are in their workspaces, they need to be able to focus, and so they cannot be interrupted frequently, unless it’s an emergency (and communicate what constitutes one)!

If you find that they are interrupting your work too often, you can give them a quota on the number of requests they can make when you are at work. Through this, they can learn some self-discipline by deciding which requests or questions they really need to ask and which ones can wait until later.

5. Rest

Let your children know that throughout the day, you’re going to take regular breaks and stick to them. During break times, engage with them—and be present! At the end of each break, remind them that you’ll be going back to work and will join them again at your next break.

Kids who are old enough to work independently can usually concentrate for about 30–45 minutes at a time, with 5–15 minute breaks in between. You may like to use a timer to help you and your kids keep track of time.

Give them permission to have more active indoor activities to release the energy that builds up when they’ve been sitting for long periods of time.

Remember that you need to get away from your desk from time to time, too—a good break does wonders for productivity!

6. Rewards

Finally, remember that this arrangement is new for your children. So be intentional in affirming your children when they have put in effort to stick to their schedule and the limits you’ve set.

Older children are able to understand the principle of delayed gratification: that doing their learning and homework first will have benefits later. Help them to understand the importance of sticking to a schedule to get a reward later on. Then, plan a surprise and spring it on them sometime during the week when they’re least expecting it. This will better reinforce their positive behaviour, which you will hopefully see more of with time.

You can also have a reward system where they get points for age-appropriate good behaviour and they get to redeem rewards (bubble tea, fast food meals, more TV time, etc.) with the points.

And don’t forget to affirm and reward yourself, too! This arrangement is a learning journey for you as well, and there would be tough spots along the way as you figure out what is best for you and your kids. When you hit upon something that works well for the whole family, that’s worth celebrating!

As we work on these aspects of Ritual, Room, Routine, Restraint, Rest, and Rewards, may we also discover the joy in connecting with our children in new ways!

Adapted from Staying Sane while Working from Home with Kids by Joannie Debrito ©️ 2020 All rights reserved. Used with permission from Focus on the Family.

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