WORKING FROM HOME WITH KIDS IN THE TIME OF COVID-19
By Manidipa Mandal
Parents who normally rely on day cares while they go to work are wondering how to survive this unexpected—and unpredictable—holiday productively, without climbing walls or losing their temper.
So here is a blog from us, at The Nestery, with a few tips to combat the home quarantine with kids, while also keeping abreast of your deadlines.
How can you work from home effectively with a young child?
- Assume everything will take twice as long, and broadcast this understanding.
- If you are lucky enough to have multiple caregivers at home, tag-team for an hour at a time.
- Let colleagues know when family naptimes, bedtimes and mealtimes are, so they know when you are easily reached and when not to call short of a dire emergency; capitalise on naptimes and that hour post-bedtime to do the focused stuff you cannot otherwise manage, like accounts and writing/coding and designing (what you can manage with the child in tow is emails and meetings and, yes, presentations, even interviews).
- If your work is highly collaborative, introduce your little ones to your colleagues while things are still calmer.
- For calls, everyone who is not talking, put yourselves (and your families) on mute.
- Use pomodoro timers; it will let you connect without losing your sanity, let you take movement breaks, and the kid(s) will soon realise these predictable windows are theirs and at least the older ones may clamour less over the working 40-minute phases.
- Alternate your household chores and ‘work’ work, especially if it lets you alternate mental work and physical tasks to preserve your energy and sanity.
- Get (your colleagues) used to interruptions from the literal monkey on your back for con calls and video chats. They will interrupt, so a heads-up before the call that you may be interrupted, should help.
- If no one at your workplace is ill, and you live in proximity to a few colleagues, consider a communal round-robin or work-play dates: everybody gathers together to work and watch the kids, taking turns.
- Use mealtimes to connect more deeply: cook one-pot DIY dishes together like pizza or rolls or sandwiches or ‘kebab’ skewers; offer dips and vegetable sticks on the side to make up the vegetables.
- Making a picnic of mealtimes on the terrace/in the balcony/under the dining table in a ‘tent’ is also a great way to connect - shelve the table manners for a bit, while you are at it.
- Keep breakfasts and snacks simple and super-favourites, be it pancakes or cheese toast or mini idlis or egg nests.
- Get input on snacks, and go with it if humanly possible and not direly unhealthy. If they want cereal and milk, cookies and apples, banana and peanut butter and raisins thrice a day, and it means they serve themselves while you get work done, Let. It. Go! (and get a smoothie and energy bar yourself, or fruit and yogurt like it’s a fast)
- You might usually be the maestro of keeping it all in your mind; but for these few weeks/months, write every last thing down, manually or digitally or even photographically before your attention is claimed and short-circuited.
- Step out for phone calls into the balcony, if you can; get some sun and fresh air, rather than the echoing bathroom (the very young-ster can water plants or meddle with the laundry in the meantime). If neither is feasible, put out the messiest sensory play object you can find (I suggest fabric crayons like this - https://thenestery.in/products/toyroom-fabric-crayons) and your w-h-i-t-e work shirt or bedsheets and put an egg timer on); let colleagues know you have a deadline too.
- Use music or audio books that will occupy your child or at least reduce their need to hear their own shrieks (if you can’t bear it, put ear plugs in and be in their line of sight instead).
- Start the day with together time; get to the phone after that morning routine which lets you all fill your cups as thoroughly as possible before you start, and similarly do bedtime while you are thoroughly present.
- If a meltdown does ensue, and it will, drop work and attend to it unless there is truly an emergency; it is not going to resolve itself, and the longer you delay or distract, the worse the bite when it returns.
- Wake up just a little before your child so you can plan your day and prioritize, put emergency supplies in place, before things get dire.
Capitalise on Snack Times. Picture Credit - Aparajita Kumar
How can you Manage Work from Home with Kids while supervising minimally?
- First of all, assume clean-up will have to wait for day’s end; at best, designate themed bins and impose a one bin at a time rule (this is only going to work for grade-school ages, typically).
- Designate a messy play mat or corner: if you have a tiled floor, move away upholstered furniture and let them use crayons right on the floor; or put a tub out in the balcony; or offer bath crayons to turn one bathroom into their art studio. Let them use water to paint disappearing pictures on stone or cement flooring; orange/apple juice to do ‘secret writing’ for older kids.
- They will need physical activity and not just sit-down stuff. Offer one (child-proofed) bedroom as obstacle course with the child monitor on (silenced for older kids); alternatively, let them camp under the dining table with all the pillows and some extra sheets and towels, while you retreat to the bedroom.
- Make your peace with screen time for a couple hours a day, but try to split it up: pre-emptively download favourites you have already vetted (now is not the time to experiment) and if possible, for older kids, switch off the wi-fi to limit wandering.
- Offer to let the kids ‘work’ alongside you, for toddlers and pre-schoolers: set them up with a workstation with paper, colours, stickers, craft scissors, string, beads… Or give them prep jobs, like peeling boiled potatoes, shelling eggs, podding peas, and hand them some dough to roll out. For pre-schoolers, see if you can get them scrubbing and dusting, or hand over some clay, kinetic sand and vehicles, mixed grains and legumes for messy play. For older kids, have them take charge of household sanitization in addition to puzzles and books.
- Get older ones to help with chores and to ‘babysit’ (supervise) younger ones; they will be supervised themselves, but will likely be less fractious playing the boss/leader themselves.
- Be present, and offer appreciation regularly, especially when things truly are quiet and independent play is successfully negotiated.
- If you have not introduced radio/podcasts/audio books, now may be the time.
- Remember, especially older kids (preschool up) may be terrified, and need time to talk to you. Give them the facts but keep yourself in good humour. Warnings and admonitions need to be fun and playful, not dire. Dealing with new nightmares is not your goal this quarter.
- Do sandwich scheduling a la pomodoro for your child too: some relaxation and reading and massages for one parent break, and then some hopscotch, hoop-la, disco time for the next.
- If you have several children, alternate focus in your parenting breaks so each child has some one-to-one time with you.
MAINTAINING HEALTH AND HYGIENE AT HOME
- Isolate yourself if you are sick. Within the home, try to retreat to a room with an attached bathroom and if you must share a room, try to maintain a 1-meter distance from others (yes, we know this is a futile measure with a small child; it’s more important to steer clear of the elderly, pregnant and immuno-compromised as this particular coronavirus seems not to hit children quite as hard).
- Wash hands, everyone, every hour, for 20 seconds each time (the time needed to sing Happy Birthday twice) and pay attention to wrists and between the fingers.
- Equally sanitize door knobs, phones, laptops (yes, we know—take a call between the cost of your tech and the cost of your health, but usually diluted white vinegar on a cloth barely dampened is a safe call). These tend to be worse than taps and bathrooms.
- If you have a cough or are sneezing, wear a surgical mask and replace it every 8 hours at least; pop them in a 5% bleach solution before you discard. If your face is uncovered, sneeze/cough into elbows, not hands.
- Avoid touching your face—or your child’s.
- Avoid sharing utensils etc, and this is one time we suggest changing your towels and napkins daily, switching to tissues you discard in a closed bin at once and not handkerchiefs, and wash bed linens and table linens more often (with young children at home, it may be worth minimizing the soft furnishings like curtains and cushions for now).
- Try not to accept deliveries or hand over garbage directly. Leave it out (or leave a bag/closed basket out for deliveries) and wash hands every time, as well as the receptacle itself.
- If your child is sick, minimize the number of caregivers as much as you can (we know the ideal of one parent only might be impossible).
Prakriti, a school at Sec 22, Noida, recorded this "health jingle" to address Covid 19 concerns while ensuring children understand the hygiene practices that have been enforced. Shared with permission.
MAINTAINING STATUS QUO IF YOU ARE NOT SICK YET
- Make sure your outings with the child are the sort that reduce personal contact and increase interpersonal distance—so cycling or using the scooter or their skates in the park beats playing in the sandpit together or using shared equipment such as slides, seesaws, climbing frames etc.
- Avoid taking public transport and with younger children, it may be best to order in treats or deliveries than go to the shops.
- Stock up on multiples of fever meds, decongestants, cough soothers, teas and coffee, masks now, before they get marked up or sold out; this goes for your most essential household supplies too.
- This is not the time to use a carpooling service; travel in solo cabs and off-peak if you can, and give your household help the time off too if you can at all manage (you may be forced to, so better figure it out ahead of time anyway).
- Children have been less vulnerable to this illness, but all these measures are necessary in part, to avoid spreading the infection to more vulnerable people.
While stock markets around the world are crashing, and schools and day cares are shutting down, alas, work goes on and deadlines still hang around your head. But it is what it is, unfortunately, with no sign of a vaccine or medical solution in sight.
We hope the ideas in this blog help you hang on to your sanity, while also keeping your children happy and healthy!
Do you have any other ideas to share? Tag our handle @thenestery.in and tell us your ideas. And bonus! If you send us a video of your child washing their hands, you can be featured on The Nestery's social media feed! Cool, right?
Manidipa Mandal is a seven-year-old parent still learning about parenting. She also likes to read and write about ecology, biology (especially gender), food and travel.