Working from home with a toddler takes a special balance of patience and preparation. While every family’s work from home situation is different, here are some strategies we use to make working from home less stressful for us and more enjoyable for our baby toddler.
Encourage Independent Play
When you are working from home, a toddler who can play independently will be one of your best assets. We have tried to encourage Bibi to play independently from a young age. (Tips for independent play from 2-12 months and 1-2 years.) It has paid off during recent months when I’m working from home. We can set Bibi up with some special toys and get some work done.
One thing that helps, is a basket of Bibi’s favorite toys for use only when mom or dad is working. Limiting the toys’ availability makes them seem more special and fun and it also cuts down on clean-up. Once we are done working, we just throw the toys back in the bin. Bibi is excited when we work because she gets to have her favorite toys out.
I’ve also had luck bringing my work near a spot in our home that I know Bibi loves to explore. One of her favorite spots right now is our pantry…she loves to play with the cans and boxes. I bring my work into the kitchen so I can watch her while she is engrossed in looking through everything. Some other ideas that might be appealing to toddlers are: the backyard, a linen closet or a playroom. The key is to be nearby while your toddler plays so you can interact and they can stay entertained.
Your physical location can also help or hinder your toddler’s independent play. A lot of my work is done on a laptop at my desk. For a long time, Bibi would say “up!” and want to sit on my lap and play with the items on my desk while I (tried to) work. At first I thought it was the “stuff” that was appealing…but then I realized she was actually feeling left out. I switched to working on a low table in her playroom and her independent play improved. Try working in the physical space where your child is playing to help encourage independent play.
Setting up an independent play session by demonstrating how to play with the toys will help your child stay engaged. I can get a good half hour of focused work done after I invest a few minutes of playing. Something like “cooking” a few dishes with Bibi in her play kitchen will make her excited to play by herself.
One last tip to help your child play independently for longer is to utilize music. Amazon Prime Music has a station called “Toddler Time” that plays a mix of fun and catchy kid songs. I’ve also had success playing classical music. When I play music that Bibi can sing or dance to, it lengthens how long she will play independently.
Cultivate Good Sleep Habits
Undoubtedly, the most natural time to work is when baby or toddler sleeps or naps. Try to cultivate good sleep habits with your baby so they can sleep through the night and take naps on a consistent basis, this will allow you to get enough rest as well and work during their nap times. Here are some posts I wrote on how we sleep trained Bibi: Trained 3 Month Baby To Sleep Through the Night, How We Fixed 5 am Wakings, 10 Habits That Help Our Baby Sleep Through the Night.
Tips for Good Sleep Habits
- Consistent bedtime and naptime.
- Establish a bedtime routine.
- Nap times should end at an age appropriate time to build enough sleep pressure in order to fall asleep at bed time.
- Build confidence in baby toddler so they can self-soothe to sleep.
- Ensure sure all basic needs are met like going to bed satiated with clean diapers.
- Use blackout curtains and white noise to help reduce light and drown out noises which might wake baby up.
Cut Down on Household Chores
Working from home with a toddler might mean you need to cut down on your household chores. There are only 24 hours in a day. When you work from home and add in a busy toddler your expectations may need to be adjusted.
First, it is important to communicate with your spouse or partner about the demands on your time. Try to set realistic expectations of what cleaning chores you will both be able to do. Recognize that you may need to live with a messier house on a day-to-day basis.
Another strategy is to have your partner help you do a deep clean of the house on the weekend. Since we don’t have time to do a lot of the nitty-gritty chores each day, we spent Saturday morning working together to get the house in good shape.
You can also delegate cleaning chores by involving your toddler. We have created a simple cleanup routine that we do with Bibi at the end of each day. We set a timer and then she helps us pick up. You can make this nightly cleanup time into a fun game by seeing if you can beat the timer or by cleaning while a fun song plays.
Last, purchase products that will save you time. You may want to purchase an Instant Pot to make meal prep faster, use paper plates and cups, or purchase a robot vacuum. I used to vacuum after Bibi fell asleep, but our robot vacuum has saved me so much time. Now I can spend that extra time doing more important work. As a bonus, I get to wake up every day to freshly vacuumed floors.
Simplify Food Preparation
When you are working from home with a toddler, food preparation can take up a lot of precious time. I’ve found that batch cooking and ordering takeout has helped reduce the amount of time we spend preparing food.
I decided to focus all of my weekly cooking into two days. On those two days I batch cook and freeze meals for future weeks. This gives me a nice store of ready-to-reheat meals in our freezer that we can eat during the other two week days. I also batch cook special toddler meals for Bibi during this time.
On weekend nights (Friday-Sunday) we get takeout or go out to eat. Usually, we will buy extra take-out to freeze which saves time and reduces delivery costs. Take out doesn’t have to be an elaborate meal. Often we will order protein-rich main dishes like roast chicken or pork chops. They can be easily reheated with our own organic veggies. We also typically eat out with friends or family one of those weekend nights.
Another time saving idea I tried was signing up for meal delivery kits. Pre-packaged ingredients are sent to your home for you to cook yourself, eliminating meal planning and time-consuming trips to the grocery store. Here is my review of 3 popular meal delivery kit companies and which one I liked the best.
We always make our own breakfasts and lunches. They are easy to prepare and it cuts down on food costs. Typically we will eat simple items like sandwiches, soups and salads
Utilize the time(s) of day that are most productive
A big part of successfully working from home with a toddler is being flexible with your schedule. It also helps to find (and maximize) the times that are most productive for you.
Before I had Bibi, I was the most alert and effective first thing in the morning and right before bedtime. Now I’m more tired and less able to focus at night. Now I do the work that requires the most concentration before Bibi wakes up for the day and save the “easier” work for nighttime.
I also take a 20-minute nap in the middle of the day when Bibi is napping. This helps keeps me recharged so I can work for a few hours after she goes to bed at night. Sometimes, if I am feeling more ambitious, I will skip the nap and exercise instead during that time. Although, it’s psychologically harder to implement, I do feel just as energized after and that knocks one exercise session off the to-do list.
During the three hours after Bibi goes to bed, I clean up and practice yoga. I also focus on my work tasks that require the least amount of concentration. This is the easier work that I can do while listening to music or a show. It’s relaxing and helps me unwind while still feeling productive. Think about what time of day you are most productive. Try to plan your working hours during that time period.
Strategic Use of Screens
While we still have a no screen policy for Bibi (here’s why), I recognize that older toddlers and their families can benefit from the strategic use of screen time, especially during this very trying time. Educational shows, interactive digital books or virtual story time with grandparents might be a good compromise to give parents a block of uninterrupted to finish their work.
Ask For Help
It’s easy to feel societal pressure to “do it all.” But the truth is, no one can do it all on their own! One of the most important things I’ve learned during this time is, don’t feel bad asking for help. Once I accepted that I can’t do it all I’ve felt less guilt and anxiety. Not everything will get done perfectly, but it will get done eventually.
I asked my husband to take on a few of the cleaning tasks in our house. Now he does the dishes and laundry so I don’t have to worry about those tasks. Consider split shifts with your partner. Try to take arrange equal amounts of time for each person to work and take care of the children.
It is more difficult to ask for help outside of our home during this stay-at-home period. In our case, we try to minimize contact with others so Bibi is with us all day long. This means that she can occasionally go to her grandparents’ house with less risk. This time with Bibi away gives us a small break to do more hands-on work.
We’ve found that this safe-as-possible interaction with grandparents is wonderful for their mental health too. It is tricky though…if we think we’ve had any type of risky exposures in public, we observe a short period of isolation as a family before she gets to visit them again. This has been challenging for us so we try to stay outdoors in non-congested areas and wear masks if we have to be indoors.
Don’t be afraid to first, acknowledge that you need help, and then ask for it. Most people recognize what a challenge it is to balance working life and a toddler and would love to help. Think of different ways you can get help. If you didn’t have plans of sending your child to pre-school yet, there are other options like drop-in daycare, hiring a part-time in-home nanny, nanny sharing with another family or even swapping childcare with another parent.
Where appropriate, fill your managers and co-workers in on your situation. Keep the communication lines open so you can maintain a professional relationship and demonstrate that you’re trying to stay ahead of any potential problems that may arise.
Working from home with a toddler is definitely a challenge. But you can do it! Just use some of these strategies and lots of patience for both your toddler AND yourself. I hope these ideas help you work from home more happily and productively.