Your boss has asked you to work from home because of Covid-19. You are thrilled to be able to see your children during the daylight hours, but wary that the shrieks and howls from your frequently bickering kids will not be conducive to high productivity.
Fret not. Parenting experts say the trick to maintaining your career A-game while working from home is to focus on your children’s routine, rather than your new split-office reality from the coronavirus outbreak.
Here are some tips to making the most of your time at home.
1. Don’t overhaul your kid’s routine
Predictable schedules make children, especially younger ones, feel secure, which helps them better understand the expectations placed on them when a parent starts working from home, says Ms Lee Puay Fung Veron, an assistant manager in the preschool management division at PAP Community Foundation (PCF) headquarters.
Planning is crucial for the work-from-home parent, for whom working in concentrated spurts may be more realistic.
This could mean trying to take conference or phone calls during a toddler’s nap time, or waking earlier or resuming work after Junior goes to bed.
2. Be flexible
It’s unrealistic to expect tiny tots to understand that Dad can’t pay attention to them when he’s within grabbing distance. Toddlers may want Dad, rather than their customary caregiver, to play with them or tend to their bath time and other needs.
Arrange with caregivers such as the child’s grandparents or your domestic helper to support you as you work from home, advises Mr Shem Yao, head of Touch Integrated Family Group (Parenting).
At the same time, make full use of breaks from your computer screen during the day.
Ms Lee advises: “Take some time to assist your young child in her shower and have meals together. Make use of such pockets of time to bond with your child.”
She suggests engaging the child with activities at home, including age-appropriate household chores, which build confidence and encourage a sense of responsibility.
Sometimes, the parent simply needs to set aside his Google sheets for full-on dad duty.
Ms Geraldine Arudas Susay, senior specialist in development at Seed Institute, which provides parenting workshops and resources, says: “In situations where toddlers are clingy and unsettled, parents should be flexible and attend to their child’s needs first. If an older child is upset, talk through it with him.
“Nothing is more important than your child’s well-being.”
3. Lay down the rules of engagement
It is prudent to prepare the ground for better cooperation. PCF’s Ms Lee says: “Clear communication and setting boundaries are important when setting rules for children.”
She suggests apprising the children of what they might see you doing when you start working from home, as well as what you expect of them.
“For instance, when you are on a video call, let them know you need to step away and that you would appreciate it if they kept their volume low,” she says.
“Engage in role-play activities to help them understand why you need them to behave in a certain way. This will help them to react positively when they encounter such situations.”
Anticipate how you will deal with common scenarios such as your children wanting to play video games or asking for help with their homework.
Mr Yao says: “Talk about boundaries with regards to screen time, such as duration and timing.
“When it comes to homework, parents should communicate from the start that they will help their child with his homework at an agreed time. This will help manage the child’s expectations.”
4. Zone your home
Even if your “home office” is really a fancy name for the dining table where your laptop is ensconced, designated work and play spaces are helpful in setting boundaries for children, which aid them in understanding that Mum’s work is important.
Mr Yao suggests affirming the child positively when he keeps to his play zone and learns to ask permission before entering a space dedicated to his parent’s work.
These parent and child spheres need not be far apart.
Mr Yao says: “Allow your children to be near you while you attend to your work matters, within the boundaries outlined. This will help them understand that they cannot demand your attention and disturb you whenever they like.
“However, you will remain within sight to respond to them when needed.”
5. Be disciplined
Remember “BBC Dad” from 2017?
South Korea-based academic Robert Kelly and his family achieved viral fame when his two young children crashed a live interview he was giving to the BBC.
His daughter, then four, hippity-hopped through the unlocked door, followed by his son swooshing in using a baby walker, before his wife skidded into the room and frantically bundled them out.
“BBC Dad” is a reminder to employers of the realities of working from home, who nonetheless have to trust that their staff are performing as well remotely as they would have done in the office, according to Ms Jessie Koh, head of Reach Counselling Service.
Conversely, the employee has to be disciplined and accountable for the fact that he is working full time, she says.
But some domestic challenges can be difficult for a parent to resist, such as the temptation to adjudicate between one’s squabbling offspring.
Ms Lee says: “Your children love your presence at home and may try to attract your attention, including by getting into a fight with their siblings.
“You will need to be prepared to step in, but before that, your children should be given the autonomy to work things out and reach an agreement on their own without your interference.”
It may be even harder for a mother to let her usual caregiver attend to a baby who needs constant care.
Seed Institute’s Ms Susay suggests the parent can sometimes work with a baby carrier attached, if the infant simply wants to be held close.
Although it can be stressful to work from home with young children, smoothen the process with a little sweetness.
When a child cooperates with the parent in following Mum’s remote-working rules, remember to be generous with “praise, affirmation and cuddles”, says Ms Susay.
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
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