Practical tips for working parents who have found themselves without childcare.
I want to share with you some practical tips for working parents who have found themselves without childcare. With some of us back in lockdown, isolation or worried about governments reimposing restrictions / lockdowns, I have decided to share some tips to navigate the changing situation. I don’t want to make the same mistakes I did earlier in the pandemic that led to my burnout.
Practical tips for working parents.
It is important to have a strong work and home life integration during these periods of juggling work and childcare. Structuring the day in advance will remind the family that there is a time for learning, working and downtime, too. It’s important to take breaks when you need, including lunch / snack breaks and time for a walk to burn some energy.
Creating a routine for children during COVID-19 can provide structure and predictability during times of uncertainty. Routines also promote a sense of safety and reassurance. A common question parents have is, how on earth can we make this work?
One way to structure your family´s day is by creating a visual timetable, with different activities assigned both to the kids and to yourself. This way they know if you’re available without having to ask. I will explain how to do this later in the article. There are some steps you need to take before designing a visual timetable.
Be honest with your employer.
Have an honest conversation with your employer. Ask if you can change your working hours to better suit your routine at home and communicate your availability clearly to your team. It is imperative for us to be intentional about how we’d like to spend our time during this situation.
Prioritise workload (home and work).
Focus on tasks that serve you and your family the most. The same is true for your paid employment, prioritise your business and team objectives and ´let go´ of the rest. Start each day by writing your to-do list for your work-related tasks, then prioritize that list. You cannot do it all, so do no overfill this prioritised list. The aim is to free up some precious time in your day for your children.
Furthermore, allow opportunities for your child to help you around the house and do simple age-appropriate chores. This can be as simple as setting the table, helping prepare a meal, folding laundry, or putting dishes away. Giving a child a simple age-appropriate task to do can help build up their self-esteem and independence.
Establish boundaries and a workspace.
Having a dedicated workspace is key. Even if it’s in the same room as your children, a space that signals you are working and are unavailable is important. Children will begin to understand that you’re working and only to disturb you if they really need you. For example, you could place an office chair at the dining room table. The chair serves as a visual reminder that you’re in work mode. If the boundary is agreed in advance, there’s likely to be less conflict. Try to avoid making your bedroom a workspace, it can help your brain distinguish between work time and downtime.
The same is true for your children. Set aside a quiet workspace for your child to complete schoolwork. Schedule harder tasks, such as classwork, to be completed earlier in the day when your child is more refreshed and rested. Or at a time of day where you are available to help them. Save easier tasks for later in the day or when it is your busy worktime.
Finally, put your phone on silent and face down on a table so your attention is not constantly drawn to it. You do not need to respond immediately to emails or texts when we have blocked that time to be present with our kids. Hearing a phone ping, or phone light flash creates unnecessary tension.
To begin, take some time to review your work schedule and your partner´s too (if you have one). Consider what periods of time you need to be child-free to work uninterrupted and your partner can be the primary carer and vice versa.
Next, work out times you could sit with your children doing work tasks that are urgent, but don’t need full focus, such as email management. If your children are older, you can match your work tasks with your children’s school ones. For example, you can make school time a collaborative experience. If you have documents to read, your child could be doing some of their reading tasks from school.
Then, work out times where your children can do things with you, like mealtimes and exercise. Use this review of your time to design a visual family timetable. Consider blocking your time out accordingly to ensure you are achieving specific work tasks and integrating them with childcare responsibilities.
Based on my time blocking analysis of my family’s needs, here is an example of a daily timetable for us adults.
Practical tips for working parents.
Note, each day our schedules are different depending on when important meetings are scheduled. So, the same parent is not always doing the morning routine, meal prep and so on. Teamwork makes the dream work!
When a parent is scheduled on childcare, the parent is interacting and playing with the child. If the window of time is large, and the child plays independently, of course it is fine for the parent to be completing work tasks that do not require their full attention. The reason undivided time is scheduled to be with the child is to fill the child´s emotional need to connect with us. Therefore, reducing the likelihood of our child competing for our attention during an important work moment.
Remember kids need connection, that means our time. Your child is more likely to play for short periods on their own after they have had time with you. Time and connection fill their emotional need. By giving them your time and attention, they do not need to do something to ‘force you’ to give them your attention.
Once you have prioritised your workload, set boundaries and workspace as well as reviewed time blocking, you can create a visual timetable. For younger children who cannot read, images are the best idea. For older kids, simple words that are colour coded are best.
Practical tips for visual timetables.
Where possible you should use photos of your family to personalise the timetable for toddlers. Choose photos of the child with a parent for when the parent is giving the child their undivided attention. When you want your child to be independent, choose a photo of an activity without a parent in it. You can have another separate timetable to show your child ´what activities are involved in a morning routine´ if they need this extra level of support. The idea is to keep visual timetables simple, so your child knows when they have time with you and the general structure of the day.
If you need some activities for toddlers, click here.
Be kind to yourself.
Firstly, remember to take care of yourself. Make sure you get quality sleep, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and get fresh air. It will help you feel more positive and upbeat.
Secondly, if you are overwhelmed, choose a single area to focus on improving. Make sure you set achievable targets. For example, 30 minutes of a YouTube exercise video with the kids. Or no screen time one hour before bed to improve the quality of your sleep.
Remember you cannot control your child, but you can control how you respond to your child. Try to remain calm, take a deep breath before responding to tricky behaviour.