Working From Home with Kids? These Behavior Strategies Can Help!

Filed in Business, Busy As A Mother Podcast, Motherhood — April 4, 2020



Working From Home with Kids

Prefer to read instead of listening? No problem! The transcript is below:

Today’s episode is all about behavior strategies that you can use with your kids while working at home so that you can accomplish more and also so that your kids have clear boundaries and know the expectations. Having expectations and strategies in place sets both you and your kids up for success. Your kids are going to look to you to establish what the new norm is right now in your household. 

Back when I was a school social worker, a huge part of my job was to create behavior plans that teachers and parents could implement with kids. This was before I had my own kids. I will admit that there have been times when everything I know about changing behavior went completely out the window. It’s like I completely forgot that I have all of this education and training around this. 

But, I finally realized that life with our kids would be much easier if I implemented even just a couple things with Van and Dre.

Okay, so I’m going to give you several tricks you can use. Keep in mind that these things can absolutely be modified depending on the ages of your kids. These tricks will make working from home with kids a better experience.


Before we get into the strategies, I just wanted to say that it’s going to be so important to give yourself and your kids some grace. I do not mean to let your kids do whatever they want because they are sad or because you’re stressed out. 

Like I mentioned before, it’s going to be so important to establish clear rules and boundaries. But, it’s also going to be crucial to acknowledge how they are feeling, even when enforcing the rules. For example, I might say to Van, in a calm voice and maybe even while hugging him, “Van, I know you’re sad right now and that’s okay. And it’s also still time to clean up your toys.” I’m not letting him get out of what he needs to do, but I’m also acknowledging and normalizing how he’s feeling.

Our kids are likely feeling big emotions right now. They have no idea what to do with them or how to appropriately express themselves. So us normalizing their feelings, but also maintaining boundaries, is more important than ever. 

Also, let’s be real that they are kids, so they are going to push back and test the waters with us and this is why being consistent with everything you put into place is going to make or break if these things work. 

Okay, so here are a few things you can do if you are working from home with kids but they are constantly interrupting you:

  • Print or draw a stop sign. Either tape it to your door or onto the back of your computer. Somewhere they can see it while you are working. When the stop sign is up, you are not allowed to come into the room or talk to me. End of story. Of course, explain that if there is danger, someone is hurt, then they can come in. If they do interrupt you when the sign is up, have as little engagement with them as possible. Point to the sign and shake your head no, gently remind them that the sign is up, but don’t give in and talk with them because if you do, then they know that there really isn’t a boundary around all of this and it’s pointless.
  • Give them a timeframe with this. Now, some kids developmentally will understand when you say, the stop sign is up for 45 minutes or 15 minutes or 2 hours, or whatever you decide is an appropriate time frame for your kids. But, if they are too young to truly understand time, having a timer can be really helpful. An egg timer, your phone timer, or whatever. The more visual, the better. You can always refer to the timer like, “Oh, not time to play yet because the timer hasn’t gone off.” Blame it on the timer and it keeps it separate from you having to be the bad guy.
  • Another thing you can do is give your kids three tokens that they can use in a designated time period. The tokens could be checkers, stickers, game pieces, or whatever. You give them the three items. If they want to talk to you, they have to give you one of the tokens. Once they run out, they are done until you start over again later. So, you might say something like, “You only have 3 tokens, so make sure this is important enough to use before you decide to interrupt me.”
  • If you don’t have one of these, you can order one online. I’m sure there are tons of different options out there for things like this, but I have the Hatch Baby. And what it is is a light and sound machine that you can control with an app on your phone. I got this for Van because he was getting up between 4-5 every morning. I was easily able to program the light so that it is red until 6:30. Then, it turns green. If he wakes up and his light is red, that means it’s still time to sleep. This has definitely come in handy because there are several different colors, so I can designate a certain color to let him know when it’s my work time and he can’t interrupt. Dre is not quite two, so he doesn’t really get it yet. But, Van will sometimes say, “Dre, the light is purple, so mama is working and you can’t bother her”. So he’s been helping me teach him. The Hatch Baby also has sound. So, if your child is better with auditory learning, you could designate the music or the birds tweeting or the white noise as work time, and then change it when you are done working. You can change the color and sound at any time from your phone. For instance, if you finish work early or if you need a couple more minutes.

Be realistic about the amount of time you can expect your kids not to bother you while working from home. 

Okay, another really helpful tool is to make a schedule. You could get super elaborate and print photos, laminate them, and put velcro on the back or you could just write it on a whiteboard or piece of paper. But, when kids know what is coming next, it takes away some of that anxiety and it gives you something to say other than “NO”. So, if your daughter asks you to play with her, instead of saying you can’t, you can refer to the schedule and say something like, “Look, after I’m done with my work time, it’s time to draw with sidewalk chalk together.” or whatever you want to put on the schedule. 

So, you might have 10 different chunks of time throughout the day when it’s work time for you and you have to jump back and forth between being mom and working. I know this isn’t ideal, but it really can help your working from home with kids experience a lot.

Don’t overextend yourself when you’re working from home with kids.

This brings me to a really important suggestion. When possible, don’t try to do two things at once. I learned this the hard way when Van was a baby. I thought we didn’t need daycare because I could do a lot of work from home and I thought I could do it all. Once I started really paying attention to when I was getting super irritated and frustrated, I realized it was because I was trying to work and be a mom at the same time. Writing an email while nursing him or taking him for a walk when on a work call and then I wasn’t able to give my full attention to either thing. I would end up feeling like I was getting nothing done successfully and I was so frustrated. Working from home with kids is rough!

I know there are times when you have to multitask. But, when you set that schedule for being a mom or when you are working, I can’t recommend enough to stick to it. It’s not fair to your kids for you to not fully be present. It’s not fair to you and your work to not be fully present. We are so much more successful and get more done when we are intentional with our time. 

Give your kids choices.

They are probably feeling a huge loss of control being stuck at home. Giving them choices helps them to feel like they at least have some control and that they are important. Maybe ask them to help you choose what’s for dinner or which order they want the activities to be in on the schedule. Just make sure the choices you give still give you the outcome that you want. So, for example, “Do you want to clean your room first or do your math homework first? Would you rather wear your red pajamas to bed or your pink ones?” In the end, you are getting what you want and they feel like their opinion is important.

Another thing that can really help with kids right now, and always really, is to point out positive. So, like, “I noticed you finished your reading work without me having to ask you to do it. Thank you.” Or, “You shared with your sister and that made me feel so happy and I bet she was happy, too.” I know sometimes I’m guilty of constantly correcting and pointing out what they should be doing that it can be easy to forget to focus on the positive. 

Brain Gym.

Okay, the last thing I want to talk about is something called Brain Gym. I learned about this many years ago from a social worker colleague of mine. These activities are so much fun that I started doing them with my own kids. I actually really like doing them myself because they just make me feel better mentally. 

There are 26 pretty simple movements that don’t take long to do. These movements essentially stimulate brain function. This ultimately helps with focus, memory and it increases your ability to learn when you strengthen neurological pathways. 

You can actually google Brain Gym and there are tons of videos and pdfs with the movements. I think you can also purchase the whole program, but if money is tight, you can find several of the movements online for free.

Okay, well, I really hope this has been helpful for you. Working from home with kids is not an easy feat. I’m sending you so much love, patience and positive energy. 

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Take a look at my ‘Can You Work at Home with Your Kids?’ blog for more on this topic!

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