working from home with kids

This post continues our series by a onetime academic job seeker, now academic-at-large, containing tips on working from home with kids.

With coronavirus lockdowns, quarantines, shelters-in-place, and social isolation situations proliferating across the globe, odds are that most academics with children will end up working from home with kids for stretches of 2020. Hopefully, academic employers will come to see how impossible this is, and (as some already have) relax their standards for tenure and promotion and grad student advancement during this time. In the meantime, here are some tips for ways you can do two demanding jobs at once, without losing your marbles—well, most of them. 

Split care hours into blocks

If you have a fellow caregiver at home, split the day into blocks. Many are finding it easiest to have one parent on duty in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Kids like this kind of predictability, and work goes better when it’s totally separated from caregiving, to whatever degree that’s possible. 

Keep work informed

If you have core work hours when you’ll be expected (or available) to return emails or take calls, be proactive in planning that with your supervisor. For many academics, this kind of proactive planning may involve telling your remote students what hours of the day you can respond to their emails or queries—and then sticking to your policy. 

Make a plan

Meet with your family in the morning and talk about what is going to happen that day: 

  • When the parents will switch (if that applies)
  • When lunch and snacks will be served
  • When outside time will happen (this might be different every day, depending on the weather)
  • When schoolwork will be done

Having a family meeting (many are doing this at breakfast) may be easier for older kids to understand, but even three- and four-year-olds may get a kick out of seeing a visual schedule with drawings of your activities, and derive some reassurance out of knowing what’s happening when. 

If you’re on, you’re on

Make sure that the caregiver who is with the kids is not scanning his or her phone, or trying to work, while they’re on duty—except, maybe, in the case of a work emergency. Kids have a sixth sense for adult distraction. Instead, while you’re “on,” when your younger kids are playing or your older kids are absorbed in schoolwork, find housework that leaves you (in the words of Faith Collins, author of Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers), “busy but available”—things like cooking, dishwashing, organizing, and laundry. Younger kids can join in if they would prefer that to playing independently. This strategy has the added benefit of allowing you to complete housework during “kid time,” leaving more hours to yourself for work and (hopefully) self-care. 

Take them outside

A walk or backyard time in the late morning can really improve everyone’s mood, including the caregiver who’s acting as shepherd. This way, childcare time can double as self-care, which will improve your state of mind when you do get to sit down to work. 

Quiet time

For some families with slightly older children, this idea may be hard to re-implement, but if you have a preschooler or kindergartener who no longer naps, try to create a tradition of “quiet time” after lunch. Set them up with activities—books, stickers, audiobooks or podcasts—and let them know that everyone in the house will be in their room for a little while every day after lunch. If you have an “ok to wake” clock or nightlight that changes colors (like this one), you can use that system to let them know when they can come out. Expand the time you expect them to be in their room as time goes on; some people find they can get up to an hour and a half of quiet this way. 

Physical separation

Do everything you can to put a door between yourself and your child while you are trying to work. Can you put a heater in a three-season sunroom and wrap your legs in a blanket? Can you carve out a desk area in the basement, even if it’s a little dank down there? It’s worth it! If you absolutely can’t close a door, try a visual cue like wearing a hat or glasses to let the child know that you are “on” and aren’t to be bugged. The caregiver in charge then has to be completely on top of the task of keeping the children away from the working parent; this part may not come naturally, but it’s key. 

Your own distraction

The world is a mess right now, and it’s very hard not to waste work time reading Twitter and texting. Use a program like Freedom for Mac to keep your social media and news-reading time to a minimum. 


Especially if you’re caregiving for younger children all alone, you may not be able to avoid doling out more Paw Patrol than you normally would. That’s fine! We are in a ridiculous situation. We can do what we need to do. 

What other tips do you have for working from home with kids right now? How are you managing (and hopefully) finding balance?