Universiteit Leiden

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Working or studying from home with children

With the coronavirus measures in place, schools and nurseries will only take your children if you have a statement proving you are a key worker. No other option, therefore, but to study or work with the kids at home.

This presents an extra challenge. Young children need care and older children have online lessons and homework. How do you structure this? How do you care for your family while working? How do you manage if you don’t have a partner? How do you manage if you have a partner who also needs to work? And what about if you are a carer too?  

With all these questions, the crux of the matter is to discuss the matter with your family, set realistic expectations and talk to your lecturer or manager. We won’t beat about the bush: studying or working while your children are at home is a challenge. Which approach you take depends on the age of your children, the kind of study or work that you do and the structure of your family unit. The main thing, therefore, is to accept that it is what it is and make the best of things!

Below we cover the following topics:

A different routine and priorities

Be creative with your working hours and try to maintain a healthy work-life balance
One of the key issues when working from home is the feeling that the work is never ending. This makes a good work-life balance very important in these extraordinary times. To ensure a good balance between your work, family and time for yourself, set your working hours and stick to them. If you live with a partner who also works, one solution is to work half days or at specific times, to give you the opportunity to focus on your work.

You can also make agreements with your children: that they can’t interrupt you at certain times (if you’re working at your laptop; if you’re wearing a red cap: something that gives out a clear message, also to young children). This isn’t ideal, but the circumstances demand makeshift solutions. When you’ve finished your work for the day, switch off your computer. Spend time with the children, take some time for yourself and enjoy the rest of the day. 

Make a daily schedule and take breaks
Try to make a daily schedule, not only for your work, but also for breaks, lunch and play. Do what you can, but don’t expect too much of yourself. Begin with important tasks; prioritise these. Then do what you can of the tasks that don’t have the highest priority or require less energy. The main thing is not to plan to do too much. That only causes frustration. Some people find it works to get up an hour earlier, before the children are awake – if they aren’t up at an ungodly hour already. Make sure to schedule plenty of breaks for yourself and your children.

Be realistic and set priorities
Discuss the situation with friends and colleagues and figure out your boundaries. Decide what is and what isn’t possible. Take good care of yourself. Discuss your work plan with your lecturer or manager; decide which tasks take priority and focus on these. It is important to set realistic goals and that to make clear to yourself and to others what can and can’t be expected of you. Make sure that your fellow students or colleagues take time to meet online to think aloud and listen to each other.

Use the mornings if possible
One possible advantage of working from home is if you no longer have to commute and therefore save some time: no traffic jams and no hectic rush getting the children ready for school. Make smart use of this if possible.

Stick to a routine
Keeping the children occupied while you are working can be a challenge. It can be helpful to stick to a daily routine and to divide the day into blocks, for instance. This provides some clarity for children. If you stick to a daily routine for the whole family, this will also help your children adapt to the new situation and your working routine. 

Choose the best time for meetings 
If you are in daily contact with your fellow students or colleagues, plan these meetings at a quiet moment to avoid too many interruptions. And if your children do pop up on screen, don’t worry: your fellow students and colleagues will understand. Everyone has to work from home and at the moment. 

Work, play and school: how do you combine them?

Create your own workspace and a play area
Just as at the University, it is important to have your own place where you can work in peace. Allocate a specific corner or room as your workspace. Try to stick to a daily routine and create space for your children and yourself. 

Set goals with your children
A number of weeks off of school will obviously affect children. Make a schoolwork schedule for your children if this is appropriate for their age. Also remind them of the school rules or make your own ones. When you have finished work, take the time to go through your children’s schoolwork with them. They then learn to plan their day too.  

Take advantage of afternoon naps
If you have young children who still take a nap in the afternoon, take advantage of the opportunity to do some uninterrupted work. You will then be less stressed when it is less easy to concentrate on your work when your child is awake again.

Do your shopping for the week and have it delivered
To avoid contact as much as possible, it is a good idea to see whether you can do your weekly shop in one go or do it online. Many local shops and even market stalls are currently offering free home deliveries. If you take advantage of this, you will also support local businesses.

Who looks after whom? Don’t forget yourself

Share childcare duties if possible
If you live together with a partner, it is a good idea to share childcare duties. While one of you looks after the children, the other can focus on work. Then your children won’t feel neglected and both parents get to focus uninterrupted on their work for a few hours at a time.

Working from home without a partner
If you don’t have a partner, you won’t be able to share tasks, particularly now we are social distancing. You will have less practical and social support at a time when you need this most. Make sure to keep in touch with others and take good care of yourself. Discuss priorities with your lecturer or manager and what is realistic in this period. 

Caring duties
Alongside caring for your children, you may also care for other family members, friends or acquaintances. The combination of caring duties and studying or working from home can be hard, particularly now many support services have been reduced or cancelled because of the crisis. Inform your supervisor or manager if caring duties are affecting your studies or work, so that you can seek a solution together. The wellbeing of your family always takes precedence over your work.

Try not to feel guilty
These aren’t the times to feel guilty. Is your child spending too much time on screens? Are you finding it difficult to stick to a schedule? Do you feel as though you’re not doing your work properly? Are you finding it difficult to finish things? Do you feel as though you have neither the time nor the energy to play with your child? Unfortunately, that’s how it is at the moment. Your child won’t suffer any permanent harm. Try to focus not only on the disadvantages of working or studying from home, but also on the advantages.

And if you just can’t manage to introduce some structure, let it go and read the article in the NRC newspaper below – if you read Dutch that is. If you don’t, the message is to throw all that advice, tips and schedules out of the window, and do what works for you. ‘This is not the time for schedules; this is a time for calm.’

Fun ideas for you and your child

Sport and exercise
Zappsport@home 
Monkey Moves
DutchGymnastics
The Body Coach TV
Online ballet lessons

Education
Children’s questions about corona? Q&A
Squla free in the daytime
Engels voor Bengels TV

Reading
De Voorleeshoek
Free audiobooks from Audible 
Celebrities read aloud on Instagram
Books and stories for 1 cent at Bol.com
Free audiobooks at BplusC 

Games
SmartGames
Asmodee board games

Music
Kinderen voor Kinderen
Muziekkwartier

Multimedia
SchoolTV, also for secondary schooling
NPO Zapp
Pathé Thuis: free films

Culture & Theatre
Taartrovers
Digital museum tour
Buro Bis theatre lessons

Nature
Meester Freek
Nature treasure hunt

Young children
KleuterklasTV
Juf Nina
SimpelSamenSpelTV

Let us know if you have any other suggestions.

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