You wake up, pour a cup of coffee, and set your kids up with schoolwork at the kitchen table. As they focus quietly on their work, you retreat to the solitude of your home office to tackle your work to-do list. Ahh, another day of working from home as a family… right?
Oh, if only. It’s only a matter of minutes before kids will yell for your help from the other room, burst in on a big conference call, quickly abandon their schoolwork for Fortnite, and so on. But your job has real demands, and you can’t skirt those responsibilities until school reopens in the fall. What’s a working parent to do?
Today, I want to share three tricks that can help you communicate to your kids that you can’t be interrupted (without all the tension and yelling) so that you can finally get some work done in this very strange season.
#1: Use the Red Light System
When we’re setting boundaries with kids, verbal cues are never as effective as visual ones. If you simply tell your child you’re going to be on a conference call for the next half hour, you can pretty much count on them interrupting you before the time is up. That’s why I recommend visual reminders of boundaries with the red light system instead.
To make this work, you’ll need a red, yellow, and green item. You can use cups set on the kitchen counter, markers set on the corner of your desk, or sticky notes or pieces of colored paper stuck to your home office door. Explain to your child that each color represents certain expectations:
Red - You absolutely cannot be interrupted unless it’s a true emergency.
Yellow - You’re working on something important. If their question or complaint can wait, then please wait, but you’re available if they need you.
Green - You’re available, don’t mind being interrupted, and can pivot from your work as needed.
These visual cues are much more effective than verbal reminders and make it easier for kids to understand what you’re expecting from them throughout the day. Just remember to keep your expectations realistic—your children are more likely to respect the red light when they know you will change it to yellow or green soon enough.
#2: Use Block Scheduling
If you have a high schooler, you may already be aware of how block scheduling works: Chunks of time are scheduled out and dedicated to particular classes. But did you know you and your partner can use this system in your home as well?
If you’re fortunate enough to have two adults at home right now, you can use block scheduling to decide who will be the go-to person throughout the day. For example, a mom might tell her kids, “Ok, if you have any questions from 9:00-11:00, you come to me. Then, we’ll eat lunch. If you have any questions from 12:00-2:00, go to your dad.”
By blocking out hours and designating one person as the go-to parent at a time, you can count on working certain stretches with few to no interruptions—which also makes it easier to patiently deal with interruptions when it’s your turn to be the parent on duty!
#3: Prep What You Can the Night Before
During a normal, busy school year, many families cut down on the morning rush by prepping the night before. However, with everyone stuck at home all day and nowhere to go, you may have let go of this habit in recent weeks. Now is the time to bring it back!
If you’re like most people, you’re at your best and most ready to focus in the morning. But if you’re not careful, the morning can quickly get away from you as you tackle “quick” chores, fix breakfast for the family, and so on. Try protecting those precious hours for work by doing what you can the night before.
Instead of leaving dishes for the morning, knock them out before bed so you can wake up to a clean(-ish) house and focus on work. You can even set out supplies for breakfast and encourage kids to fix their own while you focus. By prioritizing your work in the morning, you’ll increase your productivity during that time and reduce your stress for the rest of the day—win, win!
Bonus Tip: Outsource the Homeschooling!
These systems can go a long way towards minimizing interruptions while you’re working from home, but if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by your children’s homeschooling needs, it may be time to get some support. Did you know you can outsource your homeschooling to a professional tutor?
We are now offering online homeschooling sessions to make your life a little bit easier. Whether your child has school-issued assignments, optional and ungraded work, or nothing at all, our tutors can meet with your child virtually to keep them focused and on track. We have flexible options, ranging from daily sessions to as-needed support, all conducted virtually to keep your family safe. Just click below to learn more and match your child with their ideal learning coach.