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Working From Home with a Toddler: Creating a Responsive Routine

Today’s post was authored by Dani Rose Thibus, the Media Coordinator at the ELC. She is currently teleworking from home with her son Ridley, who will turn 3 in May. She hopes you find something helpful in this post as well as a little humor. 

Ridley is energetic, adventurous, and very social. This extended time at home seems to be both exciting and the worst thing that has ever happened to him because he misses his friends and teachers.

Since Monday March 16th, I’ve been working from home with my nearly 3-year-old, Ridley. When it looked like we were headed for more serious social distancing measures and it was announced that our school was going to be closed beyond our planned spring break week, I was honestly very overwhelmed. I love being a parent and I love my job, but those two things weren’t supposed to intersect quite as drastically as it seemed like they were about to! I worried that there wouldn’t be enough of me to go around and that I would feel constantly overloaded. While those two worries weren’t totally unfounded, and I certainly haven’t gotten it all sorted out just yet, I have now had some time to settle into this new way of working and I wanted to share a couple of things that have helped Ridley and I become better “co-workers”. 

This notes page was a turning point in knowing that I had to change my approach to work times throughout the day.

One thing I tried at the suggestion of ELC Director Robyn Brookshire was to simply observe and record what was happening at any given time throughout the day before pouring a bunch of energy into building a plan for our days at home. From my work, I know what valuable tools observation and documentation are when working with children, so I knew it would be a worthwhile experience, regardless of the outcome. What the observation and documentation process looked like for me was to write down what I thought our day was going to look like down one side of a piece of paper and then I made notes about each section of the day as it went along. It really didn’t take much time to do throughout the day and the information I gathered helped me tweak our daily schedule and routine to better suit Ridley’s and my own needs throughout the day. 

You’ll have to excuse my terrible handwriting, but you can see where I noted what was going well, what I noticed about Ridley, and how I was feeling. I also kept track of how much actual work time I logged during each section of time. This exercise helped me in a few ways: 

  1. I was actually getting more work done than I thought! I’m so used to getting a solid chunk of work time in a day that I initially felt like I was getting nothing done. But when I looked at my time across the day, I was actually getting quite a bit of time in. I know that each person’s work responsibilities are different, but for me, smaller chunks of time really added up and I was actually getting quality work done.
  2. My kiddo was really not into my early morning work session… I thought the 7:00-9:00 hours were going to be a really productive one for me as I thought it would be easiest for Ridley to engage in play with less support from me in the morning, but I was very wrong. That ended up being a very stressful time for both of us and it got our day started on a rough note. 

    Some of our together time has included extensive bug searches and puddle splashing.

  3. Offering my undivided attention during family and playtimes got me more focused work time in the long run. If I could engage in play with Ridley for a good hour, I could then say, “Okay, mommy needs to do some work now while you play with your Paw Patrol tower. I’m going to sit here on the floor in the playroom while I work.” I could actually then get a good forty-five minutes/an hour of work time in before needing to dive back into being more hands-on with Ridley. Working from the floor or a chair near where Ridley is playing was also something my notes told me allowed us both to get what we needed. Also, balancing these very interactive 

    Some days I get lots done by sitting at this tiny table in Ridley’s playroom.

    times has made offering Ridley the option to watch a show or play a game on the iPad when I need to really be attentive to work tasks or on a video call feel better to me. Screen time privileges while teleworking and parenting during the pandemic is a whole other topic for another day 🙂

  4. Using the data I collected each day helped me adjust my plan/schedule for the next day. I was able to make much better choices about how to structure the next day by considering the previous day. This process also helped me plan my work time better by understanding when my kiddo was most likely going to be able to successfully entertain himself. So, Zoom meetings and calls aren’t great for us earlier in the day, even though I thought that might be the easiest time. Now, I suggest meeting times that are later in the morning or in the afternoon, when I’ve had good luck helping Ridley entertain himself while I’m in a meeting or needing to pay close attention to a task.
  5. I have relaxed my expectations for myself and my kid. Is he going to pop up while meeting with important folks over Zoom? Probably. Is he going to need a diaper change in the middle of a really great conversation with colleagues? You bet. Do other people generally understand the challenges parents are facing when working from home? Thankfully, they sure seem to!

This schedule is the one that seems to work the best right now. Of course, we approach it flexibly, as I know that things might need to change throughout the day.

Since doing this activity, each morning Ridley and I work together to build the schedule for the day. He is now initiating the schedule building in the mornings, before I’m even fully awake! I think it is a good sign that the system works for him. We draw out a general plan for the day and sometimes we get off track or some other opportunity comes along that makes us change our plans for the day, and that’s been okay. I decided to try to give him a visual for when he can expect to have my full attention by drawing us both in the sections of the day when I’m not working, and then drawing us separately when I’ll need to focus on work tasks. This seems particularly helpful for him. A side benefit of this practice for me was that when I look at that visual and see all the places in the day with us together, I see that I’m actually devoting so much of my day to Ridley and his needs. That made me feel less guilty when I needed to focus on my work tasks. 

Here’s a video of Ridley and I making our plan for the day- enjoy! (P.S.- this video is about 8 minutes long- not all planning sessions take this long, this was a particularly detailed day as he seemed interested in the process.)


It’s not always pretty, but we’ll get through it! Stay strong, parents!

It’s not a perfect system and we certainly still have hiccups. I’ll be really honest, sometimes I feel like I’m getting it all wrong and am overwhelmed (see photo to the left for proof… That’s me, today). But, my data tells me a story I’m not often telling myself; Ridley and I are making good memories together, I’m getting a good amount of quality work done throughout the day, and mostly, I’m learning new things about myself as a parent and employee. I can love my job, be good at it, do it from home, and still be a good parent.