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If you’ve ever tried to work from home with a toddler, you know it can be challenging.
No longer babies content to lay on a blanket and coo, or cautiously test their wobbly legs, toddlers are energetic. Most have learned how to move effectively and are very mobile.
Toddlers are actively learning their boundaries as they try to figure out what they can get away with and what they can’t. They may even try our patience a bit. Or even several times in the same hour.
During these precious years, parents need to set clear boundaries, provide consistency, and engage their little ones in appropriate activities. Left to their own devices, you may not appreciate what entertainment choices they make, because they’ll almost certainly lead to a mess and extra work.
Keeping track of an active toddler (or two like I have…) while you’re trying to work on your business can be difficult. But, it’s not impossible.
Here are some tips to help you get more done, even with inquisitive toddlers around.
Provide Freedom within Boundaries
This may sound like a contradiction, but toddlers thrive when given freedom within boundaries. They like making choices, they like exploring their independence. But, they need boundaries in place to keep them safe and to help them feel secure.
They do not have reasoning skills at this age. If you’ve ever gotten sucked into an argument with a two-year old, you know what I’m talking about. It’s all about them and that’s what they care about. You’ve got to put boundaries in place to help them understand that they don’t have reign over the entire house (or world!)
This doesn’t have to be complicated. When they’re getting dressed, provide two choices. The toddler gets to make a choice and exercise independence, but they don’t yet have access to their entire wardrobe. This helps prevent them from wanting to wear shorts in the middle of December.
Let them choose between two or three activities when it’s time for them to play quietly beside you. Don’t dictate how those materials have to be used. If they want to build a castle for their My Little Ponies, don’t tell them they have to build a robot. Let them explore and create with the materials you provide.
Be clear on your expectations. Give them boundaries for where they can go. Baby gates are a tremendous help! If you’re working at a desk in the living room, consider installing a tall baby gate (many toddlers can easily climb over shorter ones.) Then your toddler will be reminded physically to stay in the room with you.
Prepare the Space
It helps so much to have a consistent place where you work. My living room and dining rooms are one giant area, so I either work at the roll-top desk or at the dining room table. In either location, the kids can play around me. I’m there to keep an eye on them and to answer any questions.
Once you have a workspace picked out, prepare it for your toddler. Since kids at this age enjoy emptying cupboards, consider stocking an end table or something with some toys you don’t mind being tossed out. Then your child can help pick things up again when work time is over.
Move anything breakable so it’s not a temptation.
You do need to teach your toddlers to leave things alone, but leaving out breakables in the room where you’re going to be working and only sort of focusing on your child is not the way to do it. That’s just asking for failure.
Have a couple of open-ended play options available, but don’t overwhelm your toddler. Too many choices isn’t a good thing.
Schedule Some Specific Play Time
Most toddlers thrive on routine. They find comfort in knowing what to expect. This works well for moms trying to get things done.
Come up with several specific time periods of the day you can use for your toddler to play independently. Even if these don’t occur at the exact same every day, make them part of your routine.
Here are some you might consider:
Have your toddler sit at the table in a booster (or high chair if they’re small enough) and play while you work nearby. Offer two or three activities and set the timer for twenty or thirty minutes. Let them play quietly, and when the timer beeps stop working and clean up.
Note: You’ll have to decide in advance how to handle tossed toys. If you fetch them for your child every time they’re dropped, you won’t get any work done. It’ll become a game to them and you’ll likely get frustrated. I recommend picking them up only once – halfway through the work period. If they’re tossed before then, say I’m sorry – it’s not quite time for me to pick those up yet. Next time you’ll have to keep them on the table.
Play Pen Time
Similar to table time, play pens (or the larger play yard) provide a safe place for active toddlers. Add some blocks, a few board books, and a favorite toy or two to keep your toddler engaged.
Note: Since many toddlers are able to crawl out of a play pen, make sure you keep this set up within eye range. That way you can glance over and ensure they aren’t trying to escape! 😀
If your toddler’s room is a safe area for independent play, they can have twenty or thirty minutes in their room. You can also pair up your kids and put an older child with the toddler to play together.
Activities to Engage Your Toddler in Their Scheduled Time
Wondering what you can have your toddler do during their scheduled time? Here are six of my kids’ favorite, toddler friendly activities:
- Toddler Puzzles
- Picture Cards
- Mega Bloks
- A soft photo album filled with family photos
- Baby dolls
- A car rug and toy cars (this one works best during room time since it takes up some space.)
Break Up Your Day with Movement
No matter how well-behaved your child is, working from home with a toddler works best when you break up your day. Moving from one sitting activity to another isn’t good for young kids. They thrive with plenty of gross motor activities. Even the best behaved toddler won’t move from sitting activity to sitting activity without throwing a fit. Break up your day with frequent breaks, as you play with your toddler and engage him or her in some movement.
I’ve found 30 minutes to be a good amount of time for toddlers to play on their own before they start looking for other forms of entertainment. After spending this time writing (or doing other work on my business), I have my toddlers help clean up, and then we do some movement based activities. We practice jumping, throwing bags into bowls, or anything else I can think of to get some movement going.
Asking your toddler to do jumping jacks is usually a great way to get giggling together. Remember you’ll have to do some to show them how, and toddlers have the funnest jumping jack styles I’ve ever seen! 😀
I also like to give my toddlers “challenges.” Once they can understand a string of directions, I ask them to do three different things. It might be:
- Run to the door and tap it
- Then pick up two toys and toss them in the toy box
- Finally, come find me and give me a big hug!
Notice I threw a pick up task in there. Every little bit helps! The transition words also help little ones improve their vocabulary and work on ordering tasks.
Get Outside Frequently
There’s something calming about being outside in the fresh air. Make it a point to get outside as much as you can. Set up a station on your porch and work from there while your toddler runs around nearby (obviously only if your yard is safe and your child can’t get to the road!)
Make regular trips to the park if you need to.
Go on walks.
When you head back inside, you’ll be recharged and ready to work, and your child will be tired out and ready for some quiet (or at least calm) play.
On days when we can’t get outside, my toddlers often whine more. They have so much energy that really can’t be worn off inside. So I try to ensure they’re out and about every day, even when it’s cold. We just bundle up and spend a little less time out there on really cold days.
Preserve Naps to Help You Work from Home with a Toddler
Time for an important truth – the longer your child continues to nap, the more time you’ll have to work! My kids almost always start fighting naps when they turn two. My seventeen month old toddler still sleeps really well in his playpen, but I know the time is quickly approaching…
If my toddlers don’t take naps, they’re grumpy. Like so grumpy I don’t even want to be around them by the time dinner rolls around grumpy. Neither does anyone else. They just aren’t old enough to go that long without sleep!
So now I try to keep them napping until they are four or even five (depending on their sleeping habits and how well they slept the night before.)
After settling the young toddler in his playpen (in another room), I put my three-year old and my four-year old in my bed and lie down with them. Being in a different environment (ie not their bed) makes it novel. They enjoy sleeping on Mommy and Daddy’s bed, since they aren’t allowed to at night. I have a book I keep on the nightstand just for reading during this time.
It’s my special quiet reading time! I’m right there, so if the toddlers start talking, I hush them. I remind them to stay still if they’re trying to jump or something.
And nearly every day of the week, my toddlers are both sleeping within half an hour. It takes time, and it’s time I could use for something else. But, for me, the reading time is wonderful and their mood improvement definitely makes it worthwhile.
The more consistent I am with this, the better it works. If I don’t make them take a nap for a week and then suddenly try to enforce it again, it’s another battle of the wills and I know I won’t get any work done that day because it may take the whole scheduled quiet time to get them to fall asleep. So, be consistent!
Also, it doesn’t always work. There are days (typically when my four-year old slept really well the night before) when he just won’t fall asleep. So, I make him stay there and still and quiet for half an hour while I read and his sister falls asleep. Then I might let him up to play quietly in the play room or living room (I tell him which) while I work. Sometimes, it’s not worth the battle, especially since he’s on the older end of the napping spectrum.
Transition to Quiet Time
If that’s your child, start transitioning to quiet time. Make clear expectations (that are realistic for your child). Maybe you start with letting them stay in bed and read a stack of books. When I do this, I’ve discovered many of my kids fall asleep with a book on their face, which is pretty cute.
Once they can stay in bed and read for 1/2 an hour or so, consider letting them play in a safe environment. I like to have my playing toddlers nearby, just so I can keep an eye on what they’re doing. If they make a bad choice in their play (trying to do something dangerous, making a huge mess, etc.) they go straight to bed after cleaning it up.
It doesn’t take many times “earning a nap” before they start to understand there are rules for quiet time.
Pair Up Your Kids
If you have more than one kid, pair them up for 1/2 an hour every day. We call this Sibling Play Time at my house. I have a schedule sharing which kids are together on each day of the week.
This rotation helps ensure they all play together at least once during the week. Otherwise, my kids would always pair up the same way and wouldn’t work on developing those bonds with their other siblings.
Toddlers typically LOVE attention from older siblings, so this time is perfect for them. I let the younger child in the pair pick what they do, which is another thing my toddlers enjoy. They get to do the bossing around for once!
Make a list of activities they can do together. Depending on the age gap, this is the perfect time for:
- Play dough (I make sure the older sibling is at least six for this because by then they can model correct play dough behavior, and let me know if there’s a problem!)
- Easy games (Hi Ho Cherry-O , Raccoon Rumpus , etc.) – let kids be creative in how they play games. Don’t insist they play by the rules during this time, and you’ll open up so many more options!
- Building with Mega Bloks
- Setting up a toy car wash with soapy water and towels
Think of fun things your toddler enjoys but doesn’t get to do a lot, but that is also fun for your older child.
Start the Day off Right
Kids need to know they’re loved and that you care. One of the best ways I’ve discovered to do this is to start each day together. Make it a point to be available when your kids wake up. Snuggle and chat as you get them ready for the day. Enjoy breakfast together. Read a book.
This time will pay off! After spending time with mom in the morning, I’ve found that my little ones are much more willing to play independently later in the day. You can read more about this strategy in this post on filling their love cups.
Watch Your Attitude When Life Happens
Toddlers typically still need diaper changes. They make messes with toys and spill their food.
They are still little, and still learning.
Mama, make sure you watch your attitude when your toddler acts like a toddler. They are learning all about the world from you, and your attitude it essential.
Be cheerful as you tackle the unexpected. Have your child help when appropriate (ie: pick up the toys together and hand your child a rag to help mop up spilled milk.)
Life happens – and getting mad at a toddler about it isn’t good. Remember that this little toddler will be a teenager before you know it. And you’ll see your common attitudes reflected right back at you. Start them off right, because they are watching you!
Remember Why You Started Working from Home in the First Place
There are days that don’t go as planned. Days where everything falls apart, and I have to stay up late just to ensure my client work gets done.
Those days are tough.
On those days, it helps to remember WHY you started your business in the first place. What inspired you to launch your business? This why is your foundation for the business – it keeps you coming back to it, even when days are hard.
Without a solid why, you will be more likely to give up on those hard days. To not see beyond the here and now and envision what life could be.
Always, always, always remember your why.
Finally, make sure you’re being realistic about your expectations of working from home with a toddler. You are not going to have eight hours a day to dedicate to your business, unless you bring in help to care for your child.
Toddlers cannot entertain themselves for hours each day. They aren’t ready for that responsibility, so don’t put it on them. You know your child, your environment, and your work speed. Only you can decide how much time you can dedicate responsibly to your business. Stick with that number, or even slightly less.
Your business may not grow as fast as it could. But, you will be busy helping a toddler transition to preschoolhood. That’s really important work!
What tips can you add about working from home with a toddler?
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