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Carolyn McGourty Supple's picture

While health care workers and many others are scrambling to figure out child care arrangements for children amidst school closures across the country, those who have been sent home to telecommute face a child care challenge too. Suddenly, parents find themselves trying to work remotely, with bored kids underfoot.

As a co-founder of The Press Forward and a mother, I understand remote work and how kids can distract parents from work. When we started our nonprofit, we were — and still are — a remote team working across cities and time zones while juggling multiple professional responsibilities as well as families. So we learned a few things about telecommuting. 

In our experience, effective remote work with children at home relies on creativity, structure and a few good apps and television programs. Here are some tips to help during this unprecedented time, when millions of students nationwide will be sent home for social distancing:

  • Create a schedule: Take an hour or two over the weekend to plan the week ahead, including mapping lesson plans for your and daily activities for your kids. 
  • Chart chores: Give kids activities to help you manage the house and themselves, then reward them for it daily with stars that can be redeemed for a weekly prize.
  • Use screentime for good: PBS Kids provides great educational programming, which was helpful to me as a startup founder with a young son. When I couldn’t give him my full attention or had an important conference call or interview, I let him have screentime that helped him learn. 
  • Schedule virtual playdate: Caribu helps parents and grandparents to read and draw with children through an interactive video-call when they’re not in the same location. They’re also providing free and unlimited access to their app for parents and grandparents during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Adjust by age: The Poynter Institute published this marvelous guide about working from home with kids, with practical tips and tactics for working parents to manage children of all ages. 
  • Manage emotions: Expect to be interrupted. Kids don’t understand why what you’re doing is so important, they’ll only remember how you made them feel when they interrupted you. So practice patience and empathy. Try to be present with your family when it’s not working hours. 
  • Have FUN! My son always reminds me of this, when I get too serious. We’re all struggling with the near-constant bad news about new cases of COVID-19 and a disruption of our lives. While the progression of the disease is serious, it’s important to remember that laughter can be the best medicine. Relish in storytelling and childish imagination. Be present with your family and their magical little minds. Commitment to fun through the eyes of children is an anecdote to stress.

Change is always hard — especially when change happens because of a life-threatening pandemic. This is an unprecedented challenge for all of us. We have to care for ourselves and one another during a time when we’re not able to come together physically because of the need for social distancing. 

Thanks to technology, we can be there — whether “there” is work or a playdate — without risking our health. Use this time to master the skills you need to work and play from home. The silver lining of the pandemic may be that we all learned how to communicate better and collaborate more effectively no matter where we physically sit. 

So, stay healthy and enjoy your children while you build new skills!


Carolyn McGourty Supple is executive director of The Press Forward, a nonprofit and nonpartisan initiative dedicated to advancing news culture through education, research and training. A former journalist and management consultant, she also serves as a Visiting Professor for the University of Texas at Austin where she focuses on newsroom leadership and management.



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