It’s hard balancing working at home with being a parent. Someone always wants something. Even when school’s in session, kids find ways to need you right when you’re trying to be really productive. And of course, they always want permission to watch TV, use a tablet or a computer. But you can’t let them do that all the time. Kids need limits on their screen time. Sometimes that’s difficult when you’re working at home and screens are the easy way to get them to give you some peace and quiet.
This issue has become both easier and more difficult for me as my kids have gotten older. They’re all old enough now that they can play on their own for quite some time, but the oldest in particular likes to play online games where she can interact with friends whose parents never seem to want to let them just come over.
Giving screen time to the kids is, of course, one of the easiest ways to keep them busy and somewhat quiet while I work, but it’s not ideal. Fortunately, there are good ways to limit kids’ screen time while you work at home. Try a few and see what works for you.
Talk About Screen Time Limits And Set Rules
It’s good to get into the habit of talking about it when you’re going to make a rule change such as limiting screen time. The ages of your children will determine how much they have to say, and you can try to come to a mutually agreeable solution. You can set limits per day or week, and consider ways for kids to earn extra time if you like.
One thing you may have to discuss is how much screen time parents have. Since I work at home, I’ve had to explain why the rules don’t apply the same way to me. I work on my computer, after all. If you aren’t following the rules yourself, be sure to have a fair reason why.
One long standing rule we have is that the kids may not bring screens into their bedrooms – except on sick days when I want them to try to keep their germs to themselves. Keeping screens out of the bedrooms means no one can just sit and stare at a screen for hours without being noticed, and they won’t stay up at night watching stuff.
I don’t count homework time against their allowed screen time. That’s school work, and the older the kids get, the more often the computer is required to get their homework done. They’d be upset if that was the only time they could use the computer, and I would consider that reasonable.
Consider Educational Computer Games And Apps
If you want to give your kids a little more leeway on how long they use screens, find some acceptable computer games or apps for them. My youngest adores The Prodigy Game, an online math game, which is nice because she needs a little extra help with her math.
You may also want to give some leeway if your child is building a skill using the computer or a table. My oldest wants to be an animator, so it’s completely reasonable to allow her extra time to work on that skill, just as it would be for one trying to develop an app or do other work that requires a computer.
Don’t give your kids unlimited time with screen just because it’s an educational game, of course. It’s not unreasonable to allow them some extra time if they can convince you of the value of what they’re doing.
Send Them Outside
Many kids these days seem to really resist playing outside when it’s hot out. I suspect it has to do with air conditioning. Why go outside when inside is soooo comfortable?
I aim to get my kids outside during the more pleasant parts of the day – morning before it really heats up, evening as it cools off. In the heat of the day is more difficult, but a nice sprinkler and a healthy supply of Super Soakers really improves their interest.
Consider also whether your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own or with a group of friends while you work. Whether or not this is possible depends on a lot of factors, but there comes a time when it’s really good for kids to be allowed to do things without direct adult supervision. Once they can do that, you may worry, but you can get things done while they’re gone. You can go along and try working on your laptop or tablet if you like or if the kids are too young to go on their own, but if your kids are old enough to go to the park on their own, you’ll probably be more productive at home.
Classes, Camps, etc.
What do your kids want to learn about or do during their spare time? My kids take swim lessons at least part of each summer, and we look at other classes, soccer camp and so forth. There may be signups at various times, both during the school year and in summer, depending on where you live. While I don’t believe in overscheduling kids (they need down time too!), signing them up for something they really want to do is great for keeping them away from the TV or computer and can give you some work time. If the classes are short, you may be better off bringing some work along on your laptop than driving back and forth for drop off and pick up.
Have Activities Ready For the Kids
I keep a variety of craft supplies ready for my kids. My kids went through a phase where they constantly wanted to make things with Perler beads. They print designs off the internet for whatever they want to make, and my oldest is allowed to use the iron to press them.
Pay attention to the kinds of crafts and other activities your kids enjoy so you can keep supplies ready for them. The easier it is for the kids to access the supplies on their own, the more they’ll use them rather than watch TV, and the more they’ll let you work.
Board games are another good choice. Play as a family sometimes, but make sure your kids know how to play some games just with each other. Some games are good for a wide range of ages – mine play Sorry together sometimes, for example.
Be ready to help the kids negotiate when they can’t agree on what to do. One time I persuaded my two older kids to play a game called Greed (what they wanted to do) while taking turns playing Mastermind with my youngest. It worked out pretty well, as everyone was doing something they wanted to do.
There will probably still be times when you’d rather let your kids watch TV or play on a computer or tablet. If you plan alternatives in advance, you won’t have to give in as often. As everyone gets used to relying on screens less and less for daily entertainment, it gets easier all around.