Engaging with children while working remotely

Create happy memories and build independence during a time of crisis.
Engaging with children while working remotely

With countries enforcing strict lockdown measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, schools and universities are closed in many places for at least the next several weeks. As families around the world face similar restrictions, finance and accounting professionals are now juggling childcare responsibilities while working from home.

“We are a generation who are raising our children on the run, with many parents regularly expressing guilt around not being able to spend enough time with their children,” said Nikki Bush, a South Africa-based human potential and parenting expert, and co-author of Future-Proof Your Child for the 2020s and Beyond (Penguin Random House, 2019). “The upside of the pandemic is that their prayers have now been answered, albeit in a most bizarre and unexpected way. Yet many working parents are now wondering how they are going to keep children entertained, whilst still being productive on the work front during the day.”

According to Bush, their focus should be on keeping children stimulated (as opposed to entertained) and finding new ways to create happy memories during this period.

Bush and Celeste Rushby, a parenting expert and occupational therapist, offered advice for how parents can achieve this while still managing demanding jobs.

Take time to pause and reflect. “It’s important that as parents, we now dig deep and set the emotional temperature within our families,” said Bush. “This means taking control of our own panic, fear, and anxiety.”

Bush highlighted that there is a danger that many parents may get into “overcontrol” mode and attempt to control what is out of their control. 

“This is the perfect moment to pause, reflect, and slow down,” she advised. “It’s part of the ‘gift’ of what we’re going through. Parents don’t need to scramble to find every solution immediately. This situation will probably go on for longer than we think. Use the time you would have spent commuting wisely.” 

Create a balanced routine. “Children thrive on routine,” Rushby said. “Creating an achievable, flexible schedule will help things run a bit more easily and help to prevent boredom.”

Naturally, the schedule needs to be age-appropriate and can include mealtimes, chores, schoolwork, outdoor play (without the neighbours), construction activity, creative activity, free play, etc. She recommended that parents leverage ideas and information provided by parenting websites such as Munchkins to discover creative ways of keeping children stimulated and engaged throughout the day.

“Another thing to add to the schedule is special alone time with each parent,” noted Rushby. “For children under 4½ years, they need 10–20 minutes of alone time with each parent daily … doing something that creates shared enjoyment. I call this ‘filling their love tank’, as young children feel much more fulfilled when they have regular, focused time with parents. If these ‘love tanks’ aren’t kept full, young children will look for attention in very disruptive ways.”

Children 4½ years and older also need alone time with their parents, which could be a daily top-up similar to that of younger children or a weekly “mommy/daddy date” at least an hour long, Rushby added.

Make time for deep, immersive work. While working parents may now need to accept that days are not going to run smoothly and without interruption, they must try to build in an hour or two of focused work. This might mean, for example, taking turns with one’s spouse or relatives to be with children while you attend to critical work or virtual meetings, or working before children wake up in the morning or after they go to bed at night. 

“For parents working from home, it’s critical to be able to shut off all distractions for an hour and get deep, immersive work done,” Bush said. “This means getting used to working in ‘chunks’ of time and getting really good at accomplishing a lot in short stints.” 

Provide incentives. If your children are 3 years old or older, Rushby suggested creating “incentive tools” for them. In the case of siblings, create a “super siblings” incentive.

“For example, whenever they are all playing together peacefully, they can earn something towards a common goal,” she explained.

These incentives could be added screen time, game time, or even the separate ingredients needed to bake a family favourite.

Introduce new life skills. “Chores and life skills are the glue that keeps a family together,” said Bush. “This is a great time to teach your children new things (of course, age dependent), such as learning to use the washing machine, unpacking the dishwasher, cooking meals, making the beds, etc. These are incredibly important skills to build up a child’s competence and confidence, which lead to independence for adult life.” 

— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in South Africa. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at