How to Survive Working From Home with a Toddler

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Are you struggling with trying to now work from home while your toddler gets into everything they are not supposed to? Have you been instantly forced into working from home without childcare? I’m going to share my 13 tips for surviving working from home with a toddler.

This list is about keeping your sanity and mental health while working from home without childcare.  It is not a list of how to be uber-productive during this crazy time. 

Surviving vs Thriving

The word surviving is important here.  I’m a firm believer that on opposite ends of the spectrum are surviving and thriving.  And although there are days when I feel like I’m thriving in this new normal, the majority of the time I’m just trying to survive and get by.

But it’s okay if you’re feeling like you are only surviving and not thriving right now.  Nobody could plan for this and the sudden change in everything can make it extremely hard to adapt to.

Give yourself some grace momma. Surviving is still progress.

Why Toddlers are Unique

So now that we have decided that surviving working from home with a toddler is not easy. Let’s talk about why toddlers are different and may be more difficult than other ages.

Toddlers need constant supervision. I don’t know how many times I have been distracted only to look back and find my little one sitting on the counter in the kitchen, or putting something in her mouth that is definitely not food.

These little humans are not babies anymore.  That can’t just be left on a blanket on the floor or in a motorized swing for 15 minutes while you have a shower – or am I the only one who has done that?

Toddlers are also not school-aged kids who can self-entertain for periods longer than 30 seconds.  Their attention spans are next to non-existent most of the time, yet they are constantly seeking stimulation.

And if you’re anything like me, you are trying to keep your toddler away from screen time right now.  This makes things even more difficult as there is no television/iPad/cell phone babysitter.

So what is a mom to do?  Well having now worked from home for the past 3 weeks, here are 13 tips for surviving working from home with a toddler.

Establish a Routine

Prior to this pandemic, we had strong routines and systems in our household.  They were mandatory to get both of us out the door on time to work every morning and to have the little one ready for childcare.

But then everything changed and our routines seemed to go out the window.  The thing is, I need a routine and so does my little one.

Establishing a new routine helps as get through the day with some sense of normalcy.  

Because hubby is still going to work I’m now tasked with childcare while simultaneously having to work from home.  The new routine that is helping make this happen is to work while the little one naps.

This means that I have to consciously wear her out in the mornings with lots of activities and fresh air so that she naps long enough in the afternoon for me to get my work done.

Be Flexible

As great as routines are, it’s also still important to be flexible. 

Sometimes work can’t get done during nap time because nap time just doesn’t happen. No problem, just pivot, be flexible and maybe it’s a night to work when the little one goes to bed.

Being flexible not only relates to schedules and routines but to everything that comes up in the day. Maybe you had plans to go play outside, but then it starts raining – or snowing. Time to be flexible and adapt to the situation.

Adaptability and flexibility will help decrease stress levels during this uncertain time. Being open to rolling with the punches may be uncomfortable but will absolutely help when working from home without childcare.

Create a Dedicated Work Space

Oddly enough this was one of my 20 goals for 2020 and the timing could not have been more perfect.

Although it’s important to be flexible and sometimes work will get done in all sorts of random places – bathroom laptop work anyone? Having a dedicated workspace will help to focus your energy and give you a place to escape to to get work done.

Another benefit of a dedicated workspace is that it helps to keep the work contained. By setting up a home “office” for myself I find that I’m better able to manage my time.  Work is no longer seeping into every aspect of my day, with a dedicated workspace work now has somewhere to be.

Put the Phone Down

This one is a sanity tip.  Similar to having a dedicated workspace so that work doesn’t seep into every aspect of your day (and life), putting the phone down can help with this too.

Yes, there are times when you will have to have your phone on you and will have to be working.  But working from home can also give the flexibility that an office setting does not. Enjoy this flexibility and use it to dedicate some time to your toddler.

And when it’s toddler time, let it be toddler time and not being on your phone while your toddler is near you time. 

Personally, this is one aspect of working at home without childcare that I can definitely improve on.

Come Up with a Daily To-do List

Let’s be honest, suddenly having to work from home without childcare is overwhelming; and full of distractions.  There is now so much that “needs” to get done in the day.

One strategy that I use to manage my toddler and my work is to make a daily 5 to-do list.  First thing in the morning (or the night before), I come up with a must-do list of 5 things that I hope to accomplish that day.

This helps to provide focus and a bit of structure, 2 things that can be lacking when trying to entertain a toddler at home.

How to survive working from home with a toddler - make a daily do-to list of things you want to accomplish. #handfulofthoughts #workingfromhomewithatoddler #workingfromhometips
Example of my top 5 daily to-do list

Get Your Toddler Involved

Although toddlers are limited in their ability to help out with chores around the house, there are still ways that they can get involved.  Now may be a great time to teach them to put away their toys or put their dirty clothes in the laundry hamper.

My little one loves being at counter height to see what’s going on.  We now have a stool she can stand on and we get to spend quality time together while meals are prepared.  This is a win-win and a time saver.  Not only does having her at counter height entertain her, but I’m also able to get meals ready at the same time.

True, your toddler will not be able to help you with actual work tasks. But getting them involved in tasks around the house can help to entertain them while saving you time (for working) later. 

New Toys

Remember that short attention span that toddlers have? Well, new toys can help to keep them entertained for a little while so that you can get work done.

New imagination toys like playdough or Lego are great for this. Your little one can go back to them repeatedly to play with them in new ways.  And new toys do not need to be expensive, there are many ways to save money with kids.

If you have other mom friends working from home maybe you can suggest a temporary toy swap to get new toys for your toddler to play with. They aren’t going to know if you got the toys second hand or not.

Adopt a Toy Rotation

If new toys are not in the budget, then a toy rotation may be just the thing. Don’t let your little one play with all of their toys all the time. 

A toy rotation involves hiding some of the toys intermittently. Maybe bring out “new toys” once a week. Those toys will be novel to your toddler and may keep their attention just a few minutes longer.  

Have a Support Network

Having multiple brains trying to solve the same problem – how to entertain a toddler at home – can be very useful.  I have learned so many new ways to play with my toddler thanks to my mom’s group. 

Having a mom’s group has been very important for my mental health in the early months as a new mom and now during this pandemic.  Even though we can’t get physically together right now we are in constant communication through a group chat.

A mom’s support group is also somewhere to communicate with like-minded individuals who will completely understand what you are going through right now.

Get Outside Daily

There is just something about being outside, breathing fresh air and soaking up some vitamin D that makes everything seem a bit more manageable. 

It is very easy to want to stay in your house to try and be productive whenever you can.  But sometimes taking a mental break, even a short one, outside can help to provide a reset. When you go back inside your productivity may increase.

Or it may not change, and that’s okay too – at least you got some fresh air.

Guilt Free Momma-Time

Do you feel guilty taking time for yourself while working from home? I know that I do. 

But having some dedicated momma-time will be important for your self-care and sanity.  And it’s a great time for your toddler to have some dedicated dad time.  That relationship is an important one to foster too.

Try to regularly carve out some time for yourself in the week, and don’t feel guilty doing it. Like on an airplane it’s important to put on your mask before helping others.  Dedicated momma time is you putting on your mask first.

Daytime Bath Time

This is one thing I was very hesitant to try in the beginning. But in a moment of desperation, I gave it a try with a twist.  We often use bath time as a bedtime cue. I was worried that this would be ruined if we did daytime bath time. 

So Instead of just putting my toddler into the bath in the middle of the day, I put her in her bathing suit first. I was thinking this might make her think she was going swimming and not for a bath.

She loved it. She played in the bath until the water was cold. This gave me time to bring my laptop into the bathroom to get some work done while I watched her play. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity is scientifically proven to release endorphins which are feel-good hormones. Regularly incorporating physical activity into your week can improve your mood and productivity.

Personally I feel way more alert and ready to work after I have gone for a run. Okay, well maybe not right after but an hour or so after.

You can also get your toddler involved with physical activity. You can combine many of these tips for surviving working from home with a toddler by taking your little one for a run in a stroller outside. Or maybe have your toddler join in with some yoga inside.

Surviving Working from Home with a Toddler Recap

  • Establish a routine
  • Be flexible
  • Create a dedicated work space
  • Put the phone down
  • Come up with a daily to-do list
  • Get your toddler involved
  • New toys
  • Adopt a toy rotation
  • Have a support network
  • Get outside daily
  • Guilt free momma time
  • Daytime bath time
  • Physical activity
Working from home with a toddler has unique challenges.  Find out how these 13 tips can help you be more productive while staying sane while working at home with your toddler. #handfulofthoughts #workingfromhome #toddler #workingfromhometips #workingmom

Final Thoughts

Nobody knows how long the current situation will last so it’s important to build in supports that will help your mental health and productivity.

At the end of the day momma, give yourself some grace.  Not every day will be productive or optimal.  Even though you may not feel like you are thriving right now, tomorrow is a new day to start fresh.  

Every morning you get the opportunity to restart.  Yesterday you may have been just surviving working from home with a toddler but tomorrow is a new day. A new day to thrive – or just survive if that’s the kind of day it is.

Hopefully this list helps you have more thrive days than survive days.

What did I miss? What are your tips for surviving working from home with a toddler?

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4 Comments

  1. Awesome list Maria!! Love every one of these suggestions. Ive found it so important to implement some of these (new routine, flexibility, outside time, and staying active are my absolute essentials.) But I also really like the toy rotation, I’m going to have to implement that one! Thanks for sharing such a helpful list!

    1. Maria says:

      Glad you found some new tips for working from home in here Phia. The age of your little ones will determine how effective the toy rotation can be.

  2. I’m impressed, none of these involve screen time! My toddler is dropping his nap (today he didn’t nap until 2pm– that was a whole hour of him rearranging stuff in his room) and his nap scheduled is all whacked out, but I am trying this ‘quiet time’ thing where I can have my own time if he’s not napping. A gate is very useful for this!

    1. Maria says:

      One trick my parents used with my nephews was to tell them they only got to play with iPad after their nap. Those boys napped until they were 6 – but only at grandma and grandpa’s house. Might be worth a shot.

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