10 Tips for Working at Home with a Toddler

We have found ourselves in a situation that none (okay, most) of us never could have imagined. We are canceling cruises, road trips, and Disney on Ice tickets. The whole world is canceling parades, weddings, and funerals. And now your commute has been canceled and you have been asked to work from home.

A woman is working on a couch while a toddler sits on her lap.
My “coworker” likes to closely monitor my work.

But there is one big, tiny problem: you have a toddler at home!

Toddlers: too old to sleep the day away while you work, but too young to entertain themselves while you work. How are you supposed to fulfill your work obligations when a tiny human wants to sit on your lap and demand “SNACKS!” every minute of the day?

Well, it isn’t going to be easy, but hopefully with these tips and ideas, you will find it doable!

1. Toddler-Proof Your Home

Safety first! It will be much easier to concentrate on your work if you know your child is 100% safe. You probably already “baby-proofed” your home, but now is the time to REALLY make it a fortress of safety. So, go ahead and tuck away the stray cords you keep telling your toddler to put down, secure all the furniture to the wall like you have been meaning to do, and order that gate for the stairs to replace the old box you have been stepping over. The more spaces you make safe, the more spaces you can work in.

2. Create Accessible Spaces or “Yes” Spaces
A small working desk is set up in the corner of a playroom.
We recently turned what was our dining room, into a temporary “Yes” space while we are working from home.

Accessible or “Yes” spaces are spaces in your home where everything is accessible to the child. A Yes space is 100% safe and contains nothing off-limits. In a Yes space, a toddler should feel confident that they can touch, climb on, and access everything without being reprimanded. Yes spaces encourage independent play and discovery, which both lead to longer attention spans. The more you make accessible for them (toys, books, snacks, crafts, etc) the less they have to ask you for.

3. Rotate Toys

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to make a toy rotation. A clean, simple display of toys is far more appealing and more likely to keep your toddler’s attention than a large toy bucket stuffed to the brim. If they can’t see the toy, they won’t play with it. I suggest having 3-5 groups of toys that you rotate once a week. When a toy seems like new, they will spend more time playing with it.

4. Teach Activities Ahead of Time

If you can give your toddler an activity that buys you 20 minutes of uninterrupted work time, you are winning! BUT the best new activity will only cause frustration for both of you if you set it down and walk away immediately to work. Instead, a couple of days before you want to use it, make time to sit down with your child to teach them how the activity works. Show them how to stretch the activity from every angle. That way, when you use the activity to buy time for a work call, your toddler already knows what to do.

5. Have Multiple Office Spaces
A woman is working on a computer in a basement while her son plays.
I have set up an “office” space in the basement where my son can play with a water table while it is cold outside.

Start scattering chairs all around the house! Is your kid getting bored of the living room? Okay! Move to the kitchen, or the bedroom, or the guest bedroom, or the bathroom! You will save time if you already have a place set up to work. Nightstands, TV trays, and bathroom counters make for good desks in a pinch! And don’t forget to set up a work space outside!

6. Wake Up Early (or stay up late)

You are no longer commuting, so spend that commute time working. Even 30 minutes of kid-free work time, before they wake up or after they have gone to bed, can be more productive than two hours of working while they are awake.

7. Become a Nap Time Warrior

May every parent be blessed with three hour naps! But even if you child only gives you a one hour nap, (or if you are just enforcing quiet time), make every minute count. It might be tempting to use that time to take a break, but like I said above, 30 kid-free minutes hold more productivity promise than kid-awake time. If you can, take your breaks while your kids are awake.

8. Truly Be “at Work”

You might find it easier to stay in the right head space if you get dressed for the day as if you were leaving the house. This will help signal to your children that you are working today and not playing all day (like on the weekend). Also, you wouldn’t clean your kitchen or do your laundry at work, so resist the siren call of housework!

9. Hit the Mute Button

No, not on your toddler, on your phone! Try to plan your phone calls and meetings for quieter times (nap time, screen time). But don’t forget you can hit your mute button so that your coworkers don’t have to listen to Daniel Tiger over and over again.

10. Give Your Child Your Full Attention
A woman sits on the couch, smiling with her toddler.
Giving my sweet guy my full attention!

Set aside time in your day to give your toddler your 100% undivided attention. No phones. No computers. No housework. Don’t forget that they are stuck inside, too. Their routines have also changed and they need their parent! If your toddler is fighting for your attention, sometimes the best way to get back to work, is to give them what they need– you!

Here are five activity ideas sure to hold your toddler’s attention for more than five minutes!
Make sure to click on each listed item as they each link to more activity details!

1.Water is your friend.
2.Sensory bins are your friend.
3.Food is your friend.
4.Dirt is your friend.
5.Household items are your friend.

To create a successful toddler activity, it is helpful to remember the “4 Words!” If your toddler is stashing, stacking, smashing, or sorting, you should be able to buy at least 15 minutes.

Bonus: (Some) Screen time is your friend.  If your child is like mine, they won’t watch TV for very long anyway, so I suggest saving the screen time minutes for the times when you absolutely need to focus, like a work phone call or meeting.

I am not going to sugarcoat it, working and parenting at the same time is tough. Just remember to set the right expectations for the situation and to be flexible.

And if your kid screams “MAMA!” into the phone while you’re on a work call, just try being honest with your explanation. After all, you aren’t working from home to save on childcare costs. Your toddler is now your coworker because you are trying to SAVE THE WORLD.

Kelsey Pomeroy
Kelsey was born and raised in Branson, Mo. It was there, in the town that boasts the “World’s Largest Banjo” that she met her husband, Samuel. It was his first day at a new high school and she was the only person to say “Hi” to him that day, so he married her! A decade later and now they take up residence in Raymore, Mo, but tell out-of-state people they are from “Kansas City” because it is way easier. Kelsey taught high school English for 6 years, but now she stays home to hang out with her adorable toddler, Theodore. Her passions include traveling (34 countries and counting!), playing board games, writing murder mystery parties, reading, and talking to as many people as possible.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I read a lot of these lists and this is the first I found truly helpful and realistic. Thank you for your authenticity.

  2. Kelsey! Excellent ideas! Starting our official home school tomorrow, going to implement “yes, spaces” so I can work with my oldest while the two littlest play.

  3. My husband and I struggled a bit last week (our first full “work from home week”) with our very busy 16mo and almost 7yo. Thanks for the tips! I’ll try them out this week. I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to get some work done and find good quality time to spend with our babies! Thank you!

    • My son is that same age (16 months) and it can be so hard for him to realize I need to work! I hope you are able to get some work done this week. Best of luck to you!

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