Looking after children and yourself while working from home.

Emily from our Fundraising Team at Mental Health UK writes her thoughts and tips for looking after young children while working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak.


Right now, as a working parent I must confess to feeling a tad overwhelmed. The anxiety over COVID-19, the impact on our daily lives of social distancing and isolation were proving challenging enough, but the news that schools would be closed, although not unexpected, has provided the perfect storm. 

Questions I’m asking myself: 

  • How am I going to juggle work and childcare? 
  • How am I going to keep my daughter entertained, active, educated and safe? 
  • How can I look after my own mental health to be the best mum I can be? 

And to add insult to injury, it’s at a time where we could all do with a bit more emotional support, yet we can’t even hug our own friends and family members.

As someone who has experienced stress and minor bouts of depression in the past, I’m worried about these being triggered again. But thankfully there are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way: 

Try not to think of everything at once.

Take each day and challenge at a time. 

Talk to people about your concerns.

They may not be able to solve it all for you, but just listening to your issues and providing suggestions could take a load off your shouldersFind out what other working parents you know are doing. Talk to your manager about your worriesOf course, they’ll be aware of the issues parents are facing and your organisation may well be looking at what can be put in place. But for the immediate future can you take a couple of days of annual leave to sort it out? And if you’re worried about pay visit Mental Health and Money Advice for tips. 

Virtual playdates are the way forward.

As social distancing rules get more strict, playdates with friends and family aren’t an option anymore. Could you arrange virtual playdates over FaceTime, Skype or Zoom? You can also arrange games with Grandparents virtually so that they get social interaction too.

If you are at home with your child(ren) what are we going to DO with them all day?! As soon as school closures were announced I found my social media pages and email inbox inundated with home schooling tips. This sent me into a panic that overnight I’m expected to become a qualified teacher! Luckily there’s also been a lot of reassurance out there that we’re not expected to become teachers. 

Stressed adults can not teach stressed children. It’s a neuro-biological impossibility. Try focusing on connections and feelings of safety.

– The Institute of Child Psychology

I have also received reassurance from the school. Many schools are providing home activity packs with weekly online links to optional learning activity suggestions – talk to your teachers about this, they’re going to be wanting to support your child’s learning. In the immediate future there’s no rush, it can start as a bit of an extended holiday while we all find our way around this. 

Think about a daily routine and get the children involved with creating the timetable.

They love a list and if they’ve created it they’re more likely to feel invested in it and stick to it more. Ask how their day at school goes as a starting point. But here’s an example: 

Before 9am: Wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, brush your teeth, make your bed, tidy your room 

9 – 10am: Exercise Time 

10 – 11am: Academic Time (no electronics) 

11 – 12pm: Creative Time – Lego, drawing, colouring, crafts, singing, music. 

12 – 1pm: Lunch/Relax (controlled electronics – please remember online safety and supervise your children) 

1pm – 1:30pm: Exercise Time 

1:30 – 2:30pm: Academic Time (no electronics) 

2:30 – 3:00pm: Quiet time (Read a book, watch TV, or play a board game) 

3 – 4pm: Fresh Air: Outdoor play or exercise indoors 

5 – 6pm: Tea Time 

Create time for fun activities and physical activities. Children learn so much just through play indoor and out. There are some great ideas here. 

The Body Coach has many family-friendly workouts and he is currently running live PE sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9am on his YouTube channel – I’ll be there! 

Take a virtual trip to a museum!  

Build in time for treats, like screen time. As much as its not good for them to be glued to the screen all day (and let’s face it, uncle iPad can be very useful if we’re working on a deadline) it’s important that they come to realise this isn’t going to be an ongoing holiday. But if they know they’ve got an hour’s screen time to look forward to then they may be more amenable to finishing that maths challenge beforehand.  

What about your child’s health and wellbeing? 

With all the above in place, you’re on good solid ground. Coincidentally my daughter’s school just had wellbeing weekEvery day she came back excited about a new activity she’d learnt – kids yoga (all the poses are cool animals!), giving each other a massage, sewing a hand puppet, mindful colouring in. 

We have great resources from the young people’s programme, Bloom, on how to check in with our kids’ mental health. Understandably they’re going to be anxious with all the change happening around them, and pick up on the current news. The best advice I’ve seen on this is to acknowledge what’s happening but to try to keep things as normal as possible and reassure that it will pass.   

Looking after yourself.

With all of that, its very easy to put ourselves last. But your kids will pick up on your stress and anxiety so its really important to look after yourself.  Take a look at the Stress Bucket. It’s a tool we use at Mental Health UK to help you understand the stressors which come into your life, and how you can release some of that stress. At the moment it might seem like all the clouds are bursting at once and you have to deal with them all now, but actually now is the moment to make time for the things you love and turn on your release taps’. For me, that’s normally yoga, swimming, cinema, theatre, going out for a meal, karaoke, pamper days with the girls. The plan now is to see how I can substitute any of those from home.

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My yoga teacher is going to stream her classes online – could you ask any of your gym class teachers to do the same? There are also lots of home workout options, and jogging or a brisk walk in the park is still open. I’m going to set up some sort of home cinema, get into inventive cooking recipes using tins from the storecupboard, make time for home pampering and FaceTime my friends and family. Karaoke can still be done that way! 

For other wellbeing tips see our Live Your Best Working Life library with tips and ideas. For parenting tips and advice, The Parent Practice Podcast is great.

On a final note, its all too easy to revert to the bottle of wine (and a takeaway!) at times like this. Whilst that’s a temporary fix, it’s not going to be sustainable over multiple weeks. This would result in a decline in our mental and physical health. Instead, create that party virtually by linking up with friends and loved ones online and over the phone.  

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Just £10 could help pay for a call to our advice and information line, supporting someone living with mental illness who may be feeling in distress during this time.

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