8 Tips to Help You Survive Working From Home With a Pre-Toddler

A mother works on her digital tablet with her son sitting in her lap.
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Younger babies sleep for hours and are usually content for a while in an automated swing. Toddlers have their tantrums, but they’re often happy watching “Daniel Tiger” or playing Noggin online. 

The in-betweeners – the little ones who are crawling and learning to walk – won’t be contained in a swing or Exersaucer while Mom is on a 40-minute Zoom conference. They won’t sit still for a show or play a computer game while Dad teaches class online. 

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“I have a child who can’t do one thing on her own. She won’t sit in front of the TV for even 10 minutes,” said Leah Bueno, manager of communications at HCP Associates, a marketing and research firm in Tampa. “She’s so mobile that I can get 7,000 steps keeping up with her on days I don’t even leave the house.” 

Bueno’s husband is still going into his office so she’s working full-time from home with CeCe, who takes a 30-minute afternoon nap but is hard to occupy for any length of time beyond that. 

Bueno has figured out some ways to gain small chunks of quiet time and some longer periods that aren’t too peaceful, but are productive. She’s broken it down by how long CeCe is entertained by specific activities. Here’s what that looks like for her:

5 minutes: How long CeCe quietly sits in her highchair eating a bunch of Puffs cereal. 

15 minutes: How long CeCe will play with a basket full of clean laundry. “She pulls each piece of clothing out and looks at it or puts it on her head,” Bueno laughed. 

20 minutes: How long CeCe spent tearing apart a magazine. “I handed it to her and she went to town,” Bueno said. “She looked at the pictures and ripped out the pages.”

30 minutes: How long CeCe will play with toys and books in her own room, while her mom sits in the rocker working on her laptop.

45 minutes: How long CeCe is content in the stroller. Bueno makes calls, carrying a notebook to take notes, while she goes on long walks several times a day. “I put my earphones in and can talk while CeCe is perfectly happy,” she said. 

Bueno also has determined she can get two hours of work in if she rises early and works in the guestroom while her husband gets CeCe up, feeds her breakfast and plays a bit before he leaves for work. 

More Survival Tips for Work-From-Home Parents of Little Ones

A mom works inside her daughter's playpen, as her daughter plays.
Bueno works in her daughter’s playpen while CeCe gets in some playtime. Photo courtesy of Leah Bueno

The Penny Hoarder collected more ideas from parents for keeping pre-toddlers busy while Mom and/or Dad are working from home. 

1. Change the Setting 

Pile as many toys as you can into your child’s crib. The novelty of having them in a setting different from the toy basket or in the playroom makes them much more interesting. 

2. Water Painting 

Spread newspaper, boxes or office papers you no longer need onto the kitchen floor. Give your son or daughter a few paint brushes dipped in water. They will be enthralled with the mark they leave on paper, and there’s no risk of spreading actual paint on anything. 

3. Follow the Trail 

Make a trail of Cheerios and accomplish some work while your young one goes on a treasure hunt in the same room. 

4. Kitchen Time 

Pull out all your pots, pans and lids onto the floor in the kitchen, or any room for that matter. Add in a few wooden and metal spoons. It won’t be quiet, but your little one will be busy for a while.

5. Kitchen Time: Second Verse, Same as the First

A few days later, try #4 again, this time with plastic plates, cups and food storage containers.

6. Catalog Curiosity

Bueno shared how her daughter loves looking at and tearing apart magazines. Try the same activity with the catalogues and advertising flyers that arrive for free in your mailbox.

7. Draw Work-Home Boundaries – and Stick to Them

When parents take a break from work or finish at the end of the day, they should really disconnect from the office. When you make time to focus on your kids, don’t check e-mails or text co-workers.

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer and editor in St. Petersburg, Florida, and author of the book Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker.