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Supporting staff working with children at home

Along with many other countries, the UK has again been placed under lockdown because of rising coronavirus cases and the emergence of a new variant. This third national lockdown has seen all primary and secondary schools close (apart from for vulnerable students and the children of key workers) with people being told to work from home wherever possible. In our industry, where working from home has now become the norm, this has meant working parents again having to balance homeworking alongside childcare and homeschooling. The situation is similar to the first national lockdown back in March 2020 but, worryingly, this one may last even longer than the first.

Working parents must once again attempt the almost impossible juggling act of working full time alongside children, without access to nurseries and schools, babysitters, or the handy grandparent playdates. These challenges are perhaps best captured in a viral clip (from 2017 – it was ahead of its time) of a BBC’s interviewee, Professor Robert Kelly, being interrupted by his two children while his partner attempts to subtly remove them from the room. I reached out to some of our staff to get their comments on entering lockdown with young children this time round and share some of their thoughts and suggestions below.

Annoying co-workers

James Cooper pointed out that we all have ‘annoying’ co-workers – the ones who make too much noise, constantly barrage you with questions or leave the office in a mess. Working from home just means these ‘annoying co-workers’ are now his children!

Be creative with your schedule

Most adults (and children) thrive on routine and structure throughout the day. Coronavirus has destroyed much of this structure, creating confusion for both parents and their children. While we cope with this new normal, it’s beneficial to try to provide clarity and stability, keeping the household occupied and reducing anxieties. It’s important to set realistic goals when creating schedules and understanding that some days the routine will turn to custard (and that’s okay!).

Caroline Blackley explained that she and her partner alternate morning and afternoon shifts with the kids, and then use the time after the kids go to bed to catch up on work. One parent is on child duty while the other works away in the bedroom office. Caroline mentions that this doesn’t always go to plan, with food on the floor or impromptu drum sessions (on doors), but on a good day a Disney film will keep the kids quiet for an hour or two. It’s important for employers to recognise parents need extra support during lockdown, and that normal business hours are likely not possible for working parents. Being flexible and having open lines of communication are vital in creating supportive environments and in managing expectations.

Communication is key

Good communication is extremely important in all areas – with work managers, children, your partner, family, and friends. Talking things through with your partner and manager so that you can plan your week around work deadlines or important calls is a simple but effective step, and the week is unlikely to progress as intended without it.

Mark Heller commented that in practice it’s hard to separate work and childcare with two young children that require constant supervision. You must be able to have honest, open conversations with your line manager about your workload so that you can find a sustainable balance between work and childcare. Speak with those you work with the most and let them know that your schedule might look a little different while you make the best out of an unprecedented situation.

I don’t have kids

If you don’t have children yourself, it’s worth bearing in mind that meeting interruptions, reschedules or cancellations are going to be much more common in the coming weeks. You’re going to see and hear your colleagues’ kids in the background as they search for their next snack or avoid nap time. If you’re lucky, you might even get to meet a co-worker’s curious child as they interrupt enrich your call!

Mental health and wellbeing

We are all dealing with a different set of challenges and it’s important to remember it’s not business as usual right now. It’s vital for each of us to talk and think about mental health and wellbeing and seek support when it’s needed. Remember, it’s okay not to be okay.

Parents will commonly put themselves last, but children will pick up on your stress and anxiety so it’s very important to look after yourself – you can’t pour from an empty cup. The line between personal and work life can be blurred, increasing stress and fatigue among both working parents and individuals without children.

James Cooper highlighted how the loss of the decompressing 90-minute commute, where he would usually switch off and relax, has been difficult. Having two young children around has resulted in more full-on days without any downtime between work and childcare. James finds that a good podcast whilst exercising on his bike trainer in the shed at night are vital to keep on top of his physical and mental health. Finding ways to relax and unwind are crucial. This could be a daily walk around the block, a YouTube yoga session, or a virtual pub quiz. Whatever it is, find something that works for you.

Reach out to speak with your colleagues, friends, parents, and other community groups to stay connected with one another. It’s normal to feel anxious about the current situation, and it’s okay to share how you are feeling with others. There are also plenty of helplines available where you can get expert advice. Mental health is strongly linked with physical health so doing some exercise, having healthy balanced meals and getting a good night’s sleep are all key to our emotional wellbeing.

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, supported by Place2Be, and it’s more important than ever to look after children’s mental health and wellbeing. Children and young people are feeling the impact of the isolation, and the removal of the usual coping mechanisms has left many children facing anxiety, social isolation, and uncertainty about the future. The theme this year is Expressing Yourself and this website is loaded with activities encouraging children and young people to share their feelings, thoughts and ideas.

It’s not all bad

Despite the numerous challenges of this latest lockdown it’s good to recognise that it also has its advantages. James Cooper highlighted the positives that a working from home life has brought, such as being able to provide more day-to-day support to his wife and being able to share in some of those special family moments that he otherwise might have missed out on whilst being in the office.

Perhaps the most important point to remember is, you are not just working from home. You are at your home, during a crisis, trying to work. It’s important that we all continue to look after ourselves and those around us – we’re all trying our best in an extremely challenging situation.

Rhianna Hutchins

February 2021