Expert Opinion

How to keep the kids busy while working from home

With two decades’ experience, read Amanda’s #1 tip for keeping the kids entertained while juggling work from home. 
If there’s one thing most families have endured throughout 2020 and 2021, it has been the balancing act of trying to maintain some semblance of work (or life!) with the kids at home more than usual. Whether it be due to lockdowns or not, trying to juggle it all can be very challenging.
This has left many of us struggling to recall the last time we actually finished a thought, as our feelings of stress and anxiety continue to skyrocket. We feel the guilt coming in from all directions – are we parenting ‘well’ enough? Are we performing sufficiently at work? Are we paying enough attention to our aging parents? Are we managing our toddlers’ needs while supporting the school-aged kids? The list goes on.
However, research shows that parents who regularly reflect on their parenting tend to have more secure relationships with their children. That ability to pause and critique particular moments of our parenting allows us to evolve our own parenting style and consider handling situations differently in future. Think of those ‘short-fuse’ moments you’ve had while preparing for a meeting while your toddler is following you around and your 7-year-old is antagonising the 5-year-old instead of doing his school work. Reflecting on these moments and trying to find better solutions will pay off in the long run.
Finding a way to keep the kids entertained while you’re working is a struggle because it takes time, energy, and creativity – three things most of us don’t have access to when parenting young kids! In my 20+ years of working with families, I have consistently recommended one tried and tested strategy for engaging the kids while parents get a few minutes to work, make a phone call or heaven forbid – have some ‘me’ time! This useful tool is even more relevant now with the increasing demands of parents as we live with COVID-19.
Introducing the Magic Box of Fun!

This is all about the novelty factor. Kids are naturally curious about the unfamiliar, so your job here is to harness their intrigue as a means of keeping them busy and not interrupting you. This is ideal for keeping any aged child busy while you have an online meeting or phone call for work; or if you have multiple kids and need to spend some uninterrupted time with one of them.

So, what is this magic box? It’s a tub or box kept out of reach of the kids, filled with items they find very rewarding and will keep them entertained independently. You can have one tub per child, or one for the family. Ideas for items to keep in the box:

  • Activity books that relate to special interests of your child
  • Sensory activities like play doh, slime, kinetic sand
  • Toys
  • Craft activities
  • Old cameras or a polaroid
  • Stickers
  • Special markers and notebooks

The main thing to remember here is that you present the tub when your uninterrupted time is set to begin, and you remove the tub immediately once your meeting/phone call is finished. Store it out of reach from the kids so they don’t have free access to it (remember, this is what keeps it interesting, which is what gives you the ‘free’ time). The trick is to keep exposure to the Magic Box of Fun short and sweet. If the kids get upset when you remove the tub, then it is working!

A couple of things to remember:

  • Ensure the items in the box are safe for your child to have access to independently.
  • Check the box occasionally to top it up (i.e., to add more craft supplies)
  • Rotate items in the box to keep it fresh

The most important thing we can give our kids is a secure relationship, and to do this we really need to recharge and ‘fill our buckets’. So, if the Magic Box of Fun engages your child while you’re working or tending to your other children, then it is highly likely that it will work for all your kids and might even afford you some quality time to yourself.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.