Dear Dr. Debbie,
I work from home when I’m not travelling. I plan my work day, which can include phone calls across the country, around the kids’ school schedule. At times, such as a snow day or snow delay, I have had unavoidable phone conversations interrupted by having to shush the children. How can I get them to be more respectful and cooperative?
Dad but also Employee
When the office is at home, you can get away with wearing pajamas at work, but the sound of children in the background quickly blows your cover. (If you are being interviewed on Skype it’s also blown when the children get in the picture!)
The more often your children are at home while you are at work, the quicker they can learn what is expected of them. Help them list specific quiet activities they can engage in during your work calls. (Hint: solitary activities will reduce sibling squabbles.) When you find yourself in this situation again, have a conversation with your dependents about Daddy’s need to work – to buy the family’s food, to put gas in the car, etc. – and the necessity of quiet during business calls. Under the age of 7 we can only expect a child to understand a conflict from his own point of view. Children who are 7-years-old and up can be told how you are helping people when you work – as team members, vendors, or clients – which helps the children understand the importance of these phone conversations. You also add to their worldview when you share the purpose of your job and how it benefits others.
Try to keep your business hours to a set schedule as much as possible and give clear “on duty” and “off duty” announcements at the start and end of each day (or work session). This could include a routine of putting on a distinctive hat while you’re working then hanging up the hat and shutting down your computer when you’re finished and ready to shift your focus back to the family.
A business phone call might need an additional visual signal, especially if you’re doing double duty as the only adult at home. The signal could be your standing up, or sitting down in a specific chair, or turning your cap around. Ahead of time, tell the children the meaning of your visual gesture, and remind them of it a few times until they get used to it. Children who are impulsive, naturally loud, overly exuberant, etc. could be further helped with a simple positive incentive as they get better and better at respecting the signal to be quiet. An incentive could be earning points toward an outing or a special activity to enjoy at home. The younger the child, the sooner a “reward” should be given – perhaps a hug or “high five” at the end of the phone call, followed up with something fun at the end of the day.
I used money as an incentive so I could have an uninterrupted hour with counseling clients at my home office. My older child was paid a dollar to keep the younger one entertained (in other words, quiet) for the duration of the session. A few years later, the younger one was old enough to earn a dollar to keep the puppy away from my closed office door. It was a very modest cost for the convenience of doing business from home.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.