Working together to help children learn and grow in a complex world
Dec. 28, 2020
6 Tips on Talking with Kids about Work
By Adrienne Woods, Canterbury Parent
While I can only speak from a mom perspective, since I have never been a working dad, I do believe as kids get a little older, it is important for working parents to talk more about work. This is true, as well, for parents who volunteer their time leading community projects and initiatives.
Kids do not need to know exactly what we are doing every day. They do need to know when work is going well with more strategy work and fewer fires, and when work is all fires and you feel like you are playing ‘whack a mole’ every day. Share with your kids when you feel like you are playing ‘whack a mole’ at work, complete with the hand gestures, and you are sure to get a great laugh from them.
Why do kids need to know when work is going well and when it is not? Because they already know, but without your words of acknowledgment, they are still guessing. “Is Dad working late at the office because of something big at work, or is it that my soccer game is just not very important?” “Was Mom angry and raising her voice this morning because we were being annoying, or was it because she had an 8 a.m. meeting and she was trying to get us to school and to her meeting on time?” Our kids should not have to guess where our heads are and why one day we are home at 4:30 p.m. ready to hang out, and the next day we miss dinner and get home just in time to say goodnight.
Here are some tips I’ve found to be successful in talking with my own three kids, who are now in 4th and 7th grades.
1. Talk in terms of a ‘season’. Kids can completely understand the term seasons, and that each season has different weather. I’ve talked to my kids about the “season” of work I just completed. It was difficult, long hours, too many Zoom calls, and too many afternoons of getting right back on my computer after I picked them up from school. I reminded them that each season has some good stuff and not so good stuff. Winter has the holidays but it also gets dark really early. Summer has long days but also really, really hot days. Mom’s “season” at work did not allow her to have as much free time in the afternoon and evening, but it did allow for more iPad time for them. The kids really got a laugh out of that, because they knew I had gotten a little lax and they were not going to ask why.
2. Anticipate and prepare . . . when possible. If you know the next month is going to be difficult at work, start talking about it at home. Let the kids know you will need to work a little later the next few weeks because of a really big project at work. If you can, give them a few details about the work – kids actually find this fascinating. “Mom is going to be working more the next few weeks because she is working on a website project that will make it easier for families to find a pediatrician when they move to a new town.” Again, when possible, give the kids an idea of when the project will be over. This gives the kids an end date to a busy time -- something to look forward to. I celebrate the end of a work project with an after-school treat with the kids.
3. Be honest and let them know when you mess up. You’ve been grumpy, short tempered and rushing everything for a week. Your kids know the project is due on Friday, so they are looking forward to a no-work weekend. Something happens, you miss the deadline, and you will be working most of the weekend to fix it. Just tell the kids you made a mistake or your team made a mistake and you are part of a team, so you need to work together to fix it. See what I’m doing there? Life lessons for kids can come from watching their parents go through their own life lessons (such as not to trust Tom when he says he will finish it, when your gut is telling you he is going to flake).
4. Take care of yourself. We all know this, but how many times do we not prioritize our health? If work is crazy and you are stressed, not sleeping enough, not exercising, etc., you absolutely know you are not going to be your best self for your kids. 5. This is worth talking about with them. “I know you want me to make pancakes for Saturday morning breakfast and I will definitely do that, but I am going to exercise first. Grab a banana and I will be your happy breakfast chef in one hour.”
5. Ask the kids for help. Yep, plain and simple, just say “Mom’s work is really busy right now and I need a little more help from you, so can you please unload the dishwasher and take 10 minutes to help your brother with math?” Then lay on the praise and thanks to your child for stepping up. Not only does this teach responsibility and demonstrate teams working together to help each other, it also teaches your kids it is totally okay to ask for help.
6. Remember to do the small but impactful things. Put your phone away at dinner. When your kids are talking to you, look them in the eye and be there. Ask meaningful questions about school, which is their work right now. Make the most of non-workdays. For most of us that is the weekend, but it’s important to point out that many parents work weekends. Find a day to celebrate your day off, whether that is a Monday or a Saturday.
I believe this conversation and ongoing dialogue with our children is even more important now, with so many of us working from home. I am sure I am not the only one who feels I am working longer hours, with more meetings, emails, and phone calls from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Newsflash: we need to get this under control and set boundaries for our own sanity, but that conversation is for another blog.
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