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How to teach kids to work independently

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Since my kids are always home with me during summer breaks, they often ask me what I’m writing about. One day they told me I should write a post about what the kids do when you are working and that’s how this idea about teach kids to work independently came.

I have had a work from home job for almost 10 years now. I started with doing direct sales and then started freelancing as a virtual assistant almost five years ago. My kids have had to learn how to entertain themselves while I work.

There was a lot of trial and errors. I worked a lot during naps and after bedtime. As they grew, it was during their school hours. These are our best takeaways for helping kids to be independent while you work.

How did I teach my kids to work independently?

When I first started working from home, my husband would watch the kids or I would work during nap time. As my children got older and my husband began to travel, we had to come up with a solution so I could work.

I learned about using a timer from a blog post on Pinterest and I started using it with tasks like folding laundry while they watched a show. When I started using it for work I explained to them that I needed to work for 25 minutes and when the timer went off that I would be with them.

When they were super young I would have them watch a show that was 25 minutes long and I would work. Usually at the table not too far from them. Just in case there is mischief that they could get into.

I’ll explain more about the 25 minute work time further in the post. I use it regularly and it really does help to know that you have a break in 25 minutes.

The morning meeting

In the morning, usually during breakfast, we talk about our day and what is going to happen that day. We do this during school and breaks. That way we can set the expectation for the day. Then the kids aren’t surprised when I say they have piano or some activity in the afternoon.

During the morning meeting at breakfast, we set the plan for the day. When the kids were home for the summer, I would tell them that I would work till lunchtime and then after lunch, we would go to the pool or where ever.

Create a Plan

During the morning meeting, we would come up with a plan. Since they knew I wanted to work till lunchtime, that meant they only had to entertain themselves for 4 hours. We came up with a plan first thing in the morning while we were eating breakfast.

They would have a reading assignment, a math assignment and then a couple of chores. They also had their choice of what they wanted to do once those things were done.

Establishing a plan helped all of us know what was expected of them and me. They knew I would be done by lunchtime and they knew they had to do their work too.

What motivates them

As the work from home parent, I had to know what would motivate them to stay on task and allow me to get just a couple hours of work in. Taking them on an outing, or letting them pick out some new toys at Five Below, or going to the community pool, those are all motivating for them.

It’s important to know what motivates them so that they get their work done. As adults, we need to remember that kids need to be kids and allowed to get out and explore the world.

My kids know that they don’t get screens until they do their chores and something educational. When it comes to chores, I am okay with my house being kid clean for right now. As long as they are learning, that is all that matters to me. Also, learning to clean is a life skill that their spouse will thank me for someday.

Related: How to teach life skills to kids now
Related: How to create a work from home schedule

Be prepared to pivot if you have to

Some days are hard. We all have good days and bad days. If the kids are having a bad day and need their mom more, then I know I have to pivot with my work hours. It’s not ideal, but my kids come first.

Just like you, kids will get sick and have more needs that day. Working from home allows you to be able to be there with them while they are sick.

Breaks, lots and lots of breaks

We have learned to work in 25-minute intervals. It’s called the Pomodoro Technique and this is how it works.

  • Create your task list
  • set a timer for 25 minutes
  • commit to working for 25 minutes
  • take a short break, about 5 minutes
  • If you haven’t finished your task set the timer again for 25 minutes after your short break and then try and finish the task.

I started using this technique when my youngest son was in kindergarten. That’s when I learned about it. He would watch a show and I would work on something for 25 minutes. Then when I was done with my task he and I would play a game. Then I would do it again.

The most important part of this method is to take the break! Our brains need to be able to rest and kids’ minds need to rest more.

Breaks also help the kids keep track of time. For some reason when you are home more it’s hard to keep track of the time.

Let the kids have responsibility for their work

Learning to allow the kids to have responsibility for their work can be tricky. Especially as they get older. An observation I have as my kids are tweens and teens is that they want the responsibility, but at the same time they don’t. I think it’s part of them realizing they are growing up and then regressing.

Learning how to allow them to make choices for themselves and allowing them to make mistakes is hard. But I would rather my kids learn in our own home, in a safe place.

By reminding the kids that they have responsibilities that we had discussed in the morning meeting, helps the kids to remember the expectation for the day. Sometimes they forget or decide they aren’t going to complete the task. Then that leads us to the next topic.


Some times natural consequences are easier than actually implementing them. I always hope for natural so I don’t have to do the work. When the kids need consequences, then we do implement them. Depending on the gravity, they could lose a device, or have to do a larger chore or write a letter.

We have also learned that sometimes a consequence isn’t as effective as extending grace. By meeting my kids where they are and saying this disappointed me today, but obviously something really is bothering you and let’s talk about it instead of taking something away from you.

With younger kids, extending grace looks different. It may look like redirecting them to doing something else. It may be explaining to them what they were doing isn’t right and you would hope in the future they would do it a different way instead.

Benefits of kids working independently

Some of the benefits of teach kids to work independently are they become problem solvers. They learn to figure stuff out on their own. They learn to enjoy reading, and creative play when they are left alone without their device.

Debrief at the end of the day

We try to debrief over dinner about how the day went. Some days we forget and then it happens at bedtime. I try to ask them what they thought was the best part and the worst part of the day and what we could have improved. These questions allow for self-reflection and learning how to self-correct to be a better person.

We don’t always do this, but it is something that I have found is very helpful.

Final thoughts on teach kids to work independently

Teaching your kids to work independently is hard, but kids generally learn quickly. It will take some time and if you have young kids right now, keep training them!

If you have tried some of these ideas and it didn’t go so well, I’m sorry. But don’t give up if the first day is a train wreck and they interrupt you more than you would like.

Keep going, be resilient, just like your kids are! You both are learning to do this together and it will take some time.

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