Motherhood is a nonstop guilt trip, and few things cut as deep as not seeming to spend enough time with your kids. Combine that with the time-consuming nature of coding, debugging, and research, and you have a recipe for a stressed-out mom.

What’s a mom to do? Here are some ways I keep my own kids engaged while I work at home.

Let Them Code, Too

I don’t know about your kids, but my four-year-old absolutely loves puzzles. So when I’m working on code, I break out a tablet for him to play ScratchJr.

Scratch and ScratchJr are free programs created by MIT that allow children and newcomers to code to write logic using puzzle pieces. Kids and adults alike can utilize things like loops, conditional statements, and functions to create a vast variety of programs and games. The individual puzzle pieces only fit where the logic makes sense from a coding standpoint.

Scratch can be played with in a web browser, or you can download the software to use it offline. ScratchJr is designed for tablets and works on iPad, Android, and Kindle Fire. Each one organizes pieces into various color coded categories to make it easier for kids to pick it up quickly. And the best part for a kid learning to code: no semicolons!

Since the Jr version doesn’t require reading comprehension, my son likes it for controlling the avatars and making his own mini games. And he loves feeling like he’s doing his “work” while Mommy’s doing hers.

Usability Testing

Almost everyone who builds products for some user to eventually, well, use knows that they’re not always all that good at figuring out how they’re supposed to do it. Even by having others try out your site or software, it’s almost impossible to know how your genuine users may try to do things differently.

One way to at least check that a user’s wrong clicks won’t break your site or program is to simply click around randomly and see what happens. Do you know who are really good at randomly clicking things?

Kids, of course. Let them tool around with your front end and watch from behind them to see if anything breaks. My sons are always trying to snag my laptop so they can press as many keys as they can, so giving them the opportunity to click and tap away with no consequences is a really special treat.

Engage Little Builders

When kids are going to be underfoot, it helps to get them completely absorbed in what they’re doing so they’re less likely to try to wander off. This makes Legos and other building toys great choices for when Mommy needs to get work done at home. Once they start constructing something, it usually hold my kids’ concentration for an extended period of time.

Plus, not only do they have something to focus on for a while, but as long as they get a chance to show me their finished projects and get my smile of approval, they’re as proud and happy as if I had been beside them the whole time. Keeping a camera (or camera phone) by the computer also helps, because then I can take a picture of whatever they’ve built when they present it to me; kids tend to love when their creations are special enough that Mommy wants to take a picture of them.

Let the Little Artist Out

Doing some whiteboarding or wireframing or need to create some flowcharts to get the hang of your algorithm? Young kids often don’t realize exactly what Mommy’s doing when she starts drawing out what she’s working on, but it can definitely inspire them to draw their own little masterpieces.

When I break out my drawing tools, I also take out some crayons for my sons. They get to draw anything they can think of while Mommy puts some flowcharts together. Most importantly, they feel like they’re doing something just like Mommy, so they don’t feel left out when I’m working.

A Little Quiet Time

Of course, not all of code work is active. A lot of time is spent reading books and documentation and doing research. As soon as I appear not to be doing anything, my kids decide that I need them to spice things up a bit.

How do I keep them still? When I do my reading, I try to sit my boys down to do their reading.

My oldest is starting to read words and my youngest likes to look at pictures, so if I give them a good stack of books based on their interests, I can usually get them to enjoy the quiet time long enough for me to make progress.

None of this is to dismiss the fact that working at home while simultaneously taking care of kids is hard work. These options help to make it possible, but I still stay up several hours after my kids go to bed so that I can concentrate for a bit.

Let me know on in the comments if these helped you or what you’ve tried, or even work from home horror stories.

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