How I trained my smart home to be a third parent

My tips for using the connected home with children

Using the smart home as a third parent

“Why would I want a smart home?” It’s a common question as connected devices become more ubiquitous and pressure on “normal people” to start buying internet-enabled products mounts. My answer is always, “Do you have a problem you’d like to solve?” Or, “Do you have kids?”

The smart home is manna from heaven for parents. It is literally the third parent (or second) we’ve been asking for since these tiny bundles of joy burst into our lives. As early as 2016, 70% of parents in the U.S. owned at least one IoT device, and more than a third wanted to buy another one because they believe smart devices make them better parents.

When it comes to early adopters, parents are at the head of the queue. Who else forked out over $200 in the early ‘00s for a video monitor that gave you a grainy black and white feed? Or springs close to a grand on a pushchair? Parents spend money for three main reasons: health and safety, control and convenience, and to save time. Enter the smart home.

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While the “relief” of no longer having to do mundane things like flip a light switch or turn down the thermostat manually may seem ridiculous to some, try juggling a squirming baby in one hand, a bottle in the other and walking into a dark nursery. Or waking up freezing with a (finally) sleeping toddler on your chest. Lights that turn on when you walk in a room or a thermostat you can control from your smartwatch may seem like small benefits to most people, but if you’re a parent you know they can actually contribute to your sanity.

“Being able to say ‘Alexa, watch Daniel Tiger,’ instead of spending 15 minutes searching for the TV remote your toddler managed to make vanish, without so much as an "abracadabra" provides added value for stressed out parents. “A smart home can play an important role in transitioning families from feeling out of control to feeling in control,” found Smart Homes, Families, and Control, a research paper by School of Design and Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. “It can help make dual-income families feel they have mastered the complexity of their lives."

Carnegie Mellon may be living in a slight fantasy lab/world, but I do think the true smart home will achieve to this exalted state one day. I’ve been living in a connected home with a husband, two children and a dog since 2013. I've tried everything - every plug, bulb, speaker - and every routine you can possibly imagine. In that time I've finessed a routine and a handful of devices that have made parenting easier. This is how our smart home helps with family life.

How the smart home

The morning rush

5:30 a.m. When I get out of bed a motion sensor triggers the kitchen lights to turn on, the kettle to start boiling, and the radio to turn on (both of which are connected to Eve smart plugs).

5:45 a.m. The Hue lights in lamps on my kids’ bedside table bedroom go into Wake Up mode, where they gradually fade in over 30 minutes.

6:15 a.m. An Alexa routine, triggered by my voice command downstairs, turns on all lights upstairs, announces it's time to wake up on Echo Dot Kid’s Edition in each room, then plays the weather forecast. It finishes up with a rendition of “Here Comes The Sun” from Spotify on repeat until they are awake enough to tell it to stop.

How I trained my smart home to be a third parent

6:30 a.m. As we eat breakfast, Alexa reminds us of something we were bound to forget – such as “Today it’s picture day!” (I set these reminders the night before when I’m not as rushed).

6:50 a.m. The smart lights in the kitchen flash as a warning that it’s time to finish breakfast, brush our teeth and get out the door.

7:15 a.m. The PetSafe Automatic pet feeder feeds the dog while I’m on the school run.

8 a.m. With no one home, the house senses the lack of motion and sets to Away: adjusting the thermostat and turning off the lights. The Nest Secure system sends a notification asking if I’d like to set the alarm, and I can also check that the door is locked (and lock it if it isn’t).

How I trained my smart home to be a third parent

Afternoon options

3 p.m. The Nest Hello video doorbell sends a notification that Child 1 and Child 2 have been spotted at the front door. Using their unique code, they can unlock the door if they need to - and I get a notification telling me who has unlocked the door. I can then lock it after them.

4 p.m. Home alone. My oldest child is just at the age where he can be left alone for an hour or so, but I only feel comfortable doing this because I know I can check in on him. I have a Nest IQ Cam in the living room that turns on when myself or my husband are not home and alerts me to any motion.

I can also talk to my son through the camera - something we use often because we don’t have a landline and he doesn’t have a cellphone.

Contact sensors on all the doors send notifications if they are opened, so I know if he leaves or someone enters, and the video doorbell lets me know if anyone comes to the house and I can communicate with them, so my son doesn’t have to open the door to a stranger.

How I trained my smart home to be a third parent

Nighttime routines

7:20 p.m. Alexa gives the kids their 10-minute warning that screen time is up at 7:30. They HATE this, and routinely yell at it – but guess who they aren’t yelling at? Me. At 7:30 Alexa pipes up again and says it’s time to turn off all devices and get ready for bed. While they moan and grumble, they do it. I think because it’s a recognizable routine, something children thrive on.

7:35 p.m. If they are dragging their feet a bit, the smart home has a fall back. A WeMo smart plug shuts down the TV and Xbox at 7:35 and the SmartThings Wi-Fi system cuts off access to their tablets and/or computers at the same time.

7:45 p.m. Back upstairs, the Hue lights by their beds are already beginning their 60-minute fade out. I settle into one child’s room and use Drop In to the other’s room to read a book to them both. Sometimes, when his little sister has already fallen asleep, my son will ask his Alexa to read him one of his Audible books and he’ll slowly drift off to sleep.

8:30 p.m. The Ecobee thermostat upstairs lowers to 68 degrees for sleeping, and I can use my phone to check in on the remote sensors in each child’s room to make sure their environment is comfortable.

11:55 p.m. A Philips Hue motion sensor in the upstairs hallway turns the light on at its lowest level if either child creeps out of bed for any reason, helping them find their way safely to the bathroom (or quite probably into our bedroom) without waking them up with a startling bright light.

Whatever age your children are, there's a myriad of solutions to parenting problems to be found in the smart home. While privacy is a very real concern, especially when it comes to children (there are no cameras or connected toys in any of my children’s rooms), as long as its deployed sensibly and safely (change those default passwords!) the smart home can be an excellent tool for your parenting toolbox.



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