Task Orientated or People Orientated?

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I am a task-orientated person. As a choleric/melancholy I can fairly easily get this family vehicle going and keep it going. I enjoy planning and schedules and all the tools and techniques that make life run more smoothly. The danger however lies in my focus becoming all about getting “stuff” done (organizing my vehicle and making it run more smoothly) while neglecting to fill up the tank – the love tanks of my children that is.

The concept of the 5 love languages in brief is that we each give and receive love in 5 ways; quality time, acts of service, words of encouragement, physical touch and gift giving. Each time we do or say something that meets one of these areas we are giving our children a love tank top-up.

As the children come to ask me questions, show me their latest creation or tell me their latest dream in every miniscule detail it can be easy to see these interruptions as things that slow down my vehicle (interrupting my plan for the day) and react by brushing them aside, missing an opportunity to add a little top up to their love tank.

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Instead of listening with my full attention, I might keep my eyes on the computer and make vague listening noises in their general direction, or perhaps tell them to come back and tell me at the end of room time, or to save it for their evening “talking time” around the dinner table. In the end it all amounts to the same message; what I am doing is more important than you.

If I keep neglecting to top up their tanks they will get emptier and emptier and eventually this usually leads to a major catastrophe. This equivalent of a tire blow-out or radiator overheating brings the family vehicle to a violent stop and requires lots of time and attention to get things moving again.

In the end, if I take a look at the time involved, it would have been far quicker and a lot easier for everyone if I had used those few minutes along the way to give a little love. Five minutes to hear their dream retell, 2 minutes to listen attentively and admire the latest creation, seconds to notice the job well done that they are desiring to show me. What it takes is for me to slow it down a gear and cruise along in 4th instead of tear along in 5th being too busy to notice the needs. The vehicle keeps moving, everything eventually gets done and life is happier for everyone. Instead, the tanks are empty and we are stranded on the side of the road trying to fill up an empty and leaking tank.

Ensuring you have a special date or another event planned on a regular basis will take care of filling the love tank to some extent, but one burst of filling doesn’t make up for the continual lack of filling that has gone on all through the week. It’s like pouring in premium oil but forgetting the fuel.

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Of course different children have different needs and some require less time that others. A quick tank top-up for one may be as simple as spending 10 minutes tidying out the drawers of their desk for them; an act of service. For another, bringing home a new pink toothbrush tops them up; gift giving. Making sure I start my 4 year old’s day with a cuddle, give him a piggy-back to nap time, tickle him on the way past in the afternoon and have a quick rock on the rocking chair before bed is the continual topping up he needs as a physical touch boy. Writing a ‘well done, I see you are working very hard’ message as I correct another child’s maths for the day gives them the words of encouragement boost they are needing. All of these things take mere minutes and don’t stop the vehicle from ticking along nicely.

The quality time children are the ones that do take time. They need the little top-ups along the way plus MORE. But if you are continually topping up then it reduces the need for the huge fill-up of a bottomless tank that seems to leak right on out again as soon as you finish.

I often get asked how I manage 7 children. This sums up the danger – I could easily become nothing but a manager. I need to proactively set myself into relational mode, change down a gear and use the little moments to keep topping up along the way.

A couple of strategies for task orientated personalities:

  • Write focus time and planned extra minutes into your routine so that it becomes a task. You are less likely to feel like you are wasting time that you should be spending doing something else. Plan extra moments at transition periods so that you have the few minutes here and there to give a little top-up.
  • Ensure that you have focus time with your toddlers early in the day. You might sit them on your lap for a story, have a cuddle in the rocking chair or do a puzzle together to top them up before expecting them to do a long alone period like playpen time. Several smaller timeslots through the day is often more effective than one marathon session for little ones. Older children will wait if they know their time is coming.
  • Deal with the heart needs as they arise rather than waiting for the engine to overheat later. Sometimes you will need to pull the vehicle over, come to a complete stop and deal with the issues.
  • Give full eye contact – you’ll be surprised at how little time it actually takes to hear the interruption in full when you stop and focus.
  • If you really can’t stop, ask them to put the timer on for 20 minutes (or whatever time will work) and come back to you when they hear it beep. They know you won’t forget and you can’t make an excuse the next time.
  • Give the child who constantly interrupts during room time (or any other period when they should be alone) 3 interrupt tokens – after they use up their 3 chances there is no coming back unless it is an emergency.
  • Find activities that you like to do with the children and use them as one-on-one time. I like to sew, bake, build a Duplo house or other tasks that feel like we are getting somewhere. I can’t stand playing cars on the floor! It’s got to be something the child enjoys too of course.
  • Special dates on planned occasions. There are many ways to do these that do not have to be too expensive or difficult to put together. I have a post on that here.

One-on-one focus time – how do you do it with lots of children?

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Spending one-on-one time (focus time) with our children is important, but how do you find time to do it with a large family?

1 to 3 children:

Focus time for us has changed a lot along the way. When I only had a couple of children I had it planned as a set timeslot every day with each child. It’s especially important for the toddler of the family that they have some attention early in the day before popping them into playpen time or other independent play. We would read a story or play with the dolls house, toy cars, Lego or whatever toy was a favourite of the child at the time. This daily filling of their love tank early in the schedule set them up for success with room time and other alone times later in the day while my focus was on other children or tasks. Later in the day I would spend some time with the older children.

4 & 5 children:

Once we had our twins it became too cumbersome to fit one-on-one time into every day so we moved to having an “hour of power” one afternoon a week. Whenever the children asked me to do something with them that I could not accomodate then and there, I would tell them that that was a wonderful idea for our hour of power. We would add it to a running list that we kept so that we didn’t get to the special hour and have no ideas. The kids were happy that it was a delayed “yes” rather than a no and I was able to do it at a time that was suitable for me. The toddlers still had some focus time early in the day on a daily basis.

6 children:

As the older children were getting to an age where playing with toys at home was no longer suitable for focus time, we changed to fortnightly dates with Mummy or Daddy. The babies and toddlers in the family still had their focus time built into the daily routine early in the day and the older 5 were on a rotating schedule to go out on a Saturday for a couple of hours – 1 child per fortnight. Of course there were still plenty of incidental times along the way when we spent time with the children other than these special dates.

Some of the issues that we found with this was that 10 weeks was a long time to wait for the next special date and having these set times seemed to bring with it a sense of ungratefulness and entitlement rather than thankfulness that we were taking the time to do it with them. A lot of talk went into how long it was until the next date, with almost a depression after their turn as they realised how long it would be before they went again. It put a lot of pressure onto us to keep it up and not skip a turn and life tended to get in the way. The dates also needed to be something bigger which often came at a cost financially. We decided that as a long-term strategy it wasn’t working for us or the kids.

The next method we call date cramming. We would take a couple of days and take every child out on a date with either Mummy or Daddy all one after the other. We liked this because everyone got a turn very quickly and the children did not know when we planned to do it – we would just announce it unexpectedly and they were very excited and thankful that it was happening. We took the younger children first and then the older children as they had a better grasp of time and were able to understand that their turn was coming soon. All done and dusted in 2 or 3 days with no drawn-out waiting. We still do this as we find it works well for us – family holidays are a great time to fit it in.

7 children

7 children later we have settled into a very informal system. Except for the toddler, we don’t have it written into our routines (no expectations, no crummy attitudes) but are mindful that it is important to proactively build relationships. It’s different for every child and age. The holiday date cramming is still happening a couple of times a year, with the rest of the alone times balancing out informally in a a whole variety of different ways.

  • Our nearly 2 year old comes into our bedroom as soon as she wakes in the morning for some snuggle and tickle time with Mum and Dad before we start showers.
  • Homeschooling starts after breakfast and provides opportunities for the 4-year-old and our 6-year-old twins to have some individual attention as they have their turn to sit on my lap and do some reading or maths or other subjects I save for this time.
  • Our 8 and 11-year old girls are involved in a church dance group and the 11 year old in a girl’s choir. The trips to and from these events, plus occasional extra rehearsals etc. provide some one-on-one time connected with something that is special to them.

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  • Our 13 year old is up later than every other child and naturally gets lots of informal time with Mum and Dad as we chat while doing dishes, play board games, look something up on the computer or whatever comes up as a topic of interest. He will often accompany one of us if we head out to the shops in the evening or just sit about and chat.
  • Whenever my husband or I run an errand over the weekend we make a point of taking along just one child for some special time – usually the 4 or 6 year olds as they do not have as many other opportunities that naturally crop up without planning.
  • We have started some traditions connected to birthdays such as going camping alone with a parent when they turn 7 or horse-riding when they turn 9.
  • We occasionally have girls/guys day out – when I take all the girls to a special event or Daddy takes all the boys. Our next event will be a winter showcase concert that the girls are looking forward to seeing. While this is not strictly alone, it still gives us opportunities to focus on individuals within the group.
  • Daddy has been hiking with the older 3 children a couple of times in the last year which involves long walks (plenty of time to chat to individual children) and overnight camp-outs before hiking back.
  • Coming up to holiday periods I will sometimes get the children to make a list of all the things they want to do with me alone while we don’t have school work to get through. If something needs to be done like purchasing new sneakers for someone then we will turn that into a date opportunity and the occasional birthday invitation or other special event involving only one child also gives us some time alone. I frequently have a helper work in the kitchen with me to prepare a family meals and there are other times when we sit and simply read a story or work on a project with a child.

Keeping love languages in mind is very important when thinking through focus time. The older children wanted help making Jedi capes to use for their home movies so this was a good opportunity to tackle a small project together – acts of service children all happy! A quick trip to the local shopping centre for some new socks has the “gift” child showing the world and overflowing with joy. Piggy backing my “physical touch” boy to bed and taking 5 minutes to tickle and cuddle before lights out each night fills his love talk. The “quality time” kids need just that – time and lots of it. They are the hardest to fit it and the ones we have to most proactively work to accomodate.

So yes, our children are not going on amazing Princess date with Daddy every weekend or heading out to expensive all day experiences with Mummy every other week, but they are well loved. I think we need to take a step back from the pressure to heap money and experiences on our children and ask ourselves what they need. Perhaps you just need to go and play a game of Monopoly or fix the toy you’ve been promising to get to. Filling their love tanks and letting them know they are special and loved is what its all about for us.