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ParentingWell® Strengths and Goals Checklist

Here is a list of things you may need to do as a parent. For each one that applies to you, select the answer that describes you best: This is a strength; I do this okay; I'd like to do this better. Some items on the list may not apply to you at all.

Manage everyday household tasks.

Plan and make healthy meals.

Understand the relationship between my feelings and my actions.

Manage my family's money.

Set limits with my child.

Have positive interactions with my child.

Have a pleasant routine with my child.

Find fun things to do with my child.

Get adequate child care for my child.

Balance work or school and parenting.

Know what to do when my child has problems.

Identify my child's strengths.

Have positive family time.

Know my legal options as a parent.

Get help for myself, if I need it.

Talk with my child about my situation or worries.

Keep in touch with my child who is not living with me.

Live a substance free lifestyle.

Communicate well with my child.

Have good relationships with my child's caregivers/helpers.

Express anger without hurting anyone.

Keep my child and myself safe.

Make time to take care of myself.

Manage stress and worries in healthy ways.

Cope with bad things that have happened to me in my life.

Get special services and supports for my child.

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Good for you! Taking care of routine daily tasks can be soothing, and can give you a great feeling of accomplishment. Don 't forget to take a moment to relax and enjoy your success.

Okay is fine! Household tasks may fall lower on your list of priorities than other things-only you can be the judge. Comfort is more important than perfection.

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Step back and think about what you 're trying to accomplish and in what amount of time. Keep a list for a few days of your activities and the time they take. You may be surprised at everything you are trying to do! Think about your priorities-what you want to do and what you need to do, what you might be able to take off the list or do less frequently, and who might be able to help you.

Excellent! A great deal of time and effort goes into feeding your family. We know how difficult it is to muster the energy to plan and prepare meals when you 're not feeling well. We 'd like to come to your house for dinner.

That 's good. Food is often very connected to our emotions and moods. Putting food in its proper perspective is important to the wellness of all family members. Encourage healthy lifestyles in your children by promoting exercise and wise eating habits.

You may be the type of person who simply doesn 't enjoy cooking. Your goal is to decrease the amount of time you spend on activities you don 't enjoy, and increase those you like. Look for ways you can streamline your planning and shopping. Involving children in meal preparation can provide opportunities for having positive interactions and building skills.

You recognize that your moods affect your behavior. You may have had conversations with your children about this-how to tell when you 're feeling bad and what helps you feel better. Perhaps you 've begun to talk with them about how they 're feeling, and how their moods affect their behavior, too.

Are you doing everything you can to take care of yourself? Your actions affect your children, and staying as healthy as possible is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Taking time for your health needs is good for you and your children!

Your moods affect your behavior, but your behavior can change your moods. It may be helpful to make a list of the warning signs that let you know when you are beginning to feel unwell. You may want to develop an action plan of steps to take when you begin to experience these warning signs. Your action plan may include talking to a family member, calling a friend, talking a walk or listening to music. Prepare your action plan when you are feeling well, so it 's in place when you 're feeling worse.

Great! Teaching your children values about work and money, and guiding the development of effective habits around these issues are important. Take the time to help your children understand where money comes from and how it is spent, at a level appropriate to their age and stage of development. You can help them develop money management skills.

Since you 're managing successfully now, you might want to make a plan for how your bills will be paid if you are not feeling well enough to handle your money. Make arrangements ahead of time for someone you trust to help you out when you 're feeling less well- your partner, a friend or family member, or an advocate.

Pick a time to pay your bills when you are less likely to fee distracted or overwhelmed. If you find yourself prone to negative thinking and self-doubts when you are tired in the evening, the morning may be a better time to tackle this task.

You probably know that by offering your children choices that are acceptable to you, you help them learn control and responsibility. Encourage your children to figure out what will happen as the result of their choices, and what your response will be.

Distracting or redirecting a child can interrupt a potentially negative cycle or prevent a bad outcome. Offer a positive option to the activity at hand. This may require some creative thinking, but can teach your child appropriate behavior in addition to stopping the misbehavior.

Active parenting requires energy, clear thinking, and enough organizational skill to follow through with consequences. Jot down potential scenarios and options ahead of time, so you are prepared to offer them to your children when they need help managing their behavior. It may be useful for you to ask other parents about strategies for setting limits they have found useful.

Excellent! You understand that positive interactions with your children need to be more frequent than negative interactions. The balance must be on the positive side to promote optimal growth and well-being.

Each new day with children brings a new set of challenges and demands. As your children get older, you may need to explore and discover new opportunities for positive interactions. Ask them about their interests, likes and dislikes-favorite artists and music, television shows, activities at school. Adjust your expectations as your children move through new stages.

Think about situations in the past week when you noticed you were reacting to your children 's behavior. Select a specific incident and write a few sentences about it, describing their behavior and your reactions. Were you responding negatively-perhaps overreacting or misinterpreting--either because you 're not familiar with what is typical for children their ages, or you weren 't feeling very well? How you feel about yourself affects how you feel about your children. Give yourself a break and don 't judge yourself too harshly! Ask others-friends or professionals-for advice. Review the Factsheets available on the Mental Health America web site for parenting tips and strategies (http://nmha.org/go/information/get-info/strengthening-families).

Good for you! A pleasant routine can be a big help to all family members. Knowing what's coming next can reduce worries and increase the likelihood that everyone will have fun.

Take a look at your family's typical day. Are certain times of the day still more stressful, when conflict among family members is more likely? Many parents find the morning rush of getting children ready for school or late evening and bedtime to be challenging. Make some notes about what usually happens and what you'd like to change. Talk with your children and your partner or other family members. Set a goal and identify the first step. Start small to fine tune routines.

Mealtimes can be great fun or a nightmare! A certain amount of conflict at the dinner table may revolve around behavior or preferences that are actually developmentally appropriate, for example, a toddler who throws his food. Encourage your children to help prepare and serve meals at a level appropriate to their ages and stages. Younger children may be able to help set the table. Keep the conversation relaxed and save confrontations or arguments for another time. Turn off the television so you and your children can focus on what everyone has to say.

What a great thing! Play and recreation provide the foundation for shared experiences, which are essential to building positive relationships. You create lifelong bonds with your children when you play with them.

Take the lead from your children-they are experts at play. Observe your children to see what they pay attention to, and how they respond. Children may change a great deal as they develop, and each child in a family may be quite different!

You can make daily activities around the house playful for your children. Set aside a drawer or cabinet in the kitchen that your toddler can reach filled with plastic containers, wooden spoons, and other non-breakable items. Let your kindergarten child help you fold laundry and match socks. Set aside a safe space for playing in your home.

Terrific! Child care is a challenge for many families. Stay connected with your children when you are apart by making a quick phone call or putting notes in their backpacks. When you are together again, let them know what you've been doing and find out what happened to them.

You may have day-to-day child care plans in place-quite an accomplishment! Making plans to cope with an emergency can help you and your family members feel even less stressed. Involve those who will be helping you to create a back-up plan. Discuss it with your children if they are old enough, and your partner or others you live with.

If you're faced with the prospect of leaving your daughter home alone, consider her maturity level and whether this is a safe option. Can your daughter lock and unlock the doors? Use the telephone? Prepare a snack? Understand dangers? Set some ground rules to help her cope with the responsibility of being alone. Make sure emergency numbers are readily available.

Way to go! For working parents, life is a juggling act. Balancing a job, your family's needs, and your mental health takes effort every day.

It can be difficult to have a positive attitude, especially in times when you are feeling less well. Some parents find the use of self-affirmations a helpful strategy. Repeat small, positive statements during the day to remind yourself of your strengths or to change the way you think. Write the statements down and keep them handy for those times you are feeling overwhelmed at work or at home.

No matter how well you plan ahead, unexpected events and emergencies can happen at any time! While you can't always control events, you can control your reactions to them. One way to cope with emergencies is to think ahead and have a plan ready. Identify likely events in advance, for example, your child is sick and has to stay home from school when you have to be at work. What are some possible solutions? Could a friend or neighbor help out? Developing a plan will help things go smoother when the unexpected actually happens!

As a parent you are, by definition, an advocate for your children. You must be willing to face an issue and acknowledge your child's needs, and have the skills to communicate so these needs are met.

You may have trouble at times getting your children the help they need because you perceive having a mental illness as a vulnerability, and asking for help as a sign of weakness or failure. In many ways, parents living with mental illness may be stronger and more courageous advocates than other parents, simply because they have to overcome how they feel themselves to try harder on behalf of their children. Parents with mental illness can be powerful advocates!

Visualize yourself in situations where you have to advocate for your children, and practice what you might say-by yourself when you're driving alone in the car, or role play with your partner or friend. Imagine yourself asking the pediatrician questions, or interacting effectively in a school meeting about your children. Stay calm and cool, wait for your turn to speak, stick to the facts, and try not to get too emotional.

Awesome! You understand that healthy development and positive changes are built on strengths-both personal characteristics or talents, and good behavior.

Provide your children with opportunities to learn even more life skills. Offer choices, give kind and honest feedback, and provide opportunities for practice, practice, practice!

It can be very difficult, particularly if you 're depressed, to focus on strengths-your child's or your own. Start by watching your daughter closely and finding one thing she does well-it can be as simple as the way she brushes her teeth. Praise your daughter when she is doing something right. Be sure to acknowledge baby steps in the development of skills and talents-praise small changes in the right direction! Support resilience in your children by focusing on their interests and needs. Refer to the "Positive Parenting & Child Resilience" resource on the UPENN Collaborative on Community Integration (http://www.upennrrtc.org/resources/view.pho?tool_id=37).

You have developed strategies for resolving family conflict and promoting compromise. You can transform potentially difficult family situations into positive experiences!

Conflict occurs in all relationships. Family members may not see things the same way or may not agree on how things should be, and feel their differences cannot be overcome. Most conflict is resolved when people find ways to meet half-way. Sometimes people just walk away. It is important to develop skills in knowing which conflicts with your children should be resolved and which ones you should just let go! This will maximize the likelihood of positive family time.

Arriving at solutions to conflict is a step-by-step process that may not happen in the heat of the moment. You and your son should take a break until you have calmed down enough to think clearly. Identify the problem-talk and listen to each other. Brainstorm potential solutions, and seek outside help if necessary. Decide together on an action plan, and talk about what might get in the way of a successful solution and what will happen once the problem is solved.

You can navigate, survive, and use the legal system with the help of knowledge and good representation to increase the likelihood of positive outcomes for your children and you.

The legal system, when it's working at its best, offers you the chance to have a voice. Choose an attorney who has handled many cases like yours. Be sure your attorney understands your perspective and is willing to advocate actively for your interests.

Dealing with divorce, custody, visitation issues, or the termination of parental rights when you have mental illness can be scary, costly, and emotionally charged. To prepare yourself for this process, know your own needs and think carefully about what's in your children's best interests. Prepare for meetings with your attorney and evaluators by putting together information they request and material you think is important-this might include medical records, school reports, etc. Take care that your children are not the ultimate losers in any legal battles. Go to the UPENN Collaborative on Community Integration web site for additional information on parenting and custody (http://www.upennrrtc.org/resources/view.php?tool_id=36).

Well done! Staying as healthy as possible is one of the most important things you can do as a parent. You are working toward a healthy lifestyle!

You have basic human rights that should be guaranteed in all settings, whether you're advocating for yourself with your partner at home or for your children at school. Being aware of these rights can help decrease the likelihood of people taking advantage of you. Embrace these basic rights in how you treat others and how you allow others to treat you, or your children will not expected to be treated well either.

You can find information about mental health advocacy in the U.S. at the web sites of Mental Health America (www.nmha.org) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (www.nami.org). Or check out the resources available from the UPENN Collaborative on Community Integration (http://www.upennrrtc.org).

You know yourself and your children well enough to be able to describe your symptoms and their management to your children without burdening them. They know you care about them and their needs. You can be a role model so they learn to communicate well with others.

Children of different ages communicate in different ways. As your children reach new developmental stages, they may have more complicated questions about your mental health and illness. The more you know about your children, the better able you will be to match their communication styles as they grow and mature.

All children have questions when a parent is ill. Many children have similar worries when a parent has mental illness. "Did I cause it? Can I fix it? Will I catch it?" You may want to practice your answers to their questions ahead of time with someone you feel comfortable talking with. Your child may feel more comfortable talking with another person-a trusted relative, family friend, teacher, treatment provider-which is quite common in teenagers, for example. Check out the resources on the Children of Parents with Mental Illness web site (www.copmi.net.au).

You have learned to balance your children 's needs with yours during visits. You may have developed strategies for coping between visits-communicating by telephone, email, or cards and letters-to let your children know they are important and that you are all right when they're not around.

Visits with your children, when you can't see them all the time, can bring great joy and pain in the same moment. Knowing how you feel about their current living arrangements can help you think more clearly about these issues and approach visits in a better frame of mind.

Having ideas about your children's interests and activities will help you plan successful visits. Don't try to compensate in one visit for all the time you are away from them. Too much activity can be overwhelming. Plan an affordable activity that does not stress you out or add to your worries.

Excellent! You are staying healthy by not using nonprescription drugs, drinking alcohol to excess or smoking cigarettes. You are insuring better health for yourself and providing a positive role model for your children.

Mental illness and substance abuse often go hand in hand. Some people use drugs and alcohol because of a stressful home situation, because they want to avoid their problems, or because their psychiatric medication is not very effective or has uncomfortable side effects. Mixing alcohol and drugs with prescribed medication is a bad idea. Inform your doctor about your drug or alcohol use, even if it's just occasional, so she can make a safe decision regarding the choice of your medication.

Though it may be hard for you to seek help, the sooner you get help, the better your chances are for recovery. Seeing your mental health professional is a good first step. You can get information about treatment from your primary-care doctor, psychiatrist, or counselor. Treatment information is also available online or in your local phone book. Seek a professional who specializes in both mental health and substance abuse problems. The U.S. government provides the latest information on substance abuse and mental health on the SAMHSA web site (http://www.samhsa.gov/).

ou understand that children learn through your actions and interactions, so you work hard to stay calm and engaged in your relationship with them. You help give your children the words to describe how they are feeling or what they want to have happen.

Parents and children don't always see things the same way. Families have different communication styles and family members may have different ways of working things out. It's important to examine your preferred ways of communicating as well as your children's, factoring in their ages, stages, and abilities to communicate with you-through talking, writing, or actions. Sometimes good moments for talking just happen, like when you're going for a drive in the car or sitting together waiting for a television show to begin. Take advantage of these moments!

If you want to answer your children's questions, you may have to practice communicating in new ways. Think carefully about each of your children, as their communications styles may be quite different. What are the signals you notice when your children want to talk? How can you tell what mood they're in? Are there times when it's better or worse to try to talk with them? If there are others who know your children well, you might ask them about their perceptions of your children. Try writing a letter to your children or making a video. Use these as practice for talking face-to-face or share them with your children.

If you have a mutually supportive, respectful relationship with the people caring for your children-your ex-partner, family member, or a foster parent-you can work together on their behalf. In the best situations, people who share responsibility for children serve as resources to each other.

People who successfully share the care of children also share information about children's needs and interests, joys and concerns. In works best if you have similar ideas about rules, limits, and behavior management. Good communication is key.

While it may be difficult to totally overcome your fears and anxieties about being away from your children, try to focus on the positives for your children and yourself. If you have real concerns about their safety or well-being, identify ways to tackle these. Decide on several things you would like to change and the steps to take, and talk them over with someone you trust. Engage a professional to advocate or mediate if you are truly concerned or worried, and it seems you can't make changes on your own.

Anger is unavoidable-it's a normal feeling. It may be a healthy response to a difficult situation or a motivator to make changes in times of trouble. Recognizing angry feelings early, at the beginning of an episode before they escalate, allows you to manage your feelings, responses, and interactions with other people better.

It's important to remember that your job as a parent is to teach your children safe, respectful ways of expressing feelings like anger. Because of your mental illness, you may feel less than worthy of respect and, therefore, may allow your children to treat you rudely. Provide your children with opportunities to express anger, and give feedback tailored to their ages and stages to help them learn appropriate ways of expressing their feelings as they mature.

It is particularly important for children whose parents are coping with illness or disability to have opportunities to express feelings in ways that allow them to feel they are heard and understood. It may be hard for you to hear your child's angry feelings, especially if you perceive them to be angry with you because of your illness and its impact. It is much better for you and your child to be able to talk about feelings than to allow her to act them out in other, potentially harmful ways. Your child may benefit from having an objective outsider to talk with.

Congratulations! You have developed strategies for coping with stress and solving problems so you do not lose control or resort to physical fighting to end an argument. You must also believe that you and your children deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Stress can be the side effect of any event or situation, positive or negative. Planning a wedding, having a baby, or moving to a new home may be viewed as positive, but they can generate a great deal of stress. Losing a job, breaking up with a partner, or dealing with a child's illness, more typically thought of negative, are also stressful. Your ability to cope with stress affects how you function as a parent and your relationships with your children. If you are stressed out, you are more likely to become emotionally or physical abusive and to hurt someone else or yourself. You are responsible for providing a safe environment for your children.

Take a few minutes to think back on your childhood and how your experiences affect your feelings about yourself, your expectations for yourself as a parent, and your approach to parenting. You can learn both negative and positive things from your past. If you were abused as a child or had a disrupted family life, you may be motivated to be a better parent and to keep your children safe. You may be less able to cope with the stresses of family life when you are not feeling well, however. Create a wellness plan for yourself, and a back-up plan for your children to keep them healthy and safe when you are unwell. You can learn about advance directives, and planning for your treatment and the care of your children at the UPENN collaborative on Community Integration web site (http://www.upennrrtc.org/resources/view.php?tool_id=132).

As a parent with mental illness, you recognize that keeping yourself well and taking time for yourself and your health needs are good for both you and your children. Excellent!

Many adults give recreation a low priority. In meeting their children's needs, they may put aside their own need for leisure activities and fun. It's important to set aside some time in your week for leisure activities, as they are an important to staying healthy. Just do it!

Make a list of activities you enjoy-things you do by yourself such reading or listening to music; creative activities like painting, cooking or gardening; physical activities like sports or hiking; and social activities such as playing cards or going to the movies with friends. Circle the activities you enjoy most. Set aside time in your schedule for two of these activities-maybe only an hour or two a week. It's important to you and your children to prioritize these.

You have mastered self-care. You understand that to take care of your children well, you must take care of yourself. Keep doing it!

Your children can contribute to your stress either directly through the things they do, or indirectly, by increasing the pressure you feel to provide for them. There are better and worse ways to cope. Better ways allow us to survive stress without hurting ourselves or someone else. Develop skills to manage both single stressful events and longer term daily life stresses. Break them into smaller issues to tackle, so you're not overwhelmed by trying to cope with everything at once. Create a daily routine. Nourish spiritual connections. Maintain your friendships.

Think about times when you are stressed and how you handle your stress. Use your journal to list some things that cause you stress. Write about a time when you were really stressed out and lost it. How do you feel when you think about it now? What helps you calm down? Some of the more common ways of managing stress may be difficult for parents with mental illness-you may have trouble mustering the energy or difficulty organizing resources to take better care of yourself. Again, identify and mobilize supports to take a time-out for yourself! Trade babysitting with a friend to give each other the time you need to unwind.

Good going! You have put the bad things in your life into perspective and learned from them. You may have talked about your experiences with a friend, relative or professional who helped you develop coping strategies. While we can't change the past, coping is a lifelong activity that benefits from practice. Keep up the good work!

People who are treated poorly, whether they are children or adults, begin to believe they deserve poor treatment and come to expect it. It is easy to understand how a cycle of negative thinking can develop. You may receive subtle messages from well-meaning family members and friends who put down your ideas, plans, or dreams because you have an illness. If you find yourself sliding into a negative cycle, take a moment to list your strengths and frame some positive affirmations about yourself and your abilities. Review these throughout the day.

Think back on your childhood experiences. On your own or with a friend, compare yourself as a parent with your own parents. What are the similarities and differences? What have you learned from the way you were raised? How would you like to respond to your children? Make a list of the things you're satisfied with and want to keep the same, and the things you would like to change about your parenting style.

It's your job to protect your children from difficulties that may come their way and to secure the resources they need to cope. You have the attitudes and skills to be a successful advocate.

Your success as an advocate depends in large part on your attitudes about yourself in particular and the world in general. Recognizing the good in yourself is crucial to believing you and your family members deserve support. Acknowledging your strengths and skills is key to getting what you and your family need.

Many parents have to overcome feelings of embarrassment or guilt to actively ask for help for their children. Some parents may feel responsible for their children's difficulties or are actively blamed by others. Parents with mental illness may feel vulnerable and reluctant to disclose their families' needs. You and your family members have the right to be treated with respect and dignity. The National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health (www.ffcmh.org) is a great place to start for information and suggestions when children have their own mental health needs.