Your mother continues to go grocery shopping without a mask. Your spouse
is still hitting public trails for a daily run. Your college-aged son
just went out with his friends. It can be frustrating, and deeply concerning,
if someone you love isn’t taking social distancing seriously. Try
these tips to help approach the topic in a positive and productive way.
Avoid Negative Conversation Triggers
When it comes to navigating an emotionally-charged conversation, saying
the right thing can feel like the hardest thing. It’s important
to keep in mind, however, that your loved one is more likely to listen
to your concerns if you avoid triggers like name-calling, sweeping statements
such as “you always act like this” or “you never listen
to me,” and getting stuck debating facts versus opinions. Share
your feelings but try to keep the conversation amicable.
Search for an Empathic Perspective
Try to consider why your loved one is making these decisions. Maybe your
mother craves normalcy and regular grocery trips provide that experience.
Perhaps your spouse misses the camaraderie of the gym and finds it hard
to work out from home, where there are many distractions. Your son may
long for the approval of friends, and therefore ignores safety advice
and meets up with them after a little social pressure. Understanding their
perspective will help you better understand how to help them make better choices.
Open with Curiosity, Not Criticism
Criticizing a person’s actions just puts the other person on the
defensive. Now, instead of hearing you, they’re focused on defending
why their choice is the right one. Instead, try opening with curiosity.
Ask your loved one a question like, “How are you feeling since these
new recommendations and restrictions have been put in place? What parts
are you finding especially challenging?” Next, set an intention
to simply listen in order to understand. Your willingness to empathize
with their challenges may open them to changing their behavior. Once you
have shown that you genuinely care about understanding the reasoning behind
your family member’s resistance, see what happens when you ask,
“How can I help you during this time?”
Use “XYZ” Statements
A tool often used by mental health professionals is something called “XYZ
statements.” They sound like this: “When you do X in situation
Y, I feel Z.” For instance, you might say to your mother, “When
you continue to go shopping or talk to your neighbors without wearing
a mask, I feel scared and I worry about your health.” This shifts
the conversation from finger-pointing to a more personal and caring response.
Show them how much you mean to them by being honest and telling them how you feel.
If Nothing Works, Establish Boundaries
At some point, if your loved one refuses to hear you out and change their
habits, it may be time to acknowledge the limits of your control and shift
away from influence toward emotional and physical self-protection. While
certainly a challenge if you share a home, this could mean limiting contact
with your loved one, keeping separate spaces or not seeing each other
until the crisis has passed, if possible. As we’re all learning,
keep your distance physically doesn’t mean you can still show someone
you care about them.
Hopefully taking these measures can help your loved one accept your advice
and realize the seriousness of the situation. It’s important to
remember that the best, and sometimes only, thing you can do to help stop
the spread of COVID-19 is to follow safety guidelines yourself.
For more expert tips on how to stay safe and help stop the spread of COVID-19, visit