Skip To Content
Category: COVID-19

What to Do If A Loved One Isn't Social Distancing

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.