5 Tips to Help You Talk to Your Older Parents About Social Distancing
Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet many older adults aren’t taking social distancing and hygiene directives seriously.
To many parents’ annoyance and their children’s frustration, this has led to stressful conversations where children urge — some may say chide — their parents to comply.
If your parent or grandparent is resisting the CDC’s advice on coronavirus precautions, here are five tips that can help you have an effective and respectful conversation with them.
It’s the nature of the child-parent relationship that a child — no matter their age — might not be the right person for a conversation with parents about changing habits related to the new coronavirus.
Sometimes seniors still see their adult children as kids. If that is the case, I’d encourage the adult children to figure out who that trusted messenger is for that parent that they’ll listen to.
Think about people your parent is comfortable with and trusts, such as a family friend, sibling, or pastor.
Make it front and center in your communication that your reason for bringing this up and wanting your parents to change their behavior is your love for them and your desire to enjoy them for many years to come. It is easy for this conversation to feel like it’s about control. Do everything you can to clarify that it’s about love — not control.
Any communication with a parent who is not following public health guidelines should begin with respect and curiosity. Righteousness and condescension will not work. No matter how right an adult child thinks they are, a fully functional parent will not be inspired by that.
Ask your parent questions to really understand what’s driving their behavior — and listen to their answers. Once you hear where your parent is coming from, mirror it back to them verbally to show them that you understand where they’re coming from.
Oftentimes we can help people change their behavior if we figure out what’s driving them. Then you can help the parent identify and find ways to change their own behavior — different from the adult child telling them what to do.
Find out where your parents are getting their information from. In many families, the older generation watches sources that have downplayed the pandemic and stated that measures like mandated closures and social distancing are overblown or unnecessary.
Make sure parents are getting correct, science-based information from direct, trustworthy sources like the provincial government and health authorities..
In the end, even if your parents aren’t heeding your calls to protect themselves against COVID-19, offer them respect, love, and support.
Connectedness is essential for older adults during this time, so teach your parents new ways to connect — and commit to staying connected.