If people you love need some convincing to take coronavirus stay-at-home orders seriously, here's how to help them understand the risks.

By Lisa Milbrand
Updated April 01, 2020
illustration of house in a snow globe: Staying at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Credit: Getty Images

You may be taking the coronavirus quarantine rules seriously, but odds are someone in your life isn't quite self-distancing like they should. Maybe your mom's still going out shopping several times a week, your best friend is trying to convince you to come to her (in-person) book club—or your teen's being a teen and simply won't stay put in the house.

There are definitely reasons why they may balk at staying home. "For many people, the threat of coronavirus feels distant," says Amelia Aldao, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Together CBT in New York City and member of the scientific advisory board of R3SET. "They don't know people who have gotten it or they haven't spent much time really thinking through the statistics—so they might not feel the threat in the same way most people probably do at this point."

And facing a pandemic could lead more people—young and old—to focus more on a "live for today" mindset. "During a time of pandemic, in which the horizon is filled so much uncertainty, it makes perfect sense that many of us—young, old, and everything in between—might be shifting our emotional focus on the present," Aldao says. But living for the now—whether you're having an unsanctioned "corona" party or simply keep on doing the activities you love—puts a lot of people at risk.

So how can you help convince your loved ones to follow medical advice and just stay home? Here's how mental health experts suggest you approach the issue.

Start small

It can be hard to get your parents or child to commit to following the shelter-in-place guidelines for the foreseeable future, but what if you started smaller than that? "Look at committing to the CDC guidelines for just today," advises Jason Woodrum, ACSW, therapist at New Method Wellness in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. "Committing to a change in behavior is far more digestible when it's framed as a request for one day." Make that day as pleasant as possible—let them pick what's on TV, or what you have for dinner—and praise them for staying in. "By the end of the day, many of the fears and annoyances with complying with shelter-in-place orders could very well be demystified by reflecting on how easy it was to do a day at a time," he says.

Share your own feelings

Staying at home isn't so easy for you, either, so share your own feelings about it to develop a little bit of that "we're all in this together" spirit. "That allows the person to feel understood, rather than directly challenged," Woodrum says. By making it clear that following stay-at-home orders is a team effort for everyone around the globe (including you and other people they love), they may begin to feel more willing to go along.

Think about what will persuade them

There's no one-size-fits-all argument that will convince everyone, so think about what will be most effective. Some people will respond better to strong facts and statistics, while others might respond better to an emotional plea that describes how it could affect them personally. "Try to explain to people the magnitude of the problem we’re facing in as many different ways as possible," Aldao says. "Maybe showing them more stories of people catching it. Maybe spending more time walking them through the numbers. Making it emotional can work really well in terms of persuading people to do the right thing." So if all else fails, bringing up how COVID-19 could cause serious problems for loved ones who have medical issues or are older than 60 could help.

Just tread carefully if the person you're addressing is the loved one at risk. "Most folks who find themselves in the at-risk population are acutely aware of their challenges," Woodrum says. "Reminding them repeatedly about the severity of the moment may be detrimental, and lead to more willful disregard of shelter-in-place rules."

Try the "DEAR MAN" technique

Aldao suggests using a trick from dialectical behavioral therapy, with the acronym DEAR MAN, to help you organize your thoughts and explain why this means so much to you. To try it, you need to do the following:

  • Describe the situation
  • Express your feelings
  • Assert your needs
  • Reinforce and reward good behavior.

As you're trying this technique, it’s important to be:

  • Mindful
  • Appear confident, and
  • Negotiate.

Limit your exposure

If your loved one won't commit to staying home, you have to prioritize your own health and safety. "If at some point you’re not getting any traction and they are putting you in danger, it might be necessary to leave that situation—or to limit your exposure to them—to the extent that’s possible," Aldao says.

Based on the current CDC recommendations, you need to treat them as if they've been exposed, which means isolating yourself from them. Stay six feet apart, use a bathroom that they don't use, if possible, and follow CDC protocol in order to reduce the chances that you get sick.

Don't give up

It will likely take more than one conversation to get them to see reason and start changing their behavior, so the experts advise to keep trying. "The greatest gift we can give one another is patience and understanding," Woodrum says. "Create space for those you love to be able to speak with you about where they are emotionally during this time, and allow them to do the same for you."