5 Tips to Help You Talk to Your Older Parents About Social Distancing

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Speaking with older parents about the importance of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic can be challenging, but experts say following a few simple tips can make a big difference. Getty Images
  • Getting older parents to understand the importance of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic may be challenging for some people.
  • If your parent is less likely to listen to your advice, having another person your parent trusts speak with them, such as a family friend, sibling, or pastor, may be more effective.
  • Make sure parents are getting correct, science-based information from direct, trustworthy sources like the CDC.

Older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source. 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.

1. Make sure you’re the right person for this conversation

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, according to Jenn Leiferman, PhD, director of the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center and associate professor of community and behavioral health at the Colorado School of Public Health.

“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.

2. Come from a place of love — not control

“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,” recommended Dr. Alexandra Stockwell, a physician turned relationship expert and founder of Calm in Chaos.

3. Ask a lot of questions

“Any communication with a parent who is not following CDC 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,” Stockwell explained.

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,” Leiferman suggested.

 4. Share information from trustworthy sources

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 CDC.

5. Accept that you can only control you

In the end, even if your parents aren’t heeding your calls to protect themselves against COVID-19, Leiferman urges children to offer parents 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.

Why aren’t some older adults taking the new coronavirus seriously?

Boomers have lived through many significant threats during their lives: the possibility of nuclear attacks, the Cold War, and the Cuban missile crisis.

“This generation has lived through many different moments in time that were riddled with anxiety, highly stressful, and human extinction was on the line. In every one of those instances, the worst-case scenario did not play out for our country as a whole. It is understandable that they would feel that way now as well,” Stockwell explained.

These experiences have also made some boomers feel like they have “earned the right to do as they please as long as their bodies permit,” Stockwell added.

And many boomers are still healthy, fit, and active — causing them to not identify as old, and therefore believe they aren’t at heightened risk if they were to contract COVID-19.

“Some boomers lose sight of their chronological age and just think about how fit they are and how great they feel. They just don’t see themselves as high risk,” said Leiferman.

Leiferman also pointed out that it’s understandable that many people — but especially older adults — are resistant to skipping their daily activities in order to stay inside.

“Humans like routine and seniors especially like routine,” Leiferman added. Routines bring comfort and a sense of normalcy.

“What we’re asked with the message of social distancing is for them to change their routine. [The response] is often coupled with feelings of uneasiness and uncomfortableness,” Leiferman said.

That leaves older adults weighing two things that largely affect their quality of life: staying inside to decrease their risk of exposure and not feeling well being out of their routine.

The potentially negative consequences of quarantine aren’t trivial for older adults’ physical and mental health.

“There is the risk of exposure with COVID-19, but then on the other side, there is the risk of increasing isolation and loneliness, which is very high in seniors. Loneliness puts seniors at higher risk for mental illnesses, such as depression and suicide,” Leiferman told Healthline.

Being Mindful of Your Mental Health During the COVID-19 Outbreak

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Stress and anxiety about the spread of the novel coronavirus, coupled with increased social distancing and isolation recommendations, may be affecting your mental health more than you realize. Getty Images
  • As we all face uncertainty about the novel coronavirus, there are measures we can take to stay calm.
  • For those living with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, filling prescriptions ahead of time and asking your therapist to hold telemedicine sessions can ensure you keep your health a priority.
  • The National Association of School Psychologists offers tips on how to talk to kids about the pandemic.

With the country rolling out social distancing measures, schools and businesses closing, and companies declaring work from home necessary, Americans are forced to face a new reality.

“We are social beings. We like to connect and touch and be close to people, and we’ve had to change our behavior, which can create a feeling of isolation,” Patricia Thornton, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York City, told Healthline.

While it may feel like life has stopped, there are ways to keep these times in perspective and learn how to carry on.

“Focusing on preparedness, staying calm, reaching out to check on the well-being of others, and self-care will help you through this challenging moment in history. Remind yourself that COVID-19 is a serious but temporary illness, and that life will return to normal in time,” Deborah Serani, PsyD, psychologist and author of “Sometimes When I’m Sad,” told Healthline.

Here are some tips for making sure you’re taking care of your mental health during the coronavirus disease outbreak.

Get a grasp on anxiety 

Many people with and without anxiety disorders are feeling anxious.

Thornton describes anxiety as an anticipated worry or rumination about something that might happen in the future. She says our world is feeling a “drumbeat of anxiety” due to the novel coronavirus.

“Because the virus is a virus you can’t see, and not enough people are being tested, you don’t know who carriers are, so you’re hypervigilant about other people and surfaces you’re touching and places you’re going, which makes you more anxious because there is real danger, but the uncertainty and lack of information about the virus causes anxiety,” she said.

Witnessing others feeling anxious also heightens the worry.

“Anxiety is contagious. If you see someone near you who is panicking and is saying, ‘The world is coming to an end,’ you may begin to worry because you don’t want to feel like the person who is not worried,” Thornton said.

She points to evolution for this mentality.

For example, if a tribe were out in the field and one member saw a tiger in the distance and began running, the rest of the tribe would follow suit.

“We look to others to get cues of how we should behave,” Thornton said. “While the coronavirus is a real threat, we all need to be in the gray: embrace uncertainty knowing we can’t do everything and move on within in the confines of what the new normal is.”

For those living with a mental health condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD, Serani says you may be particularly vulnerable during this pandemic. She suggests filling prescriptions for the month and considering home delivery from your insurance carrier or local pharmacy.

She also recommends asking your therapist to hold telemedicine sessions or via HIPAA-compliant video conferencing.

“This way you can stay safe and continue addressing your treatment — and address any concerns that arise from COVID-19,” Serani said.

If your pandemic concerns are difficult to manage, she suggests creating an emergency plan with your mental health professionals.

While the situation is frustrating, Thornton advises to only allow yourself 15 minutes of anger per day, and then move on.

“Don’t think of it as doomsday. Look at it as finding a new normal. Ask yourself, ‘How do I want to live my life right now with these constraints?’ And limit talking to family if they are getting worked up. Say, ‘We’ll talk about it for 15 minutes and then [move on],’” she said.

Serani agrees, noting that thinking positively during a disaster is easier said than done.

“One of the best ways is to ground yourself in science. Stay connected to your local or state health department for information. Avoid watching or reading news or social media, where facts can become blurred or even exaggerated. Remind yourself that infectious disease outbreaks have been part of our history, and this too shall pass,” she said.

Thornton also suggests watching reputable news once a day to stay up to date.

“New norms can change every day, so you can say, ‘Every day I’ll limit my news to a half hour in morning and in the evening to see if there is anything I need to change about my behavior.’ And don’t rethink your decision,” she said.

For accurate information about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Key Facts pageTrusted Source.

If you have children, Serani says to be sure to limit their exposure to the news because it can be overwhelming for them to process. Being mindful about how you talk about COVID-19 around children is important, too.

“Oversharing, ‘catastrophizing,’ and even joking about death or sickness can traumatize little ones. While this can be a scary time for kids, it could also be viewed as a moment in history that can reach and teach. I’ve been encouraging my little patients to see how ‘helpers’ are everywhere, and how communities are rallying together during this difficult time,” Serani said.

She adds that being cared for, protected, and loved are crucial things for children to feel and hear during disaster.

“Another tip is to encourage children to draw, write, or journal so they can express their feelings. And finally, keeping a routine for kids is always helpful during a crisis,” Serani said.

For more tips on how to talk to kids about the pandemic, visit the National Association of School Psychologists and National Home School Association for ways to create a learning and fun environment while children are home.

Find ways to connect and stay busy

Keeping a routine is important for adults and kids who are confined to their home.

“Try to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Keep the same bedtime and same awake time. Get dressed in clothes you’d work in. Take a walk outside to get exercise, and see other people to feel a sense that everyone is in this together,” Thornton said.

Serani also suggests people try to get creative about activities that they can control in the house.

“Choose activities that soothe you or give you purpose,” she said, such as playing board games, reading, putting together puzzles, or bathing.

Make it a part of your daily routine to reach out to friends and family.

“Make sure you call, text, FaceTime, or Skype daily with others. During traumatic times, having a sense of connection and a feeling of community is essential for hope and healing,” Serani said.

And because fun, meaningful experiences reduce the stress hormone cortisol and raise feel-good hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, both experts suggest adding humor to your day by reading cartoonists or watching funny movies and comedy shows.

“It can’t be all doom and gloom. Laughing about the situation doesn’t hurt anyone and shows that we’re all in this together,” Thornton said.


Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.

Stocking Up for COVID-19: What Do You Actually Need?

First, it was hand sanitizer shortages, then toilet paper hoarding. Now the lines at the grocery store are lengthening, shelves are emptying, and you may be wondering: Should you really be stocking up right now? And what do you actually need to buy?

Depending on where you live, you may have some familiarity with preparing for a natural disaster, such as a tornado or an earthquake. But preparing for a pandemic is a lot different from either of those.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert, likens the difference to preparing for a long winter rather than a single weather event, such as a blizzard.

But that doesn’t mean you should buy up a month’s worth of supplies all at once. Read on for what to do as you get ready to stay home and practice social distancing.

Keep a 14-day supply of food on hand

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source recommends that you self-quarantine if you’re returning from travel to a high-risk area.

Many countries are closing their borders, and some states and counties within the United States are enforcing curfews and closing businesses.

While there’s a lot of uncertainty, what is certain is that things are changing rapidly by the day and even hour. So it’s a smart move to have some essentials on hand. Here are some suggestions for what to stock up on:

  • Dried or canned goods. Foods like soup, canned vegetables, and canned fruit are nutritious and keep for a long time.
  • Frozen foods. Frozen meals, pizzas, vegetables, and fruits are an easy way to keep food around without worrying that it’ll go bad.
  • Dried or freeze-dried foods. Dried fruit makes a great snack. While dried beans are cheap and nutritious, they can also take some time and effort to cook. For an easy alternative, you may want to keep a few freeze-dried foods on hand, though they can be expensive.
  • Pasta and rice. Rice and pasta are easy to cook and gentle on the stomach. They also keep for a long time, and they’re relatively inexpensive, so you won’t spend a fortune stocking your cupboards.
  • Peanut butter and jelly. Easy and kid-friendly — enough said.
  • Bread and cereal. These keep for a long time.
  • Shelf-stable milk. Refrigerated milk is fine too, but if you’re worried about it going bad before you can get through it, try looking for milk or nondairy milk in aseptic packaging.

As you make your purchases, be mindful of what you can realistically go through in 2 weeks. Even in areas where travel is limited, people are still able to go out for essentials. Buying only what you need right now will help make sure there’s enough to go around.

Stock up on sick day essentials

If you get sick, you’ll need to stay homeTrusted Source unless seeking medical care. Stock up ahead of time on anything you think you may want or need while sick. That could mean:

  • Pain and fever reducers. Both acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be used to relieve pain and bring down a fever. Depending on whether you have a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, your doctor may recommend one over the other. Talk to your doctor about which may be right for you, and be sure to have some on hand.
  • Cough medicines. These include cough suppressants and expectorants.
  • Tissues. Old-fashioned handkerchiefs also work and are reusable.
  • Bland food. Some people find that the BRAT diet is helpful when sick.
  • Tea, popsicles, broth, and sports drinks. These can help you stay hydrated.
Prepare your home

As with food, it’s a good idea to keep some home essentials on hand. Again, the idea here is to make sure you have what you need if you’re sick and unable to leave your home.

According to the CDCTrusted Source, the virus hasn’t been found in drinking water. And it’s unlikely that water or power is going to be shut off as a result of the virus. That means that unlike with natural disaster preparedness, you don’t need to stock up on things like bottled water or flashlights.

Instead, focus on items related to your health, such as:

  • Soap. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Hand sanitizer. Washing with soap and water is the best way to clean your hands. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cleaning supplies. Use diluted bleach, alcohol, or a product that meets the EPA’s criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.
 Get your medications in order

If you take prescription medications of any kind, see if you can get a refill now so that you have extra on hand if you’re unable to leave your home. If you can’t, then it may be a good idea to get a mail-order prescription.

This is especially important if you’re part of an at-risk groupTrusted Source. This includes people with:

  • heart disease
  • lung disease
  • diabetes

It also includes older adults.

Pick up kid and baby supplies

If you have kids in your home, you’ll want to make sure you have any kid- or baby-specific supplies on hand, too. If you regularly use diapers, wipes, or formula, make sure you have a 2-week supply.

You may also want to purchase children’s cold medicines and toys, games, or puzzles to keep kids busy.

Don’t panic buy

These are uncertain times, and with the news changing daily, it’s understandable to feel anxious. While it’s important to take the virus seriously, don’t panic buy. Purchase only what you need, and leave items like masks for healthcare workers.