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How do I talk to high-risk loved ones about my concern?

Updated: Mar 31

In the question, you haven’t mentioned whether or not they share your concern, so I would suggest beginning by finding out what they know about COVID-19 and how they are feeling about it. If they are well informed and are already taking appropriate precautions, then I would just reinforce that you love them and that you’re there for them.

However, I’ve also heard from a lot of people who have loved ones in more vulnerable categories who are not taking taking the risks seriously. If you’re in that category, then I would recommend expressing to them that you’re worried about them because they’re not following the guidance from reputable organizations, such as the CDC and WHO.

You could share with them the changes that you have made, and encourage them to do the same. Let them know that you love them, and that you’re making these suggestions so that they can stay safe.

As you are communicating with them, make sure to make it a discussion in which you are willing to listen. Guard against pressuring them strongly or making it an argument—if you do that, you will likely be more prone to get a defensive response.

If you find they just won’t listen, you might want to consider whether there is someone else who they respect and trust who might be more successful in persuading them. If there’s a friend who also happens to be high-risk and is taking appropriate precautions, perhaps you could encourage that person to speak with them. Or, if you come across a particularly compelling article or personal essay, you could share it, and hope that could do the trick.

Ultimately, you can’t control others’ behavior, but by demonstrating empathy, sharing why you are concerned, and telling them you love them and want them to be around as long as possible, you might be able to nudge them into making the recommended changes in their behavior.

Dr. Patricia Thompson

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