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How to get people to take social distancing seriously

Author and relationship expert Argie Allen-Wilson shares advice on how to talk to younger and older family members about social distancing.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, experts are recommending people practice social distancing by limiting their time spent out of the house and try to avoid group gatherings. Though not everyone has gotten the memo: Over the weekend, images of crowded bars and restaurants flooded social media.

"We all know people who continue to go about their lives as if nothing has changed," Hoda said.

But things have changed, stressed author and relationship expert Argie Allen-Wilson. She stopped by TODAY to discuss how people can bring up the topic of social distancing with older and younger relatives so they take it more seriously.

Talking to younger people

Allen-Wilson said that since young people are told they are not at risk, they may feel no need to isolate themselves during this time.

Despite warnings, venues and restaurants remained crowded.
Despite warnings, venues and restaurants remained crowded. Getty Images

"They're told that they're not at risk," she explained. "But young people, Gen-Zs, millennials, they are communal, right? They do want connection, they just want connection in a different way. We have to appeal to them ... Tell them that they're not at risk but they could be helping their grandfather or their grandmother or someone else."

Allen-Wilson said to start the conversation by asking for help.

"My courageous conversation is (to say) 'Listen. We need your help. We need your help. We need your buy-in. We need you to participate in this because it's serious, right? And we can't take it lightly at this point,'" she explained.

She also said that it can help to appeal to the younger generations' technology expertise by recommending they connect over text, FaceTime or other social media apps.

"I do think for the most part, young people want to be a part of this," Allen-Wilson said. "They want to buy in, but they really haven't gotten the message yet, not from the people who can communicate to them."

Talking to people over 60

Savannah noted that older people seem to be more interested in maintaining their normal schedule, noting that they might want to participate in activities like book clubs and grocery shopping. She asked Allen-Wilson how to have difficult conversations without making relatives feel old and frail.

"Empowerment is a good thing," Allen-Wilson said. "Again, buy-in, really saying 'What are the things that you think you could do to help out?' so that we're not actually telling them, we're asking them. Everyone wants independence."

Allen-Wilson said it's possible to express concerns to older family members without making them feel frail.
Allen-Wilson said it's possible to express concerns to older family members without making them feel frail. Getty Images

In a case where the relative might be more stubborn, Allen-Wilson recommended more extreme measures.

"At some point, when they absolutely just say 'We're not doing it,' then you do have to ... Take the keys or say 'We're going to employ these new norms in place, and we're all participating in them, and you have to too,'" said Allen-Wilson.

She also emphasized making sure that older relatives are educated about the risks they could face.

“Make sure that they’re educated because a lot of time they’re getting misinformation as well," she said. "You want to give them facts, not fiction, so they’re educated in terms of what we need to do. And it’s changing rapidly so we need to keep them in play.”

Talking to the family as a whole

Hoda pointed out that families might be spending a lot more time together since people are being asked to stay indoors. Allen-Wilson gave some advice on how to keep everyone on the same page.

"We have to have ongoing family meetings," she said. "We need to be in text chat. We need to keep people updated."

She also recommended using schedules to keep everyone on track.

"Keep a schedule, just like we have a schedule going to work," Allen-Wilson. "For the kids, for the teens, for us, we need to be putting ourselves on a schedule ... People don't plan to fail, they fail to plan. So have a plan. Let your children know that you're going to keep a normal schedule, even if the activities we're doing are different."

However, don't neglect yourself while having these conversations.

"We also need to take care of ourselves," Allen-Wilson said. "Self-care is essential. The four M's: mindfulness, meditation, movement and meaningful engagement — those are the things that will help us recenter, because we're at the most risk mentally because we're under the most pressure from both sides."