How to Encourage Your Loved Ones to Engage in Social Distancing

Man texting family on his phone

EMS-Forster Productions / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Despite the fact that social distancing is essential to stopping the spread of COVID-19, many people continue to ignore the social distancing orders put in place to keep them safe.
  • Social pressure can motivate your friends and family to practice social distancing.

Social distancing is the best tool to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Unfortunately, not everyone seems to be on the same page when it comes to maintaining physical distance during the pandemic.

While many people are hunkered down at home and doing what they can to maintain a safe social distance when they do have to venture out in public, others are still insisting on socializing in big groups or throwing parties, while ignoring other people's concerns.

Many people are struggling to have conversations with aging parents and grandparents who are still going out and doing all the social things they normally do, even though they are one of the groups most at risk of complications.

It can be even more difficult to convince young adults and teens that while they may not have a high risk of complications, they can still become vectors and spread the virus to those who are vulnerable.

So what can you do to gently and lovingly encourage your loved ones to follow social distancing guidelines for their own health? And how can you get others to respect you and your family’s personal space during this time? While you can’t control what others are doing, there are steps that you can take to encourage your loved ones to engage in social distancing.

Share What You're Doing

Let your friends and family know that you are social distancing. The first step is to communicate with people in your social circle about your desire to maintain physical distance during the epidemic.

Hopefully, your loved ones will respect your wishes and follow suit in their own lives. But don’t expect everyone to know exactly what those guidelines are. Be specific about what you are doing and what you expect from others.

Social Distancing Recommendations

  • Work and school should be done at home if possible
  • Avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Don't eat or drink in restaurants, bars, or food courts
  • Do use pickup, delivery, or drive-thru options 
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping, and social visits
  • Stay at least six feet away from others
  • Use good hygiene (wash your hands often; avoid touching your face; disinfect surfaces)
  • Do not visit nursing homes, retirement homes, or long-term care facilities

Remind Them Why It Matters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that those with a higher risk of complications from COVID-19 are older adults and people of any age who have a serious underlying medical condition. This includes individuals with asthma. Because COVID-19 affects the respiratory tract, it can cause asthma attacks and may cause respiratory distress and pneumonia.

Remind your loved ones that social distancing can make a difference in minimizing the spread of the virus. By limiting their physical contact with others, people can reduce the number of infections and protect individuals who may be the most susceptible to serious complications.

Flattening the Curve

Remind your loved ones that social distancing can make a difference in minimizing the spread of the virus. By limiting their physical contact with others, people can reduce the number of infections and protect individuals who may be the most susceptible to serious complications, and reduce the uptick in cases overall.

Make It Personal

It might be tempting to inundate others with facts, figures, and projections, but appealing to logic isn’t always the most effective approach. Certainly reminding people about the CDC’s current recommendations for social distancing is helpful—but being aware of the recommendations doesn’t always mean that people will follow them.

Appeal to their desire to protect those they love. While some people may not feel that they face a significant risk from the virus, try reminding them that there are people that they know and love who do face serious risk.

While people might not have a high personal risk, they can probably think of a family member, friend, co-worker, or person in their community who may be more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19. Having a personal connection can make the risk seem much more real than seemingly abstract statistics.

Use Social Norms

Social pressure can influence behavior in powerful ways. While we often think of it in the negative context of peer pressure, it can also be used to help people change and adopt healthier behaviors. 

Appeal to Their Need to Belong

It is often easier to go along with something when you can easily see examples where others are doing the same thing. While this kind of peer pressure can also lead to risky behaviors, it can also be used to encourage others to engage in actions that are in the best interest of individual and public health.

Your friends and family may be more likely to observe social distancing in their own lives if it feels like everyone they know is doing the same.

Use Humor

It might seem silly to be sharing handwashing and social distancing memes in the middle of a serious pandemic, but it may actually make people more likely to engage in those behaviors.

When people see that many others in their social groups are following these practices, it can help build a sense of social identity and encourage people to adhere to these public health recommendations. 

But while it’s fun to share memes about song lyrics you can recite while washing your hands or funny pictures about social distancing, there are certain types of things you should avoid sharing with your social networks. Don’t share information from dubious or biased sources or anything that promotes unsubstantiated health claims. Stick to trusted sources such as the CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) for health guidelines.

Be Supportive

Support and encourage your loved ones who are social distancing—or trying their best to follow the guidelines. Remember that distancing, isolation, and quarantine can be harder on some people than it is on others, and some people may not be able to engage in it to the same degree due to the nature of their jobs, particularly those who work in grocery stores and healthcare settings. 

Show your support to your loved ones during this time. Call them. Text them often. Plan regular Facetime calls or online chats so that they are able to still feel connected to the people that they love. Ask them how they’re doing and if there is anything they need.

Do Your Best

It’s not always an easy conversation to have and your unique circumstances can play a role. You might be taking precautions, but your roommates might not. Your kids might follow social distancing when they are home with you, but not when they are visiting your ex. It’s not easy, and it might be impossible for some individuals to follow the guidelines perfectly. The key is to do what you can. 

What This Means For You

It is important to remember that while you cannot control what others are doing, your own individual actions can play an important role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Talk to your loved ones about the essential role that they can play in preventing the spread of the virus by practicing social distancing.

Even if others aren’t on the same page, let them know that you will be distancing yourself and your family and that you expect them to respect your space during this time. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 15 days to slow the spread.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Are you at a higher risk for severe illness?.

  3. Short SE, Mollborn S. Social determinants and health behaviors: conceptual frames and empirical advances. Curr Opin Psychol. 2015;5:78-84. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2015.05.002

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.