Difficult conversations: Licensed counselor gives tips on how to discuss COVID-19 with loved ones

Conversations about COVID-19 have replaced politics and religion at the dinner table, and they can lead to equally heated family debates.


Conversations about COVID-19 have replaced politics and religion at the dinner table, and they can lead to equally heated family debates.

Fear, concern and anger frequently dominate these discussions. Holly, of Lebanon, Ohio, said she knows what it feels like.

"So yeah, there's some tension, and also how to give advice to your kids," Holly said.

The troubles she is experiencing are no different from the countless people trying to explain their opinions out of love and genuine care, although the outcome isn't always productive.

"My immediate family and extended family and also friends, probably like everyone else, everyone is in different positions," Holly said.

Sister station WLWT asked its viewers if discussions about COVID-19 safety have caused tension or turmoil.

Some replies included:

"The COVID vaccine has definitely caused some tension with a few of my friends."

"Oh yes, almost ruined our entire family vacation last month."

And, "My daughter tried telling me I couldn't see my grandson without getting the vaccine, but I held my ground!"

"If you go into a conversation escalated, it's only fair for the other person to become escalated as well," said Stacey Smith, a licensed professional counselor with Restoring Hope Counseling and Coaching.

Smith has been giving tips to several clients about how to approach these conversations.

They are:

1) Assess your own motivation: Ask yourself, "What is my goal for having this conversation?" If your goal is to win an argument or prove a point, you’re probably not going to meet that goal. However, if you want to express your feelings and concerns, you may be more successful.

2) Information does not always help. Honesty and genuine emotions do. Consider sharing your feelings instead of numbers or "facts." For example, you could say, "I’m feeling scared about your health and the choices that you’re making."

3) Listen first. Even if you disagree with someone, the golden rule still applies and it should start with you. If you want them to hear your opinion, you should listen to theirs first, as difficult as that may be.

4) If you’re thinking about setting boundaries (like cutting off contact), ask yourself why. Are you reducing or ceasing communication to punish the person or "starve them out?" If so, you’re probably going to inadvertently harbor more resentment and anger towards them, both of which are raging bridge burners. If you're reducing or ceasing communication because you’re feeling hurt, own that, and focus on you and your own response to the individual with whom you’re disagreeing.

5) Especially for children, it can be difficult for them to understand why families are fighting with each other about this. If you’re trying to explain this to a child, keep the focus on, and own up to, your choices and don’t hide behind the other person. So instead of saying, "We’re not speaking to grandpa right now because grandpa is choosing to…" say, "I do not agree with what grandpa is doing, so I’m choosing not to speak with him right now because I feel scared, or hurt, or angry...."

"You really are fighting someone who just acts scared and frustrated as you are, even if you're reasons for being scared are a little different," Smith said.

She suggests consulting a professional about how to have these conversations if you have the means to do so.

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