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Helpful Tips for Telling Children Their HIV Status PDF Print E-mail

This is an excerpt from an article entitled “Talking with Your Children about Your HIV Status or Your Children’s Status”, Amy Buch (July, 2005).

When thinking about talking to your children about your HIV status or your children’s status, you might feel overwhelmed by different emotions. It is normal to feel frightened, anxious, or guilty. It may help to discuss your feelings and how and what you will say with someone you trust, such as a doctor, counselor, family member, or friend. You may also want to share your disclosure plans with those who know your HIV status, so they’ll be prepared to give accurate, reassuring, calm responses if the children bring it up with them.

Take some comfort in what you know: how your children learn new information, what your children may already know about HIV, and what feels most supportive to your family. Use this knowledge to decide how to disclose about HIV to your family. While there may not be an exact best way to disclose, there are some steps you can take to prepare.


Telling Children about Their HIV Status

Before talking, think about why you want your child to know. Perhaps your child has been in the hospital, taking medications, or asking questions. Whatever your reason, make sure that you are okay with your child knowing. If it is not okay with you, it may not be okay with your child.

Have some HIV-related information ready before you get started. (Look for materials that have an optimistic tone.) Children might want to know if they are going to die, how they got infected, or if they will become sick. Know how you will answer these questions. Also, consider your own feelings about these concerns. You may choose to wait to have the conversation until you get some emotional support.

Children will need different types and amounts of information depending on their age. Begin with some simple ideas that you think are most important. Very small children may be too young to be told the name of the disease or many details, but try to be as honest as possible. Disclosure can occur little by little in age-appropriate ways as the children get older.

Young children need information mostly about things that affect them right now. School-aged kids may need some basic information about what to do if they bleed. (All children should be taught that it’s not a good idea to touch anyone’s blood.) Teenagers will require more information about prevention and transmission. All children should know they cannot infect friends or family through casual contact.

It may take a long time for children to absorb the information. Let your children know that they can always speak freely to you. You want your children to see you as a trustworthy adult so they will feel comfortable coming to you with more questions in the future.

Your children may feel isolated, angry, scared, or depressed by their HIV status. It may help if there is someone else they can talk to. Arrange a support network consisting of heath care providers and trusted family and friends.

While laws protect HIV+ people from discrimination, you may not want your children to let everyone know their HIV status. You can tell your children that HIV is a private family matter and that you will decide as a family who to tell and how they should be told.