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Helping a child understand
Jul 28, 2000

I tested HIV positive 10 years ago and have a daughter who is now 8 years old. Thankfully, she is HIV-. I have always been open and honest with her, and not shielded her from the harsh realities of day to day living. She was there when I was receiving hospice services, on oxygen and very ill with PCP. She goes to dr visits and has seen the nurse access my port. I'm now on HAART and doing well, even returning to work. Last week we had a talk in the car on the way home from the dr. We were talking about politics, which led to a discussion about AIDS. Just to be sure, I asked her again if she knew what it is and if she knew anyone who has it. Her response was "Not really." I told her again that this is what I have and she asked "Is that bad?" Maybe I'm not doing a good job of explaining. My daughter recently made a new friend and they really hit it off, but after her mom met me and figured out who I am (I sometimes do First Person education in my community), there were no more play dates. How can I help my daughter understand?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

This is a very complicated question. Children need their denial, especially in a situation where a beloved parent has a life threatening illness. What are you trying to help your child understand that you have AIDS or that some parents will not allow their children to play with her because of what you have? What would you gain by confronting your daughter's denial right now, especially since you are doing well and are healthy? Is this your need to get support from her or what is really in her best interest? Please think about this very carefully before you revisit this issue with her. You have been honest with her. I do not think it is wise to ram this or anything else down her throat. Children take in what they are able to deal with.

I am very distressed by the incident you report about the mother of your daughter's new friend stopping the relationship. Have you called this woman and inquired about why there have not been any more play dates? If the woman is not honest with you as I suspect she will not be, than I urge you to use all of your skills as a community educator to share your concerns about why she squashed the budding friendship. You need to reiterate that your child is uninfected and has remained so even living with you that proves that there is no danger to her child in playing with your daughter. Tell the other mother that your daughter really liked her and is disappointed that the friendship was not allowed to continue, and that you hope for the sake of both girls that she will allow her daughter to play with your daughter.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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