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How do you tell your kids that a family member has AIDS?

Sep 22, 1999

My children and I have shared a home with my fiance and his brother, who has AIDS, for the past year. My sons are 11 and 8 and have not been told that their future uncle has AIDS. I realize that AIDS is not airborne, but I am worried that I am putting my children at risk because they are not aware of the situation. I am convinced that they must be told, but I am afraid of their reaction. Do you have any advise as to how I should handle my situation or at least inform me of how to eliminate their risk?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Thank you for your question.

First of all, HIV is not transmitted through any form of household casual contact, so your kids would not be at any risk just by living in the same house. There would only be a risk if they were directly exposed to his blood, AND his blood had a direct access to their bloodstream (which is not a likely occurrence during everyday household contact). The only thing you need to tell your kids is to simply to avoid coming into direct contact with anyone's blood (not just their uncle's blood). This is the same advice you should give to any child. If you are concerned about what would happen if their uncle cuts himself and was bleeding, make sure that everyone in your household knows first aid (a skill that everyone in every household should know anyway).

As to when you should tell them of their uncles HIV status, let their uncle decide when to tell the children, and what the children should know (and what they should not know). Everyone has a right to their own privacy when it comes to personal matters such as this. If the uncle does not want your children to know his HIV status, respect his wishes. If he wants to tell your kids himself about his HIV status, let him do so. If your kids ask how he got it, let their uncle decide what to tell them. Children often accept this type of news better than you might expect (and sometimes they accept this type of news better than adults do).

If their uncle wants your children to know about his HIV status, here are a few guidelines to follow:

1) For very little children, all you need to tell them is that he is sick with a germ ("a tiny thing in a persons body that makes them feel sick"). Tell them that they cannot get this germ just by touching him and being around him. Keep it simple.

2) For older children (for example your 8 year old and your 11 year old), you can tell them that he has HIV and in very simple language, explain to them all about HIV and AIDS. Make sure you tell them that their uncle cannot infect them through everyday household contact. For suggestions on how to discuss this subject with kids, read the posting, AIDS education for young children. It is also important that you tell them not to tell their friends, or anyone else, about their uncle's illness (tell them this is a private family matter). This avoids problems with potential discrimination issues against their uncle and your family, should anyone else find out.

3) For adolescents and teenagers, do not hesitate to answer any question they have on the subject, since they are most likely aware of certain aspects of HIV already (based on what they have learned in school and on TV). This is also a great opportunity to teach teenagers about how they can protect themselves against HIV. And again, tell them not to tell their friends, or anyone else, about their uncle, and that this is a private family matter.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to call the Centers for Disease Control at 1.800.232.4636 (Nationwide).

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