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AIDS education for young children

Oct 21, 1996

How would you approach educating young children about AIDS?

Response from Mr. Sowadsky

Hi. Thank you for your question. There is no simple answer to this question. However you can take the following into consideration when talking to a child about AIDS.

If a child asks you a question about AIDS, answer it! Children are already hearing about AIDS in school, on TV, in newspapers, and here on the Internet. DON'T say to the child, "I'll explain that to you when you're older". That makes the child think you're hiding something from them. If they're old enough to ask the questions, they're old enough to hear the answers.

Tell them the information in a way that they can understand. Don't get too technical with them using terminology or sexual issues that they may not yet be aware of. Keep your answers simple enough that they will understand the answer, but make sure their question gets fully answered. And remember that different children learn at different paces. Talk to your child in a way that they personally will understand. Some children learn faster about things than others.

If you want to bring up the subject about AIDS, but don't know how to start, use an "ice-breaker". In other words, have your child read an article about AIDS (for example, a newspaper article about the AIDS Quilt), and ask your child what they know about AIDS. Or begin talking about the subject when you see a TV show or commercial talking about AIDS. You may also want to have your child visit this and other AIDS websites, and have your child review with you some of the information found here. Children feel very comfortable on the Internet, and a lot of AIDS information can be found online.

Use the real words. Don't be scared to say the words "penis", "vagina", "rectum", and other parts of the body. A child will not understand sexual issues if they don't know sexual terminology. A child may not know what you mean if you say "down there", when you're actually talking about a penis or a vagina.

Bring up AIDS when talking about drug prevention issues with your child. It's important to talk to children about the abuse of drugs found all around them. This is an ideal time to talk about AIDS. And remember that it's not just IV drug use that puts a person at risk for this disease. ANY drug that affects judgment (including alcohol, pot, and other non-injectable drugs), also increases ones risk of infection. This is because people tend to put themselves at risk more often for HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) while they are under the influence of these drugs (drunk, stoned, high etc).

Don't just talk about AIDS.....mention the other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) as well. Children need to understand that there are a lot of other STD's out there besides just AIDS. Mention that prevention against AIDS also protects against other STD's. Mention that the other STD's can also be deadly, and some are also incurable, not just AIDS. And some of these diseases can make you sick only days or weeks after infection, not years as we see with AIDS.

If you don't feel comfortable about answering a question, tell them so. But don't use that as an excuse to avoid answering their questions. Answer it anyway, even though it makes you feel uncomfortable, since your child needs to hear the answer.

Don't tell them that they'll "learn about AIDS in school", just to avoid answering their questions. Many children and teens complain that what they are learning in school provides little useful information for them. If they ask YOU the question, it's YOU who should answer it. Remember that just because your child may be asking about sex or drugs, doesn't mean they're sexually active or using drugs. But it does mean that they need to know the answers. Don't lecture to TO them, not down to them.

And finally, if you don't know the answers to their questions, tell them so. There's nothing wrong in admitting you don't know the answer to their question. But work with them to get the answers to their questions. For example, for a question that you don't know the answer, have you and your child TOGETHER send me an e-mail (, or both of you TOGETHER call us at our 800 line (1-800-842-AIDS). That's a great way for you and your child to learn about AIDS together.

I hope this gives you some insights.

If you have any further questions please e-mail me at "" or call me at 1-800-842-AIDS.

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