Talking With Your Children About HIV: HIV Awareness for Children
Every parent has his or her own style when talking about important subjects. Some parents choose to have a specific time when the family will sit down and discuss HIV. They may present pamphlets or other resources to help children to understand the facts.
Other parents take cues from their children and their surroundings to introduce the subject of HIV. For example, they may try to bring up the discussion when their children see or hear something about HIV on TV. Ask what the children have heard and what they know about HIV. This will help you figure out what they already know and what is left for you to explain.
Note: When talking with your children about HIV, questions about death may come up. Explain death in simple terms. It is important not to explain death in terms of sleep. It may make your children worry that if they fall asleep, they will never wake up. It is also important to offer reassurance. Stress that while HIV is serious, it is preventable and treatable.
It is never too early to talk to your children about HIV. In fact, by the third grade, many children have already heard about it. Talking to children about HIV is not a one-time-only conversation. Children will be ready to accept different levels of information at different ages. Often their questions will let you know that they are ready to hear more about it. The more open you are to questions, the more likely your children will be to ask them, and the greater your opportunity to give them correct information and help them to make healthy choices. Talk early and talk often to make sure your children have the right information for their age throughout their childhood.
Toddlers/Preschoolers: Children up to age four are learning the basics about their bodies. They do not understand the concepts of disease, death, or sex. However, you can set the stage for future conversations by introducing them to the concept of sexuality by providing the correct names for body parts. Most importantly, however, you want to give young children the message that you are open to their questions. When they feel they can ask you anything, they will be more likely to talk to you as they get older.
School-Age Children: Children five to eight years old are just learning about health, sickness, death, and sex. They can understand that HIV is a serious health problem that is caused by a virus, and that their chances of getting HIV are very small. You do not have to discuss sex at this age; however, you can teach children that some body fluids carry infection and should not be shared.
Preteens: Children nine to twelve years old think a lot about their bodies. Many of them are entering or going through puberty. At this age children also feel a lot of peer pressure -- pressure from other children their age to try new (and possibly dangerous) things. Now is the time to tell them now how HIV is spread. Since HIV is commonly spread by sexual contact, now is the time to give your children correct information about sex. Warn them of the dangers of casual and unsafe sex. Let them know that needle or syringe sharing for intravenous (IV) drug use, steroid injection, tattooing, or body piercing can put them at risk for getting HIV. Teach preteens that they have choices in life and that the decisions that they make today could affect them for the rest of their lives. You may also want to tell your children that it is okay for them to talk to an adult they trust (parent, teacher, older relative) if they feel unhappy, pressured, or bullied.
Teens: Thirteen- to 19-year-olds are often more concerned with their self-image and friendships than what their parents have to say. Many teenagers take risks and feel that "it can't happen to me." During these formative years, it is important to continue to provide your teen with accurate information about HIV and safer sex. You may wish to provide resources such as books and videos that they can view on their own. For more information, see our info sheet on HIV Risk and Teens.
Talking to children about HIV can create anxiety for parents. Educate yourself and have resources on hand. You will feel more comfortable if you know the facts. Try to relax and let the conversation flow naturally. Start talking to your children at an early age so that you all become comfortable with the subject and the words used to talk about it. Take this opportunity to create a supporting and loving environment so that your children will feel comfortable asking questions and empowered to make healthy life choices.
This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with TheBody.com to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from TheBody.com or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.
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