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Talking With Your Children About Your HIV Status or Your Children's Status

August 2013

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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, your child may sense that, and find it more difficult to be okay with it her/himself.

It is important to have some HIV-related information ready before you begin talking. Look for materials that have an optimistic tone. Children may want to know if they are going to die, how they got infected, or if they will become sick. It is important to 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 or talk through the answers to these questions with a friend.

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Children 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. You can tell them more and more in age-appropriate ways as the children get older and can understand more details.

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 is not a good idea to touch anyone's blood.) Teenagers will require more information about how HIV is spread and how to prevent this from happening. It is important that all children know they cannot infect friends or family through casual contact.

It may take a long time for children to take in 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 questions in the future.

Your children may feel isolated, angry, scared, or depressed by knowledge of their HIV status. It may help if there is someone else to whom they can talk. 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.


Taking Care of Yourself

While it can be extremely difficult to disclose HIV information to children, it is better to tell your children as early as you can, especially once they start asking questions. It is usually easier to tell the truth than try to cover up the diagnosis. Once children know, the family can start discussing things openly and dealing with the feelings that come up. Following the tips listed below may make disclosure easier for you and your children:

  • Deal with your own feelings first. Understand your own emotions and learn to live with the diagnosis.
  • Build a strong parent-child relationship
  • Seek out support for yourself both before and after disclosure from friends, social workers, counselors, and others
  • Prepare by gathering HIV-related information, creating an appropriate environment, and arranging supports for your children
  • Find a time to disclose that is free from interruptions and appointments
  • Try to be as relaxed as possible before the conversation begins. Your children might notice if you are feeling anxious, sad, or angry.
  • Disclosure is a process. Even if your children do not react the way you hoped right away, with time, support, and information, they may be more accepting.
  • Encourage your children to ask questions as they come up
  • Give reassurance and hugs! And make sure you get some, too!
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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.
 
See Also
TheBody.com's Just Diagnosed Resource Center
Telling Others You're HIV Positive
More Advice on Telling Others You Have HIV/AIDS

 

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