Talking with Your Child about HIV/AIDS

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which is a life-threatening but preventable disease. This virus attacks cells that the immune system needs to defend the body against disease. There are treatments for HIV, but so far there are no cures and no vaccines.

Why is HIV a problem?

One in every four new infections with HIV is in someone under 22 years old.

HIV is passed to others by:

  • Having sex with an infected person without using latex condoms
  • Sharing syringes, razors, and needles for drugs, ear piercing or tattoos
  • Fighting or taking part in “blood brother” rituals

Your child needs to know he will not get HIV from an insect bite or pets, a swimming pool, drinking fountain, toilet seat, sharing food, or from being around someone with HIV or AIDS.

How should I set the stage?

Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in his friends, school work, and activities. No matter what you want to talk about, it helps if you have a loving, trusting relationship with your child. This makes it easier for your child to talk honestly with you when he has questions or faces peer pressure.

Talk with your child about the disease in a way that:

  • Is right for his age
  • Helps him learn about healthy ways to prevent it
  • Lets him know your family’s values and what is important to you

Let your child speak his mind, and show that you want to know what he thinks and feels. Your child or teen is more likely to talk with you about important issues if he feels that you really listen. Think about how your child might react to what you want to say and how best to respond to your child’s questions and feelings. Talk when both you and your child have time and are feeling relaxed.

Short, simple talks through childhood and the teen years will get the message across better than trying to cover everything in just one talk. Offer information that fits your child’s age and ability to understand. If you are watching TV with your 6 year-old and AIDS is mentioned on a program, you can say, “Do you know what AIDS is? It’s a disease that can hurt your body.” If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Take advantage of “teachable moments.” A friend’s diagnosis, neighborhood gossip, and TV shows can all be ways to talk with your child or teen.

It is a good idea to start talking about sex with children before girls get their first menstrual period or boys get their first wet dream. If you have never talked about sex with your child, don’t bring it up at the same time that you talk about HIV/AIDS. You do not want your child to always link sex with a serious disease.

What should I say?

Be positive and make it a conversation, not a lecture. Kids, especially teens, hate to be lectured. Many parents find that talking “with” their child, rather than “to” their child, helps to build bridges and knock down walls. It also helps kids learn to make healthy decisions on their own.

Try asking your child what he has learned in school about HIV and AIDS. It’s helpful to know what he and his friends are talking about and if his friends are having sex. Trying to scare kids does not keep them from having sex. The best you can do is give information, for example:

  • The only way to be risk-free is to not have sex or share any kind of needles.
  • Drugs and alcohol may cause you to have sex and be sorry later.
  • Use a latex condom for any kind of sexual intercourse. However, condoms do not make sex with an infected person 100% safe. Condoms fail to protect against pregnancy at least 10% of the time. The risk of failure to protect both partners from HIV is even greater.
  • Birth control is not the same as HIV or AIDS control. Other forms of birth control (for example, pills, diaphragms, IUDs, and patches) are useless against these diseases.
  • You cannot tell from looking at someone if they have HIV or AIDS. The only way to know if someone has it is to ask if they have been tested.

Encourage questions and feedback from your child. For example, “What does it feel like to use a condom?” doesn’t necessarily mean, “I’m thinking about having sex.” Stay calm and accept your child’s questions at face value. When possible, use open-ended questions when you talk with your child, rather than questions that require just a “yes or no” answer.

Talking about safe sex does not encourage teens to have sex. The information you share can be life-saving information that your child will carry into adulthood.

Share your family values with your child and talk about what you believe is right and wrong. Your child needs your advice on values.

If you need advice about how to talk to your child about HIV and AIDS, or think your child may already be having sex, talk with your healthcare provider, school nurse, religious leader, or local health center.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-11-04
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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