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Talking with Your Child about HIV/AIDS

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KEY POINTS

  • Talk with your child about HIV/AIDS in a way that is right for your child’s age. This also helps your child learn about your family’s values and what is important to you.
  • Be positive and make it a conversation, not a lecture. Encourage questions and feedback from your child. Talking about safe sex does not encourage older children or teens to have sex.
  • 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 child’s healthcare provider, school nurse, religious leader, or local health center.

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HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. AIDS 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?

Many 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 a person will not get HIV from insect bites, a swimming pool, drinking fountain, toilet seat, sharing food, or being around someone with HIV or AIDS.

How should I set the stage?

Build a strong and natural bond by showing an interest in your child’s 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 your child has questions or faces peer pressure.

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

  • Is right for your child’s age
  • Helps your child learn about healthy ways to prevent it
  • Teaches your child about your family’s values and what is important to you

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

Short, simple talks throughout childhood and the teen years will get the message across better than trying to cover everything in just one talk. If you are watching TV with your 6-year-old and AIDS is mentioned on a program, you can ask if your child knows what AIDS is. If your child has more questions, answer them. If not, let it go. Take advantage of these opportunities. A friend's diagnosis, neighborhood gossip, or TV shows can help you start talking 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. Children, 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 children learn to make healthy decisions on their own. Praise your child’s courage to make good decisions no matter what other kids are doing.

Try asking about what your child may already know about HIV and AIDS. It’s helpful to know what your child and friends are talking about and if your child’s friends are having sex or using drugs. Ask what your child thinks about children or teens using drugs. Trying to scare older children or teens does not keep them from having sex or using drugs. The best you can do is give information about sex or using drugs. For example:

  • The only way to be risk-free is not to have sex or share any kind of needles.
  • Stay in control. Drugs and alcohol can make people lose control. Using these substances may increase the risk that you will have unsafe sex or use drugs.
  • 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, such as pills, diaphragms, IUDs, and patches, are useless against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • 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.
  • If you want a body piercing or tattoo, make sure the shop uses sterile needles and inks.

Encourage questions and feedback from your child. Stay calm and accept your child’s questions at face value. 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 you think your older child or teen may already be having sex or using drugs, talk with your teen’s healthcare provider, school nurse, or religious leader.

For more information, contact:

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-05-13
Last reviewed: 2019-03-04
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.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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