With Kids About HIV and AIDS
and confusing as it can be to bring up the subject of AIDS with
young children, it's essential to do so. By the time they reach
third grade, research shows that as many as 93 percent of children
have already heard about the illness. Yet, while kids are hearing
about HIV/AIDS early on, what they are learning is often inaccurate
and frightening. You can set the record straight -- if you know
the facts yourself. HIV is transmitted from person to person through
contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. HIV can
be prevented by using latex condoms during sex, not sharing "drug
needles," and avoiding contact with another person's bodily
fluids. So stay informed. Sharing this information with your youngster
can keep her safe and calm her fears. Finally, talking with your
child about AIDS lays the groundwork for any future conversations
about AIDS-preventative behavior. Here are some tips on how to get
"talk opportunity" to introduce the subject of AIDS to
your child. For example, try tying a discussion into something your
child sees or hears, such as a commercial about AIDS. After you
and your child watch the ad, say something like, "Have you
heard about AIDS before? Well, what do you think AIDS is?"
This way, you can figure out what she already understands and work
honest, accurate information that's appropriate to a child's age
and development. To an 8-year-old you might say, "AIDS is a
disease that makes people very sick. It's caused by a virus, called
HIV, which is a tiny germ." An older child can absorb more
detailed information: "Your body is made up of billions of
cells. Some of these cells, called T-cells, help your body stay
healthy by fighting off disease. But if you get a virus called HIV,
that virus kills the T- cells. Over time, the body can't fight disease
any more and that person has AIDS." Pre-teens should also understand
how condoms could help protect people from getting AIDS and that
the disease can be transmitted between persons who share drug needles.
(If you have already explained sexual intercourse to your children,
you might add, "During sexual intercourse, the semen from the
man's body goes into the woman's body. That semen can carry HIV."
If you have not yet talked about sex, don't bring it up during initial
discussions about AIDS. It's not a good idea for your child's first
information about sex to be associated with such a serious disease.)
misconceptions about AIDS can be pretty scary, so it's important
to correct them as soon as possible. Suppose your 8-year-old comes
home from school one day, tearful because she fell down on the playground,
scraped her knee and started bleeding -- and the other kids told
her she would get AIDS. As a parent, you might explain, "No,
you don't have AIDS. You're fine. You can't get AIDS from scraping
your knee. The way you can get AIDS is when the fluids from your
body mix with those of someone who has AIDS. Do you understand?"
After such a discussion, it's also wise to check back with your
child and see what she remembers. Understanding AIDS, particularly
for young children, takes more than a single conversation.
our children frequently, setting realistic goals and keeping up
with their interests are an effective way to build self-esteem.
And that's important, because when kids feel good about themselves,
they are much more likely to withstand peer pressure to have sex
before they are ready, or to not do drugs. In short, they are less
likely to engage in behavior that could put them at risk for AIDS.
Your Child's Safety First
mistakenly believe that AIDS is only a disease of homosexuals. Whatever
your beliefs, try not to let your opinions or feelings prevent you
from giving your child the facts about AIDS and its transmission
-- it's information that's essential to their health and safety.
prepared to discuss death
with your kids about AIDS, questions about death may come up. So
get ready to answer them by reading books (see Readings for Children
and Parents) available at libraries or bookstores. In the meantime,
here are three helpful tips:
death in simple terms. Explain that when someone dies, they don't
breathe, or eat, or feel hungry or cold, and you won't see them
again. Although very young children won't be able to understand
such finality, that's okay. Just be patient and repeat the message
explain death in terms of sleep. It may make your child worry
that if he falls asleep, he'll never wake up.
reassurance. If appropriate, tell your child that you are not
going to die from AIDS and that he won't either. Stress that while
AIDS is serious, it is preventable.
a very serious disease that is caused by a tiny germ called a virus.
When you are healthy, your body can fight off diseases, like Superman
fighting the bad guys. Even if you do get sick, your body can fight
the germs and make you well again. But when you have AIDS, your
body cannot protect you. That's why people with AIDS get very sick.
do you get AIDS?
get AIDS when the fluids from your body mix with those of someone
who has AIDS. You can't catch it like the flu and you can't get
it just by touching or being near someone with AIDS, so you and
I don_t have to worry about getting it. (NOTE: If you have already
talked with your child about sex, you should also add, "You
can also get AIDS by having unprotected sexual intercourse with
someone who has the HIV virus.")
kids get AIDS?
children get AIDS. But if they were born to a mommy who had AIDS,
they could get AIDS when they were born. A long time ago, some kids
who had hemophilia -- a disease that means their blood doesn't have
enough good cells, so they need to get blood from other people --
got AIDS when they got blood. But that doesn't happen anymore. AIDS
is mostly a disease of grownups. (NOTE: If your child already knows
about the link between sex and AIDS, and IV drug use and AIDS, you
might also add, "Sometimes teenagers who have unprotected sex
or who share drug needles get AIDS." But you should still emphasize
that "AIDS is mostly a disease of grown-ups.")
can you tell from looking at someone if they have AIDS?
Anyone, regardless of what they look like, can have AIDS. People
find out if they have AIDS after being tested by a doctor. Therefore,
the only way to know if someone has AIDS is to ask him if he has
been tested and if the test results were positive for HIV/AIDS.
all gay people get AIDS?
get AIDS the same way that heterosexuals do. And they can protect
themselves the same way, too.