As upsetting and confusing as it can be to bring up the subject of HIV/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 HIV/AIDS.
While kids are hearing about HIV/AIDS early on, what they are learning is often inaccurate and frightening. You can help them understand--if you know the facts yourself. The information below provides helpful guidance for talking to young children in ways that they may better understand.
What is HIV/AIDS?
AIDS is a very serious disease that is caused by a tiny germ called a virus--the name of this virus is HIV. When people with this virus get very, very sick, it is called AIDS. 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 your body is infected with HIV, it is harder for your body to protect itself. That's why people with HIV/AIDS get very sick.
How do you get AIDS?
You can get AIDS when the fluids from your body mix with those of someone who has HIV. You can't catch it like the flu and you can't get it just by touching or being near someone with HIV/AIDS. If you have already talked with your child about sex, you should also inform then that they can be infected with HIV by having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who has HIV, so it is important to practice safer sex if you are having sex.
Can kids get AIDS?
Very few children in the United States become infected with HIV and get AIDS. But if they were born to a mother who was infected with HIV, they could be born with HIV. When you're talking with an older child or teenager, you might also add that sometimes teenagers who have unprotected sex or who share drug needles get infected with HIV.
How can you tell from looking at someone if they have HIV or AIDS?
You can't. Anyone, regardless of what they look like, can be infected with HIV or have AIDS. People find out if they are infected with HIV after being tested by a doctor.
Do all gay people get AIDS?
No. AIDS does not discriminate. It is not who you are, but what you do that determines whether you can become infected with HIV. Gay people get AIDS the same way that heterosexuals do. And they can protect themselves the same way, too.
Try tying a discussion about HIV/AIDS into something your child sees or hears, such as a commercial about HIV/AIDS. After you and your child watch the ad, say something like, "Have you heard about HIV or AIDS before? Well, what do you think AIDS is?" This way, you can figure out what she already understands and work from there.
Present the facts
Offer honest, accurate information that's appropriate to a child's age and development.
Set them on the right course
Children's misconceptions about HIV/AIDS can be pretty scary, so it's important to correct them as soon as possible. Understanding HIV/AIDS, particularly for young children, takes more than a single conversation.
Be prepared to discuss death
When talking with your kids about HIV/AIDS, questions about death may come up. So get ready to answer them by reading books available at libraries or bookstores. In the meantime, here are three helpful tips:
• Explain death in simple terms.
• Never explain death in terms of sleep. It may make your child worry that if he falls asleep, he'll never wake up.
• Offer reassurance. Stress that while HIV/AIDS is serious, it is preventable.