This is a question often asked by parents. If your child has HIV, then there are guidelines that doctors and nurses work to, and they will talk to you about this. If your child does not have HIV, then it is your decision when you tell your child that you are living with HIV.
Children living with HIV
An HIV positive child needs to know what is happening to them so they can keep themselves well and not feel scared or confused. Most children will be told their HIV status in clinic by the time they reach 12.
We have met a lot of children who were actually told at a younger age. Younger children tend to take this information more in their stride, perhaps asking more questions about it later on. Generally, children take on new information more easily at a younger age. The hardest thing about living with HIV for most people is other people’s negative thoughts about HIV and the stigma that surrounds it. Younger children are less likely to be so aware of this, and so can be much more accepting of it as simply a health condition.
We have met children who were older than 12 when they were told. Some of these children have described feeling very angry that no one said anything to them sooner. They also felt scared, thinking that if no one had told them this information before then it must be really bad.
Teenage years are a time of emotional and hormonal disruption. Not telling an HIV positive child until they are a teenager can cause a lot of mixed feelings and emotions as they develop identities, and go through puberty. As parents know, the teenage years are often not the easiest years of childhood.
Parents living with HIV
If you are thinking about telling your child that you are living with HIV, it would be useful to think about the stage in their childhood they are at. It is important to avoid major upheavals in your child’s life, such as the transition from primary to secondary school.
It may be that your children were already teenagers when you were diagnosed. You then need to think about when you are ready to tell them about your HIV status.
We know from many years of experience of working with children who live in families where someone is living with HIV, that children prefer to be told. Children want to feel they are important members of the family and that their parents trust them with family information and do not exclude them from part of it.
Children tend to work out when there are secrets being kept from them and this can be very frightening and they may second guess the situation and be to share their feelings.
From our experience, many young people do find out about HIV in their family before they are told. This can make them feel scared, anxious and also angry.
We also know parents often find that sharing this private family information with their child can bring them closer together. Helping your own child to understand HIV is not only helpful for your family, but it also helps them to understand about HIV more widely and how they need to protect themselves from contracting HIV in the future.