What Do Children Need to Know About HIV and AIDS?

Children are growing up in a world of risk, so prevention education must begin early. What are some ways parents can protect their children's health? Here are some tips from Cornell Cooperative Extension's "Talking With Kids About HIV/AIDS" curriculum.

  • Begin in infancy by teaching your children correct names for all body parts.
  • Use "dos" instead of "don'ts" when you want to change a child's behavior. For example, try saying "keep your applesauce in your bowl" rather than "stop throwing applesauce on the floor right this minute!"
  • Begin to teach toddlers about privacy, that some activities such as bathing, using the toilet, or touching their own genitals are private.
  • Support the toddler's sense of competence in exploring the immediate world, and provide a safe, reliable point of return.
  • Teach preschoolers never to take drugs or medicines without your approval. Teach older children strategies to refuse drugs that are offered to them.
  • Answer children's questions about AIDS and sex directly, openly and honestly. What does your child really want to know? For example, a five-year-old may just want to know that AIDS is a disease and you can get it from a germ called HIV. An older child may be seeking out more information. Be aware of what your child is really asking you.
  • Keep it simple! When giving a child information, make sure you put it in language that he/she understands.
  • Preteens are curious about sex, need accurate information and can understand that sexual intercourse has consequences including sexually transmitted diseases (STD), HIV infection and pregnancy.
  • Teach preteens about menstruation, reproductive health, HIV/STD prevention and sexual decision making. This will help them later on when they are making choices about their own sexuality.
  • Be a good role model.
  • Take time to really listen to your child. Create a setting that is comfortable, quiet and without distraction.

Keep offering comfort, love, acceptance and a place that is safe, both physically and emotionally. Seize the opportunities to begin a dialogue with your child about HIV. Think of ways to start a conversation - it could be an article in the newspaper, an ad on TV, a movie, a book or discussing what they learn in school about HIV. Perhaps there is someone in your life who is infected or affected by HIV. Wherever the "teachable moment" is, don't let it slip by! By giving children knowledge you allow them to have the power and skills necessary to make safe choices in their own lives.

Source: Jennifer Tiffany, Talking With Kids About AIDS Project, New York State College of Human Ecology, Cornell University. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 67

Last updated December 14, 2015