Guest blog by Angelina Namiba
Telling someone you have HIV can be hard. Telling someone close to you can be even harder. Telling your child you have HIV can be daunting.
There is no right or wrong way or formula to do it. Each child in each family will be different. Some children are old beyond their years at an age as early as 8 and others at 16 are not mature enough to cope with the news that their parent is living with HIV. Generally though, many children are much more resilient than we give them credit for.
When you do decide to tell your child/ren that you have HIV, there are a number of considerations you need to bear in mind. How are you going to do it, where are you going to tell them, when and at what age and why you are doing it. It is also really important is to be prepared for whatever reaction you will get. Be it a not so good one, you may get a tearful child or one who refuses to talk to you for days! However, you are also just as likely to get a very positive reaction, one that we all wish for when we tell understanding and acceptance.
Here I touch on ten top tips for telling your child you have HIV
- Start preparing them from an early age by giving them information in small chunks. You can start off with simple information about viruses and how the immune system protects us against colds.
- Choose a time and place that you are comfortable with. Make sure that you will not be rushed or disturbed. (Remember, mobile phones can be a real menace!)
- Decide who you want to be around when you tell them
- Be prepared with information and basic facts about how HIV is transmitted, how treatment works to keep you well and that with treatment care and good support, you can live for many years.
- Reassure them that you are well and that you’ll ‘be here still nagging them for many years to come.’ It’s good to tell them when you are well and when they can see that you do everyday things like everybody else.
- 6. Try not to make it a big deal. You can say something along the lines of ‘I have HIV, it’s a virus that makes my immune system weak so it is harder for me to fight off infections easily like other people. So I take medication, which makes my immune system strong. HIV doesn’t stop me from doing everyday stuff, we can do lots of things together, go to the park, swim, dance, ride our bicycles.’
- Explain to them why it is important not to tell other people about it. Why it is not secret, just sensitive information that is best kept within the family as some people out there may not understand.
- Ask them to ask you any questions they may have. Talk about any concerns, uncertainties or clarifications they may have. It is extremely important to be armed with basic facts about HIV! Check in with them from time to time and be prepared to be asked questions out of the blue!
- Tell them about other people in the family who know about it. Ask other mothers/friends living with HIV if you can tell your child to talk to them should they have questions. This is important because even though you tell your child about HIV and they accept it, they may have lots of questions or things they don’t feel comfortable discussing with you.
- Link them in with support. Organisations such as Positively UK http://www.positivelyuk.org/index.php, Body and Soul http://bodyandsoulcharity.org/ and CHIVA http://www.chiva.org.uk/parents/index.html can provide you with one to one; group support and resources around telling children about HIV. Parents with children who themselves have HIV can also benefit with getting support from a doctor, nurse or psychologist. Your doctor will either support you or refer you on to members of their team who are best placed to support you.
The power of peer support.
Last but by no means least, get peer support. A great way to prepare yourself to tell your child/ren about your HIV is to talk to other parents who have told their children. They will share with you their own personal experiences of how they did it, what reactions they got, how they coped and what support they found most useful. You can then make an informed decision about how and when to tell your child/ren.