Telling children & parents about HIV+ status

Telling parents was fraught with difficulties for many people we talked to. Although parents could sometimes be a great source of support, relations with parents were not always straightforward, and people worried that parents might react badly to the news. One man had a friend whose black African parents had 'disowned him' when he told them of his HIV status.

People described all kinds of communication difficulties with their parents which made it difficult to tell them about their HIV status. For instance, one man said he was protecting his mother when he promised her he would never tell his father about his HI: 'So my father went to his grave not knowing my status.'

Some people were concerned about unnecessarily worrying or hurting parents who may be unable to understand and cope with the news: 'I haven't told my mum because I think it will break her heart,' said one man. 'If they hear that their son is having it (HIV), then it might even kill my old mother,' said another man. Others pointed out they did not have a good relationship with their parents anyway, and so there was no point telling them. With effective treatments and good health, some people did not feel the need to disclose to their parents. One man said: 'You tell your friends more than you tell your parents… they're the ones that are going to be around 24/7 not your parents.' Still for other people, telling parents was very important to them.

When it came to telling children about HIV and sexual health in general, people said that HIV education could start from a young age at school and at home: 'I am always feeding them with the information I get,' said one mother. People said not to leave education too late since children themselves can become sexually active in their early teens in the UK, and so need to be educated. 

Parents worried about when and how they should tell their children about their HIV. Most said it was important to wait until they felt their children were psychologically ready - perhaps in their early teens - to cope with hearing that their parent(s) had HIV. Parents were also concerned that if the children were not told they might overhear adults talking about HIV, or pick up that something was wrong, and become confused and upset. On the other hand, if children found out when they were very young they might tell other children at school and so become the target of bullies.

Telling a child that their parent has HIV was difficult, but sometimes parents also faced having to explain that the child was HIV positive also. This was particularly agonising for parents.

People pointed out that support organisations and professionals can help in working out how to tell children. When people did tell their children, it could be a support: 'They know whenever I am not feeling well, they know the reason why, so it's a relief for me.' Another mother said of her older teenage children: 'They remind me “have you taken your medication?"'

Last reviewed May 2017.

Last updated September 2010.


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