Telling your children that you have HIV is a very personal decision. You may be wondering if you’re ready to tell them, and if they’re ready to listen. Who do you tell and when?

Here are some ideas to get you thinking based on our guide on disclosing to children and family.

Laying a foundation

Developing a strong relationship with your children will help them trust what you say when you disclose. You may want to indirectly introduce the topic of HIV beforehand. For example, when your children see or hear something about HIV or illness on TV, you can talk to them about it and figure out what they already know.

You can also talk with a support worker ahead of time to plan what you want to say and how you want to answer questions.

When to do it

The World Health Organization suggests telling your children when they reach school age. Plan to have lots of uninterrupted time with your children before and after, so they can ask you questions and you can answer patiently. Try to respond in positive ways so you don’t discourage your children from talking to you.

What to say

How much you tell your children depends on their age:

  • For elementary school kids, you can explain that you have a virus, but use medicine to stay healthy.
  • Pre-teens, teenagers, and adults can learn the difference between HIV and AIDS, how people can get HIV, and how HIV transmission can be prevented.

Safety planning

Even if you haven’t experienced abuse from older children or other family members, it can be a good idea to develop a safety plan. Support workers at an HIV organization or a women’s anti-violence centre can help you.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Who can be with you when you tell? Who can check in with you before, during, and after disclosure?
  • Where is a safe place to disclose? Which room is safest and can be exited most easily?
  • How will you get away if you need to? What doors, windows, elevators, or stairways will you use?
  • Where will you go if the disclosure doesn’t go well? To a friend’s or family member’s home, a transition house, or somewhere else?
  • Where will you keep your medications, wallet, money, phone, and keys in case you need to leave quickly?
  • Where can you leave an overnight bag to pick up if you need it?
  • If you have younger children, is there someone you trust that you can leave them with? Do you think a safety plan for them would be helpful?

Know that HIV is never an excuse for threats or violence. You deserve to live with dignity. If your family tries to make you feel bad about having HIV, know that there are support workers you can talk to.

After disclosure

Have someone you can call and who will check in with you after you disclose. This may be a support worker, a friend, or a family member.

Disclosure is a process, and you and your family will need time to adjust. When you tell your children that you have HIV, they may feel sad or scared at first. But as they learn more, those feelings can change for the better.  Let your children know that it is okay for them to keep sharing their thoughts and feelings with you and to keep asking questions.

Selfcare is important too. It can reduce stress, help you balance your life, and strengthen your health and overall well-being. Some ideas include doing physical activity, treating yourself, and engaging in spiritual practices. Remember to take time for yourself.