Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 773–788 | Cite as

Disclosure of Maternal HIV Status to Children: To Tell or Not To Tell … That is the Question

  • Tanya L. TompkinsEmail author
Original Paper


HIV-infected mothers face the challenging decision of whether to disclose their serostatus to their children. From the perspective of both mother and child, we explored the process of disclosure, providing descriptive information and examining the relationships among disclosure, demographic variables, and child adjustment. Participants were 23 mothers and one of their noninfected children (9 to 16 years of age). Sixty-one percent of mothers disclosed. Consistent with previous research, disclosure was not related to child functioning. However, children sworn to secrecy demonstrated lower social competence and more externalizing problems. Differential disclosure, which occurred in one-third of the families, was associated with higher levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms. Finally, knowing more than mothers had themselves disclosed was related to child maladjustment across multiple domains. Clinical implications and the need for future research are considered.


Disclosure Secrecy HIV/AIDS Child adjustment Maternal illness 



This research was supported in part by a seed grant from the Universitywide AIDS Foundation. This research was part of the author’s doctoral dissertation and a portion of the current study was previously presented at the meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development in April, 2003. I gratefully acknowledge Gail Wyatt for offering collaborative opportunities. I thank Barbara Henker for her support and mentorship. I thank Carol Whalen for assistance with assessment of disclosure. I thank Marisabel Canedo, Tasha Emmerson, Mercedes Floresislas, Tanya Hilty, Jamie Manwaring, Jaime Paz, Nuri Reyes, and Jenna Shih for their assistance with data collection, entry, and coding. I extend my deepest appreciation to the women and children who so openly shared about their experiences with HIV infection.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLinfield CollegeMcMinnvilleUSA

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