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Dealing with Head Lice on Your Child

Learn the proper steps to take when your child comes home with head lice.

Dealing with Head Lice on Your Child

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This

When my daughter was five a dear friend of mine invited her to go along with her children to a kid's gym, where lots of kids play on a padded slide, tunnel, and monkey bar contraption. A day later my daughter said her head itched. Well, at that time I wouldn't have known a nit (louse egg) from the moon, so by the time I was able to figure it out the infestation had spread not only to my other two children, but also to me and my husband. Even worse, we'd just had a party—now I had to worry that I'd sent each of our guests home with an unexpected present. What can you do? You can die of embarrassment or you can declare war and go after the little suckers.

Womanly Wisdom

When dealing with very long hair, carefully make thin, tight braids of each thoroughly combed section, clearly separating them from the hair that still needs to be treated. This way, you'll keep track of the combed and treated hair and your “patient” will have a cool new hairstyle.

There is one notice you will receive that strikes fear and shame in the heart of every mother. At one point or another you will receive a notice that one or more children in your child's class have head lice. You will pray it isn't so. You will try to deny the possibilities. But if one child in your child's class has head lice, chances are your child will, too.

I really think the entire issue of head lice is intended to keep mothers humble. There is no greater equalizer than head lice—they strike the nicest, cleanest families as well as all the others. Head lice are no indication of educational or economic status or of your house-cleaning prowess. Head lice are just one of those things that happen when they happen, and you can't let them ruin your life.

Start Spreading the News

Even though you want to crawl under your bed and hide, you must notify your child's school if your child has lice. One of the best defenses is for all the other parents to catch the lice before they lay too many eggs. It's mortifying to have to make the announcement, but you will be doing everyone a favor by coming clean. So quit going “Ewwww,” and pay attention.

Killing Off the Critters

There is only one way to get rid of head lice—the hard way. There are home remedies like Vaseline or the chemical shampoos you can find at any pharmacy. But it's not enough to wash away the living lice—you'll just get reinfested unless you also thoroughly comb out and eliminate all the eggs. This may seem an easy task if you have boys with buzz cuts in your family, but at the time I had this joyous experience, two of us had waist-length hair and my youngest—who had brought our little visitors into the house—had the curliest hair you'll ever see. Try getting a small nit comb through every strand of that hair.

Don't stop with just treating everybody's hair! You also have to make sure to wash or bag anything that could possibly have come in contact with your children's heads. If you completely seal such items (think stuffed animals or pillows) in bags, the lice will die off after a week or so: They need a human host to survive. Reinfestation is common, so I recommend washing in hot water all bedding, hats, and anything else that might have been exposed. This is hard work, but the more you do the better your chances of killing the little suckers the first time around. If you can afford it, hire a cleaning service to completely vacuum your home and your couches. Even if this is overkill, it will make you feel a whole lot better.

After your ordeal is over, pat yourself on the back for surviving yet another rite of passage as the mother of school-age children. And if you get over your embarrassment enough to talk about your experience with friends, you'll discover just how common lice are—they've been around since time began, after all. But don't get too complacent: Plenty of character-building humiliation still lies ahead.

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