One of my most vivid childhood memories is of sitting in a chair in the middle of my backyard in the heat of a Florida summer with a towel wrapped around my head. Under the towel my hair was coated in mayonnaise. And, of course, the kids next door came over to see what I was doing.
I had head lice. Again. I have extremely thick hair and once the nasty critters moved in, it was extremely difficult to get them out. My mom tried everything including every over the counter lice product on the market at the time; prescription shampoo; tons of laundry and vacuuming; cutting my hair short; washing it every day; not washing it for days at a time; old wives’ tales including putting olive oil, vinegar, Vaseline, and of course, mayonnaise on my hair.
The problem was the eggs, which are called “nits.” Shampoos at that time didn’t kill them. They stick to the strands of hair and each one had to be removed before it hatched. Missing just a couple of nits would start the cycle all over again.
I think my battle with the buggers as a child prepared me for my job in childcare. I once supervised nine preschools. Lice outbreaks were very common. I kept teachers and parents calm and cool by offering the following suggestions.
Know what to look for. I discovered the lice myself. I was itching my head in class and one got stuck under my fingernail. I knew what it had to be, but I was ashamed. I kept it a secret until the day the nurse came to my classroom to routinely check everyone’s head. By that time, the infestation was massive.
Catching the infestation early makes it much easier to treat. Check your child’s head frequently. Lice are dark brown. The nits are a yellow or beige color. Once they hatch, they remain on the hair and are a translucent white. The hatched eggs are the easiest to spot on dark hair and may look like dandruff, but they won’t move when you try to shake them off or wash them out. And if your child’s head itches, check for lice.
Do lots of laundry. Wash all bedding, clothing, pillows, hats, stuffed animals, towels and any other fabric that may be contaminated in extremely hot water. Then dry at high heat.
Think twice about cutting hair. Short hair can make it harder to grip on to the eggs. Cutting a child’s hair may also increase their shame.
Read reviews about products. The products on the market today are much better than when most of us were kids. There are even nontoxic options available if you don’t want to douse your child in insecticide.
Invest in a good quality fine tooth comb. Getting the nits out is crucial. A good quality comb designed for nit removal is important. Section the hair off with clips and work one section at a time.
Don’t forget the car. Cleaning your whole house won’t do any good if there are still lice living in your child’s car seat so vacuum the car thoroughly.
Make sure everyone (school, babysitter, daycare) has been treated. One of the preschools I worked with had a lice outbreak that went on for months. Parents were becoming irate. They did everything they needed to do at home, but their child kept getting the critters again. After doing some investigation, I discovered that the preschool’s dramatic play area was the problem. They were neglecting to wash the hats and dress up clothes. All places where your child spends large amounts of time need to be treated.
Communicate with your child’s playmates. If your child has lice, it’s likely that at least one of their friends does, too. Touch base with the other parents to prevent your kids from passing it back and forth.
If all else fails, call in a professional. Teach your children that lice are common and happen to everyone. Contrary to popular belief, lice prefer clean conditions. Lice have nothing to do with your parenting, family or housekeeping skills. You and your child have nothing to be embarrassed about.
In fact, lice are so common that there are whole businesses built around them. You can hire a professional to come into your home to do the cleaning and laundry. There are also boutiques to take your child to where they will pick the nits for you.
Lice are annoying, but they aren’t the end of the world. Remember, it’s something almost every child goes through at some point. You’ll get through it – and hopefully laugh about it one day, though thinking about it may always make your head itch a bit!
Rachael Moshman is a mom, freelance writer and blogger. Her head has been free of lice for decades. Find her at racha
When it’s time to seek the help of a professional these local lice professionals
•The Hair Genies LLC, Greenwich, Conn., 203-822-7400, theha
• The Lice Chicks, Inc. Makes home visits. Jefferson Valley, 302-2927, theli
• Lice Lady of Westchester. Elmsford, 497-5465, theli
• LiceOut911. Bedford Hills, 689-3655, liceo
• LiceXchange. Makes home visits. 917-657-0249, licex
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