What to do when your kids get head lice

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“Mom, the other kids say I have cooties!” my youngest son said one day after school. He was red-faced and crying. “The other kids don’t want to talk to me.”

Kids and Head Lice

I tried to calm him down and explain patiently that young children were immature and that name-calling didn’t really mean anything. Then as I was bending over, I saw something moving in my son’s brown locks. I paused and looked closer at the back of his neck, which was red and bumpy.

You can probably guess what I found when I ran a fine-toothed comb through his hair. There, tiny, foul and unmistakable, was an adult louse.

I forced myself to stay relatively calm. The last thing an ostracized child needs to hear us further negative criticism or histrionics. And in all fairness, none of this was his fault. My son is generally a clean child and the fact that he suddenly had a headful of creepy-crawly parasites wasn’t really a reflection of his personal hygiene.

Within about a week, the lice infestation had swept through half in the international school and kids were furiously scratching their ears, heads and necks. Parents were similarly frustrated and rushed to keep the bugs from spreading all over their homes and to their other family members (if you think being a third grader with lice is rough, try having to explain them to your boss).

Here’s what to do when disaster’s already struck to avoid a nasty situation from getting even worse.

  • Don’t panic. Head lice may be gross, but they aren’t terribly dangerous pests. In worst-case scenarios, they cause lots of itching and a bit of social embarrassment. Try not to act like this is the end of the world; it will only freak your poor kid out more.
  • Get your child treatment immediately. Because unhatched lice nits are so tiny (roughly the size of a clump of dandruff) and hard to detect, by the time you realize your child has an infestation, it’s probably been there for a while. Buy an over-the-counter shampoo or head to your doctor as fast as possible.
  • Wash everything that can possibly washed. Chuck all of your bedding, blankets and anything else you can manage in the washing machine and crank the heat up to high. After that’s done, run it through the dryer on high for a solid 20 minutes. You want to make sure there are no survivors.
  • Soak everything that can’t. Plastic combs and other items can be dunked in boiling hot water for 20 minutes or so to have the same effect.
  • Wrap the rest in plastic wrap. Sterilizing couches and other pieces of furniture is, alas, not so easily accomplished, but still very much possible. You’ll need to cover everything in plastic wrap and make it as air-tight as possible for roughly three days. That way any adult lice will suffocate and their unhatched young will starve.
  • Give the house a serious vacuuming. As final insurance, run a vacuum around all the corners, nooks and crannies.

Photo Credit: Jason O’Halloran via Compfight cc

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Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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