Your child arrives home with a note saying she can’t come to school tomorrow because she has lice. WHAT? The thought that there are creepy-crawlies in your darling’s hair may horrify you, but there’s no need to panic. Take a deep breath, then read our expert advice about how to recognise and treat these pesky little bugs.

1. What you need to know

  • Lice are harmless and will not affect your child’s health. Seasonal lice outbreaks are extremely common in all schools, and most kids ‘catch’ these goggas during their early years.
  • However, they are highly contagious, especially in primary school, where kids spend a lot of time hugging and playing in close contact. Don’t take it personally if you’re asked to keep your kid at home until the problem clears up – it’s the school’s responsibility to manage lice outbreaks, and you’re in all likelihood not the only one who has received a note.
  • Lice are not shameful, embarrassing, or an indicator of your child’s personal hygiene. They’re just a common issue in childhood, and they’ll hop on to any head of hair – including one that’s squeaky clean every day.
  • Let your child know there’s nothing to be upset about, and don’t let her pick up any of your anxious feelings. A light-hearted, casual approach is best. For example, you could say: ‘Oh dear, I see you have some unwelcome Head Pets! Don’t worry, we’ll fix this right away and you’ll be back at school soon.’

2. How to recognise that your child has lice

  • The most common sign of a lice infestation is constant scratching – you’ll notice your child irritably scratching her head, particularly above the ears and at the nape of the neck.
  • A sure indicator of lice is the presence of their eggs (known as ‘nits’) in the hair. Nits look a little like dandruff, but on close inspection you will see teardrop-shaped, cream-coloured eggs firmly stuck to the hair shafts, close to the scalp. They look a bit like tiny sesame seeds, and they are very difficult to pull off.

3. What to do about lice

  • Immediately visit your pharmacy and ask them to recommend a safe, effective lice shampoo. You will also need to buy a fine-toothed ‘nit’ comb, which you’ll use to remove all the eggs from your child’s hair.
  • Apply the shampoo to the hair, and be sure to follow the instructions on the box or bottle. Keep the shampoo on your child’s head for the exact time recommended, and rinse it off well in plenty of clean water.
  • Now use the nit comb to remove the eggs from the hair. Add a little conditioner to the hair, divide it into small sections using clips, and work patiently on each segment until you’ve combed off all the eggs. Keep dipping the comb into a bowl of soapy water.
  • Expert tip: If you’re not keen on the idea of a chemical shampoo, try the wet-combing method. A 2005 study published in the British Medical Journal found that combing wet hair with a very fine lice comb was four times more effective in getting rid of head lice than chemical-based treatments such as lotions and shampoos. For more detailed information on how – and how often – to use this method, click here.
  • It can take a lot of time to remove nits from hair. If your little one gets annoyed or restless during this process, let her watch TV, or tell her a story from your childhood!
  • To be on the safe side, wash your child’s pillowcase, bedding and towels in very hot water.
  • Check your child’s hair and scalp once a week – the earlier you catch lice, the easier they are to eliminate!