How Do I Get Rid of My Toddler's Lice

Don't Worry, It's Not Just You

combing out head lice
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Question: How do I get rid of my toddler's lice?

My 2-and-a-half-year-old got lice at daycare. What should I do to get rid of them?

Answer: A lice infestation is one of those things that so many people have experience with, but no one ever talks about it. So when it happens to you, your first thought might be "why me?" The simple answer is that you're just like everyone else. Although there aren't any good statistics regarding toddlers, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 6 million to 12 million infestations will occur this year among children 3 to 11-year-olds in the United States.

How you deal with lice depends on your child's disposition and your own comfort level.

Facts About Lice

As you get ready to delouse your life, be prepared: Getting rid of lice is not a quick and easy process. It takes at least two weeks of constant monitoring and checking and cleaning to be sure they are all gone and not coming back. It also takes a lot of preparation and patience to deal with the problems. The best thing you can do is remind yourself that this is a very temporary problem and that taking the time to do the delousing right will help you avoid having to spend any more time thinking about it.

The other thing to keep in mind is that lice aren't really harmful. They are annoying and socially you'll be shunned if people know you've got them in your house. Yet, a louse doesn't carry or spread any disease. One risk of complication does exist: if an infestation is very bad, you or your child may start itching excessively and that can lead to cuts or sores that can get infected.

Getting Lice Gone

When dealing with lice, there are several steps you need to take. This list breaks it down to specifics to help you know what to expect:

  1. Confirm your child has lice. Dandruff or dry scalp may be a more likely reason for your child's itching, but take a careful look at your child each day to be sure there is no lice infestation. You're most likely to find lice and nits (eggs) around the ears and the back hairline close to the neck, but lice might be anywhere in your child's head. Do a routine check of your child's head when you brush hair in the morning. If you hear of incidents of lice in your day care or neighborhood, check the scalp more closely using a fine tooth comb on damp hair to check for tiny sesame-seed-like insects.
  1. Choose a method. Most parents choose to use an over-the-counter pesticide cream rinse. However, if you're afraid of using the chemicals on a young child, you can choose non-toxic homeopathic treatments and homemade alternative methods. Keep in mind, though that there is no proven scientific evidence that these alternative "home" remedies such as smothering the lice with mayonnaise are as effective as pesticide shampoos. Also, not all homeopathic treatments are harmless. Tea tree oil, for instance, is not recommended for young children, especially boys. There are chemical lice treatments that a rated okay for children under one year of age. However, you should talk with your pediatrician about options and treatments before beginning any regime.
  2. Get the right gear. In addition to pesticides or other formulas that you may want to try, you should gather some essentials to help you search out lice. These might include:
    - a steel fine-toothed comb; you might also try the new Robi Comb, an electronic comb that seems to kill lice with an electronic shock (Note: the buzzing and slight nip that comes with using the comb may bother some toddlers, especially those with sensitivity issues).
    - a spray bottle with water to keep the hair you are checking damp
    - tissues (to wipe your comb clean as you go
    - a bowl of steaming hot water to clean the comb and any accessories as you go
    - tweezers so you can better pull small nits or lice out of the head for good
    - a collection of rubber bands, clips and other hair accessories that you can use to secure hair while you go through it (Note: you might want to wrap up any existing hair items for two weeks to be sure that the lice that might remain on these items are dead.)
  1. A nitpicker. This is a professional who will go through your child's hair and do a manual delousing. It can be very effective -- but it also is usually quite expensive and you may need to wait for an appointment.
  2. Clean and vacuum your home (especially the bed and any other areas that might have come into contact with your child's hair), but don't worry too much about linens and clothes. According to the CDC, you shouldn't be too concerned about hair from the infected person laying around: Lice won't live for long away from the scalp and infestations that spread from items versus from head to head contact are less common.