Nine rookie nit mistakes - and how to avoid them

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 Photo: Getty Images

When my daughter started primary school, I developed a clear strategy on how to avoid the arrival of nits into our lives: I hoped (really hard) that it would never happen. Unsurprisingly, this didn't work. She got nits and I started learning how to deal with them.

Here are some rookie mistakes that I made. By sharing, I hope to give you a head start (pardon the pun) in your nit learning curve.

1. Falling for the myths

Sorry to break it to you but lice are very unfussy about whose head they hang around on. Don't believe the myth that they prefer dirty hair. Don't assume that, because you send your long-haired child (girl or boy) to school with tied back hair that they are immune.If it looks like a nit…

2. Nits are like ducks 

OK, they're not that similar, but the duck saying is relevant ('If it looks like a duck and quacks, it is a duck'). Chances are that, it looks like a nit (the eggs of lice), it is a nit. I have been momentarily confused by bits of dirt and glitter but if you are under any doubt what a nit looks like , consult a friend with older kids. If it is a crawling insect and is in your child's hair, it is a lice (technically, a single lice is called a louse but it's such a horrible word, I'm going to stick with lice).

3. Hoping that if you ignore it, it will go away

So, you've found what seems to be a nit or a louse. Pretending otherwise will delay the inevitable but will not avoid it – in fact, delay will only make things worse. Lice are the only creature more determined to keep going regardless of the challenges they face than a mother of young children. Nits will not go away of their own accord. They are here to stay and will make your life a misery until you wage war.

4. Declaring 'all clear' after a cursory glance.

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This is simply another delay tactic that will not solve the problem. My husband, who parents equally and can deal with most kid-related issues as well as (if not better) than me, is seemingly incapable of looking hard enough to spot lice. He will perfunctorily part hair in a few random spots before declaring: 'Looks ok here to me, I can't see anything.'  This can be his conclusion even when everyone in the house has nits and I can spot some from three feet away. A thorough nit-check involves everyone settling in (I recommend some good music to sing along to), parting the hair in 1cm sections and looking very closely.

5. Not prioritising behind the ears and nape of the neck

This is relevant to checking as well as treating. Experts tell us that lice prefer to hang out (and lay their eggs) in hair near the ears and at the top of the neck. Ironically, these are the hardest areas to check. I don't recommend a kid watching TV or playing on a device while being checked as they will decline to look down far enough to allow you to check the neck. Once treatment has commenced and the nit comb is out in force, it is easy to go lightly near the ears as kids don't react well to having their ear combed. Believe the experts though – these areas need maximum concentration.

6. Only half-treating.

The box says that it 'kills lice and eggs' but it doesn't say the magic word 'all'. No treatment claims to be 100% effective even if it's marketing leads you to believe this. Otherwise why would the same box recommend that you re-treat after seven and then 14 days? Do follow through on this recommendation – you only have to miss one or two nits and they'll hatch and start laying their own batch of eggs in no time at all.

7. Sticking with one brand only

You've found a brand of lice treatment that has worked in the past and that you can use without having to wear a gas-mask. But it doesn't seem to be working. Don't assume user error. Some lice have developed a tolerance for particular brands of treatment so, if it's not working, try another brand (check the label for active ingredients to help you narrow down which to choose).

8. Assuming it's just a kid-problem

Sorry to disappoint but nits don't care about the age of the head they like to live in. If your kids have nits and you have any head to head contact, you've most likely got them too. If you do, rest assured that you're not the only one. And yes, that goes for the man about the house too.

9. Ceasing vigilance

If you've managed to get your kids (and you) nit free, congratulations! It's time for a celebration and some family time that doesn't involve a nit comb or the words: 'Got one!'.

Nit treatment, especially if you have multiple kids, long-haired kids or frequent occurrences is exhausting. If you are free from them, do keep some vigilance but also have a well-deserved break. The longest our family has gone without nits since primary school began was two years. Two whole, glorious years.

The only trouble with that length of nit-free time is that, when they returned, I made all the rookie mistakes once again!