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'Parents Should Come Clean About Lice'

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Q: Dear Kim,

I'm furious at another mom at my daughter's day care. After a short holiday break, I got a call from the woman at day care telling me that one of the little boys there had lice—before the break! His mother kept him home and treated him before the long weekend, but didn't tell the day care lady until all the kids were back. Sure enough, my daughter and all the other kids had lice, too. Over that weekend, we hosted my baby's first birthday party, so all of our family, friends and invited guests had to be told they were exposed. I'm so angry at this other mom. Shouldn't she have told us?

A: Dear Lice Mom,

The short answer: Yes, she should have told you. Although there are no laws requiring people to report a lice infestation, there are certain unwritten rules of etiquette and general nice behavior, and this mom definitely violated a biggie.

Yes, lice are nasty and disgusting, and having them can make you feel disgusting and disgusted, and won't everyone else think we're disgusting and that we never bathe our kids and we are terrible parents, and isn't the world an awful place?

With head lice as a common and non-threatening childhood outbreak, there should be no stigma attached when it happens.

For most people, that's just the initial reaction, and sensible people who have been through a lice infestation don't even think that anymore.

They see it for what it is: an incredibly annoying but short-term situation that has an easy (although also incredibly annoying) fix. With head lice being a common and non-threatening childhood outbreak, there should be no stigma attached when it happens, but that begins with parents' own calm and responsible reaction to it.

Unfortunately, many parents get stuck in the initial reaction. They may feel ashamed and want to hide the infestation from everyone else, preferring to treat the lice in secret and send the children back on their merry way, which is what may have happened here. But doing that obviously made life worse for many, many other people as a result, and the news got out anyway. Hopefully this mom learned her lesson—that by being a responsible member of your community, she could have stopped the spread of lice much earlier.

Or, there are a lot of people who simply don't care about anyone else, and this mom may be one of those people. If your day care facility has a policy about reporting head lice in children and she violated it, perhaps there might be repercussions. At the very least, she is not going to make any friends with other parents if that is her attitude.

Every school or day care should have a written policy about head lice infestations. In our school district, once your child is known to have lice, the nurse has to inspect his head for eggs and be declared clear before he is allowed back in class. At my son's preschool, whenever a case of lice was reported, all parents received a letter informing us that there was an affected child in the school, but we weren't told who the child was. The promise of anonymity made it easier for the reporting parents to come forward in the first place. That way, we were all able to inspect our own kids, catching any nits or bugs early on and treating them before they spread.

Hopefully this situation will have inspired your day care provider to create or reinforce her lice policy, helping parents feel comfortable reporting cases. The best YOU can do is learn from this and take the high road if your kids ever get lice again: Notify the day care or school, as well as everyone who spends time with your kids regularly. And if that mom hasn't wised up, keep her out of that second group!

Do you have a dilemma that's too big for your friends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at mommecs@bermanbraun.com, and I may choose to answer it in next week's column. I've got your back.

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