Even the mere mention of the word lice makes me want to itch. I remember getting it a LOT as a kid. And I mean… it was a constant battle in our house to rid our heads of the literal parasites. My poor mom washed and vacuumed and sprayed and picked in an endless cycle. She took all of our stuffed animals, put them in one of those over-sized black trash bags, and stuck them in the attic to both suffocate and char them to death in the Texas heat. She spent a ridiculous amount of money on at-home treatments that killed the lice just fine, but did nothing to keep them from coming back.
My mom’s final resort? Chopping off most of my hair.
In retrospect, I totally understand why she did it, but at the time she was basically Satan incarnate in my eyes. My hair was part of my identity, and a bunch of little blood-sucking you-know-whats stole that from me. At school, kids made fun of me because I “look[ed] like a boy!” To top it all off, most of them knew my hair was gone because of a lice problem, and this made me an immediate outcast, pushed out like a leper.
Let me clear the air about one thing right up front: Having head lice does not mean that a child has poor hygiene or is dirty. This is seriously one of the most frustrating misconceptions about lice, and it often leads others kids, and even some adults, looking down on kids who get lice like less-than human beings because of something that is basically synonymous with childhood.
Spread the word: lice ≠ poor hygiene/dirty hair/dirty home
Lice, unlike our society, are strictly nondiscriminatory. They don’t care what kind of hair you have so long as they have a place to chill and eat and lay their eggs. Like hipsters, you know? (totally kidding. kinda)
While I can’t offer you a miracle solution to the lice epidemic that spares no child, home, or school, I can offer you some information about lice to help you handle them if/when they appear:
- Some things shouldn’t be shared: Remind your kids as school begins not to share hairbrushes, combs, hats, scarves, or even headphones and hair accessories. One of several lice misconceptions is that they can be spread by Spiderman-ing from head to head. Lice don’t jump or fly or web-sling across the classroom, but they can hitch a ride on items worn on or around the head, as well as by–and most commonly through–head to head contact.
- Perform frequent head checks: Seriously, I know it sounds tedious, and it’s not like you NEED one more thing to do between work/carpools/sports/ballet/charitable works, but the earlier you catch lice, the better. Female lice can lay anywhere between 6 to 10 eggs (nits, w.e.) a day. They hatch in 7 to 10 days, and can start laying their own little parasites within another 7 to 10 days; all this while you have no idea what’s going on because some kids don’t even itch–which is usually the first sign to parents. I suck at maths, but they can multiply pretty quickly if they aren’t caught early. Think about scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly lice check on your kiddos. And please, please, check your child’s head before school starts.
- Don’t rely on your kids to itch as the first sign: Only people who are allergic to the saliva produced by the lice will itch, and more than half of people who get lice are not allergic. Don’t be like me and wait until you see a huge fat louse crawling across your kid’s head at McDonald’s to realize something is up.
- Don’t blame it on the pet: Okay, I may have said that lice are nondiscriminatory, but that was partially a lie. They are discriminatory when it comes to the species of their hosts. They prefer humans, not Lassie to the dog or Snowball the cat, and by “prefer” I mean they only pester humans. So don’t blame the pets.
- Little Susie and Jack will not get Bubonic Plague from lice: Lice are not known to transmit diseases. The worst that can happen is a secondary infection from your kiddo scratching the bites.
- Your pediatrician can help! I took a chance and decided to tell my children’s pediatrician that we were fighting with a lice infestation on three of my four children. Nothing over-the-counter would work. I combed and combed, and picked and picked, and washed and washed to no avail. I did everything by the book. I felt like my mom, but I was determined not to chop off the children’s hair (which, by the way, is also a misconceived idea. Cutting off their hair short of shaving them bald does not guarantee a solution). The doctor wrote me a prescription for “Sklice“, and seriously it works wonders. So don’t be embarrassed to tell your pediatrician about a lice issue at home.
- Don’t solely rely on “preventative” oils, sprays, shampoos: I can’t speak on a scientific level about the effectiveness of using things like tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and eucalyptus oils as lice repellents, though we have used tea tree oil in the our shampoo and conditioners, but my kids still got a case of lice last year after my niece came home with it from another family member’s house. Also be aware that some kids may have sensitivities or mild allergies to these things. And if you plan on trying to “smother” or “drown” the lice in mayonnaise or Coke (yes, the beverage) or coconut oil, just keep in mind that lice can hold their breath for up to 8 hours because biology is weird.
- Keep yourself educated: I’m going to include several links at the bottom of this post because it’s good to keep in the know. Also because the Parenting 101 handbook I got after my kids were born doesn’t include a “how to handle a Biblical plague in your own home!” section. (Literally, lice were part of the third plague the Lord sent over Egypt)
- You’re not a bad parent if your kid gets lice: Lice happen. Like I said before, it doesn’t mean that you’re not keeping your kid or your home clean enough (unless you aren’t, which that’s between you and the Lord), or that you’re a bad parent. Seriously. Kids get cuts and scrapes and bruises, and lice. It’s not like chicken pox or polio, for which there are vaccines and you just choose not to immunize them. It’s not a moral dilemma. Just take a deep breath, get yourself a lice comb and a beer/glass of wine, and get to picking off lice like adulthood picked off my hopes and dreams. (totally kidding)
(see below for resource links)
- 10 Myths and Misconceptions About Head Lice
- Facts About Lice – From A Lice Boutique (yeah, totally a real thing)
- CDC Information on Head Lice – for parents
- CDC Information on Head Lice – for schools
- American Academy of Pediatrics on Head Lice
(P.S. – Mom, I’m totally over you cutting off all my hair. Love ya!)