This is by far the yuckiest topic I’ve tackled yet: how to prevent and remove lice. Yikes! It gives me the bad tingly feeling just thinking about it, but stick with me – it’s actually not all that bad.
Let’s just cut to the chase: lice exist and at some point, your kid is going to come into close contact with them.
It’s as simple as that. And while dealing with them isn’t quite that simple, it’s also not the worst thing that’s going to happen in your life. Heck, it’s likely not even the worst thing that will happen to you this year!
But I get it. I hate the idea, too. And I was shell-shocked the first time I had to deal with lice.
My entire youth I can remember one instance of one unnamed child in my school having lice. But the idea of it was a tad terrifying. Kind of like when we watched a science video in class about dust mites and all the other minuscule little bugs that are around us every day that we don’t even think about. I had phantom itches for hours. Pretty sure I’m getting them again now. Yup. Anyway …
The first time I heard the words “your kid has lice,” I was equal parts mortified and petrified. My kid? Really? Not MY kid! and Wait, I have to deal with this now? Uh-huh. It sucks.
And even though my rational brain was telling me “Hey, you’re not alone, if your kid has it, it means someone else’s kid at preschool has it, too. Everyone knows lice are common and harmless, just gross. It’s no biggie!” – my emotional brain was freaking out. “No way in hell am I walking into the pharmacy in my PJs at 4pm to buy LICE treatment! This was already a crappy day!”
I was lucky. My husband accepted my desperate plea for help and purchased the requested lice-killing and lice-preventing remedies and brought them home. I used that time to look up as much as I could on the best ways to make sure my whole house wasn’t crawling with critters (all the while scratching furiously at my own head just thinking about what was to come next).
My big takeaway: Lice and nits (their eggs) need your body heat to survive, so you don’t need to go crazy fumigating the house. Lice can’t survive off our bodies (so on pillows, etc) for more than one day. A solid wash & vacuum cycle and you should be okay. If you’re worried about combs, hair clips, etc., you can soak them in hot water (I may have sent a few through our dishwasher) or seal them in a bag for a few days.
Okay, so it still sounds like a lot to deal with, but here’s the thing: it wasn’t that bad. I had to treat all three kids – who were under the age of five. I picked up fast food for dinner. I coated their heads as instructed on the lice treatment. I grabbed the pillows and stuffies that would be needed that night and threw them in the wash. I stripped the beds and rounded up all the clothes, jackets, hats, etc. I rinsed each kid’s head, then sat them in front of the TV. They were so excited by the evening screen time they barely budged the entire time I combed through their heads.
Rooms were vacuumed. Fresh sheets went on the beds. The pillows and stuffies were sanitized and waiting. The kids went to bed and then my husband and I checked each other’s heads, kept loading more laundry, and drank a bottle of wine.
It was draining, but it wasn’t nearly as horrible as I’d imagined. And no one but myself gave me the stink eye over it.
Hoping to avoid having a similar experience? Here are some prevention methods folks swear by that have some factual basis. (Nothing is 100% guaranteed, but at least you can try.)
There isn’t a lot of hard data, but it does seem like lice do not like some plant oils, such as tea tree oil. You can purchase tea tree oil leave-in conditioners and shampoos; many folks also suggest eucalyptus and ylang ylang oils can be good deterrents. Since our first lice encounter, we tend to use the tea tree shampoo at least every second time we wash hair and the spray every couple of days, depending on the hairstyle that day.
It does seem like hairspray or hair gel can deter lice, as they move by grabbing on the hair shaft; if your hair is coated in something, that makes their journey more difficult.
One of the best things you can do is talk with your kids about lice. The real scientific stuff, like how they move.
- Remind your child not cuddle up with their friends so that their heads are touching.
- Remind them not to share hats, scarves, headphones, and other personal belongings.
Knowing the facts about lice helped me keep it all in perspective. My go-to reliable source for things like this is The Doc Smitty, a pediatrician who works at Cook Children’s Hospital. He has a medical degree and three young kids. He also has a fantastic way with words. Here’s some of what I learned about lice from him.
- Lice are everywhere. Your kid is almost as likely to get lice as they are to get a cold.
- Only 10% to 30% of kids with nits (lice eggs) will get lice.
- Lice don’t jump. They crawl. And they don’t tend to hang out on inanimate objects.
- Sending kids home or forcing them to stay home if they have lice doesn’t help stop the problem. In fact, it just adds to the undeserved stigma around the issue.
Please, let’s not contribute to that. In fact, let’s work to break it down.
- Fess up if you’ve had to do the whole lice-removal-song-and-dance; don’t leave your neighbour thinking they’re the only one who has had to head to the pharmacy, watching out for judging eyes.
- Tell your kids it’s something we all can get – no one should feel bad about it.
- Don’t freak out in front of them when that note comes home from school saying someone else has it. Don’t judge that family or ask your child if he knows who it is. Just deal with and move on.
- Finally, if you need to freak out, do so – just not around the kids!
Want to know more about lice in general? Check out this informative video; it includes a great bit at the end talking about the issue of lice becoming resistant to treatments and highlights a study that was done using the skin cleaner Cetaphil to kill lice.
P.S. If those pesky buggers show up again this year, I’m totally trying this Cetaphil method; you basically use soap to suffocate the lice, which is the same premise behind the old wives’ routine of smearing mayonnaise – or coconut oil – on your head. It’s still one of the most popular treatments people suggest; even just a super-duper overloaded coating of conditioner is the go-to for a lot of families. Like most parenting dilemmas, dealing with lice comes down to figuring out what you’re most comfortable with and doing what works for your family. Good luck!