By Angela Smith and Kathleen Kirk
There is a dirty little secret at your child’s school, but we know it all too well. When we were asked to write this blog, we considered being anonymous authors. If we used our names, what would our friends think? Would they ever let their kids come play at our houses again? However, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that doing the blog anonymously would actually defeat the entire purpose of writing it.
What could be so horrific that we would risk everything? What is that dirty little secret?
It is everywhere. The Queen Mother of all four letter, dirty words. Don’t believe us? Then you haven’t lived through it. Lice is the gift that keeps on giving, unless you know what to do about it!
One of the problems with lice, is that no one seems to talk about it. It’s taboo. It’s dirty. Still don’t believe us? Mention it at your next book club or bunko night…watch as your closest friends take two steps back and start scratching their heads. But fear not!! This is treatable.
Here are some of our helpful tips to get you through this.
1. If you find out that your child (or you) has lice, don’t panic! We know you are going to want to and you’ll probably cry, but take a VERY deep breath. Several deep breaths. There are LOTS of other things out there that are far worse, so try to be grateful that it isn’t something else.
2. Figure out your game plan. I threw my boys in the tub and ran to the pharmacy while my husband started to bag all the pillows, stuffed animals, hats and blankets from all living spaces and bedrooms that wouldn’t be washed immediately. You will need to bag all these in large garbage bags and then store them out of reach for at least 2 weeks.
The store can be overwhelming (and pricey). You need a shampoo that kills the lice, a metal comb (the plastic ones are worthless), comb-out gel (or something to make the comb-outs easier and less painful), garbage bags, and lots of laundry detergent. Local salons and drugstores sell many preventative shampoos and sprays with ingredients like rosemary and eucalyptus that the bugs do not like.
When I went to the check out, I kid you not…the cashier scanned my items, bagged them, took two steps back and then squirted hand sanitizer in her hand!! People will make you feel dirty…you are not!! In fact, lice prefer clean heads (take that as a compliment) and it can happen to ANYONE!!
3. Let the washing commence. After my humbling trip to the store, I came home and started washing all of our heads. Follow the directions on the box and be careful…these are some powerful chemicals! (**There are other all natural products available, but for the immediate treatment this was our best option.)
While we were washing heads, I also started washing the bedding. All the bedding…and anything around the bedding. You will wish that you didn’t have 428 shams and throw pillows on your beautiful bed. This all needs to be washed in hot water and dried on high to kill everything. For some items that cannot be washed, bagging them or placing them in a freezer for a few weeks can be an effective alternative.
4. Vacuum. You will need to vacuum all your carpeting, rugs, couches, chairs, etc. There is a furniture spray that comes with the lice “kits”, but keep in mind that it is another chemical in your home. The more we read up on lice in the weeks that followed, we both found this furniture spray to be an unnecessary step, if you are following the other precautions.
5. Comb. Comb. Comb. This is crucial! Use a comb to comb through the hair to remove the nits. We became extremely effective at “nit picking,” to the point that we used that metal comb as often as our tooth brush. Remember, if you miss one single nit, the entire process will start over. You have to comb the hair out every day for at least three weeks.
Let us be clear – the lice is NOT the problem, the nits are. The lice are the live bugs that can transfer from person to person via combs, hugs, pillows, hats, hoodies, jackets, headphones, etc. Lice can only survive for a couple days without a host. Once lice is on a scalp, it lays the eggs (or nits) which get attached to the hair shaft. If you pull a nit off the hair follicle the nits cannot reattach themselves, but if you miss a nit during a comb out and it hatches – you have lice again. If you have lice, more nits are attached…it can become a nasty (and very frustrating) cycle.
When we found the lice, I was extremely thankful for my husband’s OCD tendencies. He literally spent hours combing out our hair (after shaving his own head). The next day the school nurse checked the heads of our children and proclaimed them “nit free.” Even so, that afternoon I found at least 10 nits in each of their heads. For this reason, we cannot stress enough that the combing is critical.
6. Tell people. Even though you will want to pretend like it has not happened to you, tell your friends, teachers, school, coaches (helmets are a big offender), etc. that your family has lice. We only perpetuate the problem when we do not share. People can not cannot protect themselves when they do not know they have been exposed. The sooner the stigma attached to lice is eliminated, the sooner we can end this epidemic that appears to have no end. If you must become a “nit picker,” do not be afraid! Knowledge is the best weapon! In addition, if your child is upset or embarrassed about having lice, check out the book “Bugs in Your Hair?!” by Catherine Stier and Tammie Lyon. This book explains lice in a way young children can understand.
We strongly encourage you to visit WebMD here and scroll through the photos to see what head lice may look like at different stages. We realize these can be a little gross, but we want you to know what you should be looking for!
In addition, this blog shares some fabulous ways to get rid of lice naturally.
We would love to hear your comments, experiences, and advice below!
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Thank you for re-running this! My son had it about 5 years ago when he was in elementary school and we were able to be done with it 7-10 days. With both kids out of elementary school, I thought we were in the clear. Two weeks ago, my daughter (a junior in high school) found one. She knew of a teammate who had had it about a month ago, but other than that, we don’t know where she got it. I found one live one on myself the day after my daughter found one.
We have been battling for two full weeks now and have done the toxic treatments, excessive combing, and 4000 loads of laundry. I am now wishing I’d just paid the fee to at least have my daughter treated at the WS Lice Clinic. She has very long, very thick hair and we have spent HOURS treating and combing. I feel for families with multiple kids who are dealing with this.
My biggest issue is people not telling others that they have it. My daughter was a champ and let all of her friends know as well as her boyfriend–not an easy thing to do but she understands what a pain this is for everyone.
The plastic combs actually work better because they are shorter, the metal ones are a pain to get through the hair. Been there, done that.
When my girls had lice years ago, it was during VBS week at church. I asked the director to make an announcement/email so everyone would know to be on the lookout (especially helpful if your child takes care of their own hair), but she would only contact the parents in their age groups, even though all the kids sat in the same room with movie-theater type seats every day. I would’ve been ticked if I found out after discovering it on my kids that others knew and didn’t tell. Also, I stay away from chemicals as much as possible, so we used Cetaphil cleanser to treat; it (supposedly)makes the hair too slick for the nits to attach. After washing their hair with it and drying it, I picked and picked and picked, until the day came that I didn’t find anymore nits, then I picked again just in case. It is a loooong and laborious process, and I’m just glad it happened in the summer!
Great article! I’m dealing with this myself. It’s such a taboo word but it doesn’t have to be that bad. One other thing I would add is for girls…wear ponytails as much as you can. It helps prevent the spread when the girls are leaning over desks or toys together and the lice jump.