Rochester Local

Hang On, This is Gonna Itch a Little: A Guide to Head Lice

head lice

I can virtually promise you it will be 10 pm. Things like this never, ever happen at 4 pm. At least, not in my life. Your little angel will have been tucked into bed for well over an hour and will wander in scratching the base of their neck and behind the ears. “Mom? Mom? I’m just so ITCHY!”


Friend, it’s going to happen to you.

Head lice.

That’s TWO four-letter words, not that I’m counting.

So, from a mother of four, I give you everything I wish I knew before my kids got head lice.

10 Things to Consider Before Head Lice

Check your children periodically. Since head lice do not transmit disease, many schools and organizations have stopped notifying parents of cases, as it is not deemed a “public health issue.” Practice seems to vary, but in Rochester Public Schools, the nurses tell me there needs to be evidence of several children in a classroom with head lice before parents are notified. This means periodically checking your child for head lice throughout the year will hopefully help you catch it early.

Think NOW about how you want to treat head lice. Trust me on this. You do NOT want to open up Google and let your fingers fly at 10 pm with your child sitting next to you. (Not that I did that. Ahem.) That would certainly not lead to cataclysmic levels of anxiety between the two of you. There are several different ways to treat head lice that you want to consider beforehand as your options are, shall we say, limited at 10 pm on a Thursday night. Whatever you decide to do, add some cheap plastic tablecloths to the shopping list so your little friend has a place to sit during comb-outs that can be tossed!

Phone a friend. At 10:10, I was on the phone with my friend, whom we shall call Jennie. Because that is her name. She talked me out of my panic, gathered up her kit of head lice battling paraphernalia, and came over to my house. (I promise you that every mom that has dealt with head lice has a box or a bag somewhere. There is a big bar of dark chocolate next to mine.) She took my child, showed me what I was looking for, helped me strip beds, vacuumed, and checked my head. I don’t care how strong you think your marriage is, you will DOUBT your spouse’s abilities to find bugs on your head. You will practically kill yourself trying to see in the mirror.

Combs, vacuums, and heat are your new BFFs. The real key to eliminating head lice in your home is to BURN IT DOWN be very diligent about making sure a stray nit doesn’t hatch and start the process all over for you. Head lice treatment is at least a 2-week process and you will want to comb hair with a specially designed comb daily. Wash and dry bedding at high temperatures, but don’t worry about bed skirts.  Also, vacuum rugs and upholstered furniture where your child has been. Do NOT worry about drapes unless your child has a tendency to wrap themselves up in them on a regular basis.

Try not to treat your child like a pariah. The first time through this process I found my daughter lying on my bed and yelled something along the lines of, “OH MY GOSH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?! DO YOU HATE ME???” Yeah, proud parenting moment right there. Even though it can be difficult after all the work involved in trying to isolate the little buggers, remember to try to be positive. Head lice are certainly a nuisance and something we would all like to avoid, but the likelihood of re-infestation by a louse or nit that fell on a rug or couch is low.

Educate, educate, educate. I promise you that after 14 days of combing out your child’s hair you will not have to work very hard to convince them not to share combs, brushes, helmets, hats, etc. with their classmates. But wouldn’t it be better not to have to do it at all? Remind them not to add their coat to a pile of other coats on the playground in the spring.  The beginning of a school year is a good time to go over these guidelines again. Also, I avoid coat hooks if possible.

Reframe the daily comb-outs into something positive.  14 days is a loooooong time when you have little heads – or 4 – to comb through. To get my younger kids to cooperate I light a candle and massage their scalp (ie rub a product through their hair to make the comb slide through more easily.) Then I play some relaxing music and tell them they are at my spa. Movies are also your friend. I give you carte blanche permission to ignore everything the American Academy of Pediatrics says about screen time guidelines when your kid has bugs in their hair. I’m actually sure they would agree and am confused on why there hasn’t been an official statement on this.

There are professionals for this. Check with your pediatrician or family physician if you need to. They can answer many of your questions. There are also professionals at lice removal. Just a phone call consultation with them can be helpful.

Relax a little.  You know what goes great with head lice? Vodka. Okay, but really. You have to give yourself some permission to relax and let other things slide a bit while treating lice. Because honestly, it can be time-consuming! Whatever helps you relax, plan on it. Your sheets will be clean, your floors vacuumed, and your fingers numb. Order some takeout already!

Remember this is temporary.  It takes a while for the itchy feeling to go away. Head lice are extremely common. It happens to nearly everyone, and this too shall pass. Getting head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness, nor does it diminish your rockstar motherhood status!

This post was originally published in 2017

The content on Rochester Mom is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider.

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