Having endured our first case of head lice with my first grade daughter, I wanted to share some of the things I've learned. Treating head lice isn't easy (see my articles on Treating Head Lice – linked below), so an ounce of prevention can be worth about 20 pounds of cure. So how can we do our best to avoid head lice for our children and family?
First, it's important to note that having head lice does not mean your child, or your household, or your family is "dirty." In fact, quite the opposite is true. Head lice really like super-clean hair, so washing too often can actually make a head quite inviting to the little pests. Anyone can get lice...it's mostly a matter of putting a head in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the sooner that everyone realizes that head lice is nothing to be embarrassed about, the easier it would be to prevent its spread. It would help everyone to keep head lice outbreaks under control by telling families of friends and classmates so that they can be watching for lice in their households and taking preventative measures.
In return, if you are told that a child in your son's or daughter's class has been treated for lice, please do not tell your child to avoid them or not play with them. Truth be told, they probably have the cleanest head in the class! However, here are some general measures that you can take to try and keep head lice away from your family.
• Learn About Lice – I've linked below some reference sites regarding lice behavior. The basics are that lice don't jump from head to head, but are spread by direct hair-to-hair contact or contact with infested clothing. Learn what lice and nits (louse eggs) look like so that you'll recognize them if you see them on a family member or friend. The quicker you can catch an infestation, the easier it will be to control.
• Teach Preventative Measures – For the best chance of avoiding head lice, it's not a matter of avoiding any one child, but rather avoiding high-risk behaviors with all other children. Teaching kids to keep their heads to themselves can be difficult, especially with younger kids who hug and wrestle and huddle close to share secrets. But to the extent you can make them understand this just as you did with covering mouths when coughing or sneezing, the better luck you'll have. Kids should also learn not to share items like jackets, hats and scarves (including dress up!). If your child doesn't have a cubby at school where they can store sweatshirts or jackets apart from those of other kids, consider providing a backpack where they can keep their belongings separated.
• Manage Your Child's Hair and Clothes – Since her first successful treatment, my daughter has gone to school in a braided ponytail. We know that there is a bit of an epidemic going on at her school, and until it's under control, I'm going to do everything I can to avoid reinfestation. We also use a lice preventative spray containing tea tree oil, commonly thought to repel lice, as well as rosemary, which is a natural insect deterrent (see the link below to the product we've used, Rosemary Repel). I spray it especially all the way around her hairline and on her braid. We also went to the thrift store and bought 5 or 6 new zip-up sweatshirts so that she can have a fresh one each day, they don't go over the hair and they can tolerate hot water washes and high heat drying.
• Check Hair Frequently – We check our daughter's hair after each bath she takes keeping an eye out for new nits, and I bang on her hairbrush every morning and night after use to see if any live lice fall out. The most common areas to find and/or see nits are behind the ears, on the hairline on the neck, or on the hair's part. For what to do if you do find nits or lice, see my articles on Head Lice Treatment (coming soon). The sooner you can contain an infestation, the easier it will be to knock out.
Head lice are a major nuisance, but don't panic, as it is not a disease or major health concern. From the moment your child enters group care, or begins play activities that bring kids' heads and clothing in close proximity, doing your best to prevent head lice will go a long way to avoiding the hassle of treatment.
• Harvard School of Public Health Head Lice Information
• American Academy of Pediatrics Head Lice Information
• CDC Fact Sheet on Head Lice (pdf format)
Here's some products we've used to repel and treat lice infestation:
This is the spray we use with the tea tree oil and rosemary each morning before school:
This company also has shampoo, conditioner and hair gel from the same line. They also have a pesticide-free treatment that we used successfully on our daughter. Their full product line can be seen at Fairy Tales Hair Care Lice Products
If you are treating lice, we also found the cheap plastic comb that comes with treatments to be inadequate. We like the Nit Terminator Metal Comb, seen here:
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