That dreaded note comes home from school. Your child has head lice. Most schools often also notify parents if, during routine lice checks, a classmate has lice or nits. At least in the former situation, you know what you're dealing with and can begin the purge. In the latter it's almost worse, as you are left constantly checking and double-checking your child's hair.
You encourage kids to brush their teeth to prevent cavities, right? The same proactive approach should go for lice, says Dawn Mucci, founder of Lice Squad Canada Inc., a leading Canadian lice removal, education and prevention company. "My philosophy is 'take a peek once a week. Check ahead, avoid the spread.' Make it part of your regular hygiene practice to take five minutes and check through your children's heads, because if you catch lice early, it's easy to get rid of."
How do I know if my child has lice?
First, you have to know what to look for.
- You'll either see the incessant itching from your child, or you'll get a notice from the school or daycare that your child was checked and lice was found. If you are uncertain, confirm the identification from a doctor or a free diagnosis kit through licesquad.com.
- Check places where lice like to congregate, such as hot spots around the ears, nape and crown of the head.
- Lice are sesame seed-shaped, about 1-4 mm in size; they are grey, red, dark brown or black in colour but not white.
- Lice do not fly or hop. They crawl.
- Lice eggs (nits) are tiny clear sacs when empty and brown when they are unhatched, or viable. They cling to the base of the hair shaft and cannot be flicked off.
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The rational mind might think that the first step should be "Don't Freak Out" but when lice enter your home, the rules change. It's disgusting. You've got a long road ahead that will require hours and hours of hard work. You are going to feel things creeping in your scalp, whether or not there is anything actually there. You are going to scratch your head... a lot. Your skin will crawl. You will not be able to stop thinking about what may or may not possibly be in your hair, and whether these creatures can or will migrate to your nether regions and whether you have infected your friends, your pets and if you'll ever use your brush or pillow again. So go ahead and freak out. Freak out like you've never freaked out before. And enjoy every minute of it because the next few weeks aren't going to be fun.
It needs to be said that the freak out of step number one should be an inner freak out, or a very vocal freak out once the infested child has left the building. I'm sure as the awesome parent you are, you already know this, but when dealing with the child, one needs to develop a cool and calm demeanour. As in, "This is serious, but don't worry sweetheart, we're going to take care of it, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you." Even if you have to say these things through clenched teeth.
There are so many ways and products that will get rid of these little jerks, and you will find the one that's best for you. The Robicomb is highly revered in my home. I use it on its own and in tandem with other methods. It detects and zaps lice and nits, and it's pesticide-free and way superior to those pathetic lice combs that come with lice shampoo. You can also use it to reassure yourself with a spot check after you get a horrible email from your kid's school. The only drawback is that it is electrical and you can sometimes give tiny zaps to your child's ears or moles or little bumps that might be hanging out on their scalp. I've done this to myself several times, so I know it's not painful, but your child might howl about it.
You will wash every article of clothing and bed linen in your house multiple times in hot water and then dry them on a hot setting. Even if you think this clothing can't possibly be infected, you won't be able to resist washing it. Twice.
And we're talking shampooing carpets, vacuuming furniture, and flea dipping the cat (pets can't get lice, but I'm always suspicious of all that scratching). Your house will never be as clean as it is during and right after a lice infestation.
Do you have time to do that much laundry and detail your furniture and entire house? NO! Do you want to spend an hour each day, sometimes two, examining every millimetre of your kids' hair? And then your own? And then your spouse's? NO! These jerks have completely taken over your life and you WANT TO MASSACRE EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!
Now that you've massacred every last one of them, prop up your feet and admire your immaculate house and breathe in the scent of fresh laundry while you tousle the beautiful lice-free hair of your squeaky clean kids. But keep your guard up, as these sneaky creatures can appear without notice at any time.
How do I get rid of them?
Whether you use natural or pesticide-based lice shampoo, olive or coconut oil, the key to getting rid of lice is in the physical removal of the lice and nits. Follow this step-by-step guide:
- Hair does not need to be just washed, but should be damp with some conditioner in it to soften for easier combing. If using a lice shampoo, follow package instructions.
- Place a light-coloured towel around your child's shoulders. Work in good light, daylight is ideal.
- Start on one side of the head and systematically comb through small sections using a lice comb, available at drugstores (sometimes sold with lice shampoo). The long-tined combs work best.
- After each comb-through, examine the comb and wipe it on a piece of paper towel or tissue. If the comb is clean, go to the next chunk of hair.
- You do not need to sanitize your entire home. Wash hats, bedding and other cushions or pillows where your child routinely lays down. Follow-up within a two-week period for both retreating and re-combing.
Contrary to popular belief...
- Cleanliness and hygiene, race or cultural background and economic status are not linked to having head lice.
- Children between two- and 18-years-old with thick, clean hair are most commonly affected by head lice.
- Head lice are transmitted by direct head-to-head contact or by sharing items like hats, pillows, helmets. They do not spread disease. Body lice spread disease.
Watch a video of Dawn Mucci showing proper technique in scanning for head lice.
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