Scratching the surface: What you need to know about head lice

Small girl scratching head

We haven’t had to deal with head lice in our house… yet.

With my oldest now in JK, I feel like it’s inevitable.  My friends with older children all have head lice horror stories, and when I ask them about it, their memories seem more disturbing than the lice itself:  the long hair they had to nitpick, the tedious treatments, the realization it had spread to a sibling, and the fear the head lice would return.

The good news is that head lice, while irritating, gross and creepy, are simply a nuisance. They don’t transmit germs or diseases (which is why the Health Department doesn’t get involved with head lice cases). Also, head lice themselves are not nit-picky – they are an equal opportunity ‘infester’! Clean hair, dirty hair, long hair, short hair, girl hair, boy hair; lice love them all. And the final bit of good news: contrary to popular belief, it’s highly unlikely for head lice to spread by sharing items like hairbrushes, hats, hair clips, etc. Head lice need to stay close to the scalp to survive. As soon as they fall off, they start to die, making it very difficult for them to reattach to someone else’s head. So don’t bother banning the sharing of items or cleaning every single surface in your house!

Regardless of any redeeming qualities head lice may have, I would much prefer if they stayed away from my family thank you very much. Agree? So without further ado, here are the top 5 ways to prevent head lice:

  1. Young Girls Taking Selfie With Mobile Phone In ParkLice travel by crawling really, really fast. They don’t jump. Teach kids to avoid touching heads with others. You might need to brainstorm the scenarios with your child to help them realize when they might be touching heads with another child. Make it a game – whoever comes up with the most scenarios gets to pick the movie on movie night!
    • Here’s what we’ve come up with: hugging, working on something closely with another child (like reading a book together), taking selfies, and whispering into each other’s ears.
  2. Tie long hair into a ponytail or braid it to help avoid touching other heads.
  3. Teach kids that you cannot easily tell who might have head lice and who does not, since head lice has nothing to do with cleanliness. So that means their best friend who washes their hair every night could have head lice.
  4. Brush and comb hair vigorously at the end of the day. If head lice managed to crawl into your child’s head, it’s possible this will injure them and prevent them from laying eggs.
  5. Check your child’s scalp for head lice about once a week. Check daily if you know your child has been exposed to head lice, and after sleepovers and sleep-away camp.

Additional tips for parents:

  • Remember: washing your child’s hair more or less often won’t help prevent head lice.
  • Be skeptical of products that claim to prevent head lice. To date, natural products like tea tree oil or coconut oil have not been studied enough to really help us understand whether they work and if they do, how much to use and how to use the product. We have to be careful as some natural products (including tea tree oil) can actually be harmful when used at full strength.

If your child does get head lice, try not to panic or look for someone to blame. Remember that our kids are watching. Keep calm and check out our Head Lice – Information for Parents web page.

Is anyone else scratching their head? Or is it just me?

Do you have questions about preventing head lice or need a friendly person to vent your head lice woes to? There are many ways to connect with us:

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
This entry was posted in Parenting, Physical Health, preschoolers, school health, School-aged Children, Toddlers and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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