The CDC estimates that roughly 6-12 million infestations occur every year in the United States in kids ages 3-11,1 but that is a very round number since I did not call the CDC to let them know when both my kids had lice. So they are guessing. And you should add two more to that number for last year.
Below I’ve outlined some concrete steps you can take when it happens to you. I hope you never need them, but if history is any guide you probably will. If you see your kid scratching her head a lot and upon closer inspection you find either (a) a sesame seed-sized brown bug2 or (b) tiny white things attached to strands of hair about an inch from the scalp that aren’t easy to remove with your fingers like dandruff would be,3 you have lice in your house4 and are welcome to do the following:
Step 1: Panic. Not very loudly, and not in front of the kids. Because the panic of a parent tends to expand to the 106th power in surrounding kids, so unless you want the lice screaming and running all over the house, when you see a louse5 on your kid’s head just say, “Excuse me, darling. I am going to go outside for a moment and take in some air.” Then go out there and make flappy gestures with your hands and say “EEWWWWW! Ew! Ew! Ew!” And hyperventilate a little. “Ohmigod Ohmigod Ohmigod. This is not happening,” you can say. “This CANNOT be happening! We’re so clean! We don’t roll around in our own filth! HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?!?”
Step 2: Get a grip. Take a breath. Calmly go back inside. Pour yourself a glass of wine if you are into that sort of thing. This is actually not that big of a deal. Way, way more people than you would think have been where you are. Clean people. People who go to church in clothing with no wrinkles, even. People who scrimp and save to send their kids to camp and do all the right things and then, surprise! Your child brings tiny friends home. On her head.
Step 3: Get to Googling. Google is your friend this time. It’s not like when you have a small bump on your arm and Google tells you it’s definitely cancer and you might as well start giving away all your best stuff. You realize when you Google “my kid has lice” just how many other kids have had it, and you’ll get a wealth of information about all the things you can do. Drink your wine while you perform this step. I think the most important thing to Google is “the life cycle of lice.” Because everyone knows that once you understand the enemy it’s easier to destroy. And total annihilation is what we’re after. You can also decide at this point whether you want to try the all-natural, home-type remedies or whether you want to go with the chemicals. Despite loving an all-natural anything, I went with the chemicals this time. Because LICE.
Step 4: Notify friends that your kid was recently with about the situation. This is probably the worst part, because some people are not enlightened as you now are and think that if you have lice in your house you must be cooking meth or something as well, but you just have to do it. Drink the wine and call the numbers. It’s the right thing to do.
Step 5: Decide which path to take. There are several options. ALL OF THESE ARE FINE. Whatever works. You decide and don’t look back. Isn’t that what we’re about here?
A. You can go all Type A on the lice and wash every item in your house that will fit in the washer, have the carpets steam cleaned, place all things that won’t go in the washer in plastic coverings for weeks, throw away all hairbrushes and flood your kid’s scalp with harsh chemicals. This option is good if it makes you feel better to be this thorough, but I promise it’s not necessary.
B. You can call somebody to come do all this for you.6 This is for people who have extra cash lying around in drawers or who just cannot deal. Again, this is not actually necessary except maybe in the following real-life situation: an adult I know was staying with her granddaughter while her parents were out of the country, so when the sweet child came home from school with lice (which we REALLY hope she didn’t get from our daughter) this calm and rational adult called somebody to handle it. This makes sense to me when you are dealing with a child and a house that aren’t, you know, yours.
C. You can do lice recon and outsmart them. I like this one because it’s the equivalent of sticking it to the tiny, itchy man. Lice cannot jump, hop, or fly. They can only be spread by hair-to-hair contact. So it’s unlikely that they just decided to fall off your child’s head and land on your carpet. But even so, once they are off a head they can only survive for about 2-3 days. So what I did was throw a bunch of stuffed animals (which probably weren’t lice-y anyway) and other suspicious items into our playroom. And then I just shut the door! For 5 days! Voila. No lice left in there. I threw away hair brushes, washed clothes and bedding, vacuumed the house and treated the kids with Nix. Also a smothering layer of mayonnaise, but that might have been overkill. Then I combed what I could out of their hair, but instead of obsessively checking them every day, which doesn’t help anybody, I waited 8 days and treated them again. This is VERY IMPORTANT. Any tiny nits that weren’t killed during the first treatment will have hatched after 8 days, but (and here is the important part) wouldn’t have been able to lay new eggs yet. So if you get them in that window of time after they hatch but before they lay more eggs, problem solved! Any nits that are left are dead, and no actual lice should be left at all after two treatments.
Step 6: Remind your kids not to put their sweet heads near the sweet heads of their friends. If you are nervous, it’s totally acceptable to bring your own pillow to sleepovers. Prevention is totally legit.
That’s about it. If you read all this you probably have a very itchy head now. I am here to tell you that you don’t have lice. Probably. But even if you do, no problem! Go panic and then get to Googling. Pour that glass of wine. It’s all going to be perfectly fine.
1 Here is an actual cite for you: http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/epi.html
2 Yep, it’s lice.
3 These are the eggs of lice, or nits. Sometimes these are easier to find because lice can run away from you. And they will because they are asshats. So look for nits if you’re suspicious.
4 Another option is to have the school nurse check your kid’s head. They are very good, and practiced, at diagnosing a lice event and are usually happy to check for you.
5 Yes! The singular for lice is louse! The best part of this is that next time you see a group of scrubby looking guys, you can say, “Oh, check out the lice.” And then you can nod knowingly, which is always fun.
6The best thing to do is Google “lice removal service.” These are usually local companies, not national chains, so it’s hard to recommend one to y’all that would be helpful. They are out there, though, I promise!