When I found my daughter Sierra scratching and scratching one holiday season, I thought she just had dry scalp from the winter air. On Christmas Eve, I looked a little closer and was horrified to discover little critters crawling everywhere. I was about to receive an unwanted Christmas gift – a house full of lice.
Of course we didn’t just have one child with lice – Katrina, Caroline, and baby sister Annika were all infested too. Four heads of lice were more than I’d ever wanted to deal with, and just when we’d thought we’d eradicated them completely, that Spring all four girls had lice again.
I’ve now learned more than I ever wanted to know about treating and preventing lice. As September is National Lice Awareness Month, and because I have learned from experience that it is easier to prevent lice than to treat it, – here are my best tips for preventing lice this school year:
1. Do your child’s hair in a ‘Do – Lice are commonly spread by head to head contact. Lice don’t jump nor fly; they crawl. If they can’t reach your child’s hair, he or she is less likely to catch them. A great option for girls with long hair is to braid the hair tightly and pin closely to the head in buns. Ponytails also help, but not as much, as they still allow the child’s hair to have contact with other children’s heads. Slick boys’ hair back with a lice-fighting gel or styling product. Using gel on hair can help to prevent lice infestations as it’s harder for lice to lay their eggs on the hair shaft when it’s coated with hair product.
2. Teach Children NOT to Share – For once, it’s a good idea to teach your children to not share. Lice can be spread from one kid to another by sharing grooming tools, hair accessories, clothing, hats and sporting equipment. Tell your child to never use another child’s comb, brush, headbands or ribbons. If it’s in the budget, buy helmets for each child to use for baseball, softball, riding and biking. Instruct your child to avoid trying on or borrowing friends’ hats and hoodies.
3. Pack it up at School – A jumble of jackets and a mountain of backpacks is an open invitation to lice looking to hitch a ride to a new home. Ask children to zip their hats and jackets inside their backpacks. Hang backpacks on hooks if provided, instead of tossing in a heap with other student’s backpacks. With younger children, preschool costumes and dress-up clothing can harbor lice. Ask preschool staff to remove these items from the classroom if possible. For naptime, provide a blanket for your child to use or ask the school to sanitize blankets in between each use.
4. Slumber in Sleeping Bags – Lice aren’t only spread at school and at camp. Sleepovers are a common place to pick up the little buggers. Have your child bring his own sleeping bag, pillow and towel to his friend’s house. When he comes home, throw everything into the dryer for at least 20 minutes on high heat. This will kill any stowaways that might be lurking in the bedding.
5. Watch your Back – There are lots of other places for lice to hitch a ride onto little heads. Vacuum out or wipe a lint roller across car seats if other children ride in your vehicle. Movie seats can also harbor lice; wipe a lint roller across the backs of seats before sitting and wear hair pinned up. When in dressing rooms or locker rooms, have children store their clothing and accessories inside tightly zipped backpacks, sport bags or dance bags.
With care and attention, it’s possible to keep lice away, even during the fall and winter months.
Melissa Black is the founder & CEO of Honeycombers Lice Advice and Treatment Salon in Menlo Park, California, as well as a Harvard graduate, Stanford MBA, and mother of four young girls.