Learn how to kill lice while keeping calm for your kids

January 18 | Guest post by Megan Kinch
Keep calm and de-lice your kids...
Keep calm and de-lice your kids…

It wasn't until my own head got horribly itchy that I realized it was lice. My three-year old daughter had been messing up her hair with constant scratching. I had checked before, but when my own head started getting horribly, pathologically itchy, I realized that there was only one way it could have spread. I checked her hair again and there they were — disgusting bugs eating my beautiful daughter's poor head…

And also my own head… And also my roommate's head. Basically three out of four people in our co-living household.

As I came to this realization I really wanted so badly to freak out. But I looked at my daughters little trusting eyes, and I realized that I didn't have that luxury.

I was going to have to deal with lice while making my little one feel loved

I need to act as if this is not a big deal — even though I felt the immediate need to wash my hands, preferably with boiling water, and toxic bug-killing chemicals.

But still, lice are sooooo icky. I had to take a deep breath and not freak out and instead say brightly, "Oh, little one, it looks like there are some bugs on your head! Don't worry, it's normal. We'll get rid of them, and then your head won't be itchy anymore!"

…Now I had to figure out how to do that for all of us who lived in our place.

As far as I can tell (and I'm not an expert) there are basically three methods for how to kill lice:

  1.  One involves chemicals on your head and combing.
  2.  The other is just combing with some kind of non chemical goops. (What are people with curly hair that cannot be combed supposed to do? Websites and official recommendations are pretty silent on this question, and just recommend combing. As if that's an option for all hair types when we know that it is not!)
  3.  The third option is shaving your head.

I looked up natural options for killing lice

But honestly I just wanted them dead as soon as possible. So I went and bought some flower-based lice shampoo and combs. This was fine for us adults who are used to using conditioner and hair dye. But, of course, my three-year old daughter is at the age where she hates having her hair washed, let alone combed. So there was a lot of crying — I could hear her repeating my words "It comes from flowers" to comfort herself.

I thought they were gone. Then, when I was out for coffee with my daughter, I saw a giant bug. Much bigger than the ones I'd seen before. The treatment had failed. Apparently the bugs have been developing resistance. And, upon further investigation, I still had them too.

I still wanted to panic, but I had to keep calm for my daughter, again

I didn't want her to feel like she was dirty or gross. I tried to tell myself that I was also not dirty or gross. I kept acting like it was normal and a minor problem. Which it is! It just doesn't feel that way when they're on you.

My roommate began to wash and clean everything in the house, just in case, while we tried to figure out options. We combed her hair twice a day (and each other's hair). It was very stressful. But we kept calm around my kid and upbeat and like everything was going to be fine. And when we had to do the treatments, we made sure there were lots of snuggles and kisses to try and comfort her.

I started to feel like the nuclear option of hair shaving might be the only solution

But given that my daughter is a bit of a princess, and really invested in her long hair, I felt like that would be very upsetting and stigmatizing to her.

A pharmacist told me there were no other options for lice treatment other than the shampoo we'd used. But clearly our lice were resistant. I didn't know what to do. But then her dad visited another pharmacy and they had another option…

So we tried this new, more expensive treatment. It claimed to require only one application, but it seemed like it was only killing the adult bugs and not the eggs. So it required two applications, plus lots of combing. But this did eventually work on all of us!

It was a month and a half long battle

But as long as we were treating it, the itchiness was not so bad, as the lice were not making it to adulthood. Most importantly, we protected the little one from being too upset about it and she basically took it in stride.

The important thing was to keep calm and remember that this is not really a medical problem. To remember that nurturing my kids self-confidence and happiness remains the most important thing — even when we have to deal with something gross like lice. And, of course, I learned to remember that I'm an adult person who loves her kid and can deal and model calm and resourcefulness… Or something vaguely resembling that.

How have you handled lice in your household? What worked? What didn't? And how the fuck did you remain calm!?

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  1. I lucked into a really horrible case of lice when I was 20, & a friend recommended washing my hair with dandruff shampoo, but leaving the suds in for 10 minutes before washing it out. I think I used Denorex, & one ten minute treatment did the trick. I don't know anyone else who's tried that, & I can't speak to why on earth that worked, but it's worth a shot!

    • I've heard there's an anti fungal element to dandruff shampoos, maybe that helps kill the lice?

      Incidentally I also heard from a public health nurse here in the UK that the newest generation of parents aren't as clued up about lice removal as their older counterparts so theres more wives tale type "treatments" being mistakenly used like during the kids hair or using hair straighteners.

      1 agrees
  2. When I had lice (both as a child and adolescent), we used tea tree oil shampoo. My mum used to complain about the scent, but claim it would fix everything. And I mean, in my experience tea tree oil killed lice, warts, and fixed all sorts of ""problems"" I was having. Highly recommend keeping some on hand if possible.

    Kudos to you for staying so calm for your kiddo! I think the importance and difficulty of reacting like that really goes unappreciated, but it makes such a difference. A lot of disgust and fear are learned behaviours, which is good for teaching your kids the dangers of expired food or mould but less useful for things like bugs. Sounds like you're crushing this parenting thing!

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  3. I was constantly getting head lice as a child – I had long hair and however careful I was it would seem that no sooner had I got rid of one lot then I'd have another load to contend with a few months later! My mum used to put the nasty chemicals on my hair, plus combing it with a nit comb (I have thick, curly hair that will usually just break combs, but conditioner allowed the nit comb through). We'd have to use different treatments every so often, because if one type is widely used by lots of people the lice can build up resistance.

    Now I know there are less harsh treatments available. I second the tea tree recommendation, which can also work as a deterrent. Neem (a plant oil) is also great for getting rid of head lice.

    1 agrees
  4. Tea tree oil. If you get a tea tree oil shampoo, make sure it's labeled "therapeutic" and actually smells like tea tree oil; some of them don't have much (you can also add the oil to your regular shampoo). It gets the bugs and the eggs. Use it in laundry for a couple weeks too, and wash everything fairly frequently. When my kids came home with lice, we used the shampoo every night, used the oil in the laundry, and I also made a spray with water and tea tree oil that I sprayed on their heads every day before school for a couple weeks. Managed to get rid of the bugs relatively easily and naturally, without resorting to head-shaving. Even when you know that lice are common and have nothing to do with your cleanliness level, you just feel *gross*. Good on you for staying calm!

  5. When I was little I had very thick, VERY long hair and got lice a few times. My mothers solution was drowning my hair in mayonnaise coating every bit from root to tip, tying my hair in a knot on my head and then wrapping my hair like a towel with plastic wrap for any hour, then rising with vinegar after combing through. According to my mom this suffocates the bugs.

  6. Thank you for actively breaking the chain of the learned belief that lice have something to do with dirtyness and unsufficient hygiene! I think your daughter will appreciate that in the future.

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  7. When, I was I kid the chemical stuff from the chemist gave me a bad reaction – felt like my scalp was on fire! From then on my mom used a homemade oil – I think it was a base oil like almond then a lot of tea tree and eucapltus. You had to sit with the oil in for a while, then comb and shampoo. As a bonus afterwards your hair was very moisterised. Perhaps, if you let you kid do some of the combing? Make her feel part of the process?

    1 agrees
    • The key with most natural treatments is some kind of goop, which prevents the lice from walking around your head, and combing them out. It is better to use a special lice comb which has its tines spaced closely to get all the lice.

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  8. I have foster children and have had several children come to our home with lice. It is so hard not to panic and get all itchy when you see the kids scratching. The things that i found that work the best is rid extreme – it has mineral oil in it along with the bug killing chemicals. It smothers the resistant lice thank god!
    We try to make it fun, I have nit picked a child's hair while they were playing in a kiddie pool for the first time. I have allowed a child to watch a favorite movie or play a game on a tablet or phone (which is a big deal).
    Most if your child comes home from school with lice someone at school has it and will still have it when your child returns to school. So prevention after treatment is important. If your child has long hair it should be up and braided. We use tea tree oil products after treatment for a few weeks because while it doesn't kill the ugly buglies it does discourage them from coming back. I have been told that putting product in your child's hair such as hair spray or gel will also deter the lice.
    Check your child weekly to make sure they don't have any lice.

    Once the lice is gone get your child a treat. Dealing with all the crazyness that lice brings as an adult is hard but sitting still and letting a grown up dig through your hair for hours on end is torture for a child.

    1 agrees
  9. Olive oil. I got lice for the first time at 20 (I blame my love of thrift store shopping). I was totally horrified and contemplated shaving my head. I tried the lice shampoo and it did not work. Then I tried soaking my head in olive oil, covering it with a plastic shower cap for about an hour, and then combing through. I think I did this routine at least once a day for about a week and it worked like a charm. The smell of olive oil made me nauseous for a few months but I do not fear lice any more. I even managed not to give it to my roommates. As a bonus an olive oil (or mayonnaise as suggested above) treatment leaves your hair very shiny.

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    • It was the same for me. Shampoos didn't work, but olive oil did. The adult lice essentially suffocate under the oil. You don't have to do it every day, but repeat once a week for about 3 weeks, to make sure you also get the ones that survived as eggs.
      It's cheap and it doesn't have the side effects of the chemical solutions.

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