10 Tips on Surviving Lice: From a mom who's been there done that

It happened.  Oh, yeah.  It happened.  I thought it was just an urban myth.  A story spun by vindictive women of yesteryear meant to scare innocent moms of today.  A practical joke.  Nothing that would actually ever happen.  To me.

Until it did.

It was summer and we were mountain biking with the kids.  Keira, the careful, thoughtful biker of the crew.  She often stops to check out "something shiny" on the path.  Get the picture?  So it wasn't surprising that she was lagging behind.  But this time it wasn't something shiny.  It was something crawly.

"My head itches, Mommy.  Really bad."

"I'm sorry, honey."  I'm not really listening.  This complaint does not rate very high on my Indicators of Bad Things scale.  It barely registers on any of my parenting scales really.  All I'm thinking is, yeah, probably because you haven't showered in, what, like a week? 

So we continue down the path with Keira stopping every few feet to take off her helmet and scratch her head.  I roll my eyes, so dramatic that one.  When we finally get back to the parking lot, Keira is in tears.  I grudgingly take off her helmet and casually glance at her head.

It was waiting for me.  A smirk upon its tiny insect face.  See, you didn't believe your kid was miserable.  This is what you get, bad parent.

Lice.  The Paynes had lice.  So, parents (mostly moms out there for obvious reasons) this one's for you.  My 10 tips on surviving lice.  An unofficial guide on how you can beat these little buggers.  Without completely losing your mind.


His little beady eyes were staring at me from among the dark strands of her hair.  Ewww!!  The only sensible thing I could think to do at that time was to immediately and loudly alert my husband.

"LICE!!  Honey, oh my god, she has LICE!!"

A bike pump clattered to the ground.  Another family of bikers were staring at us from across the parking lot.  My face burned, Keira burst into tears, and my two other kids chimed in, also loudly,  "LICE?  What's LICE?  She has LICE?"

The family of bikers scrambled into their car and passed by us casting looks of barely contained terror our way.  So dramatic, that family.

Helpful Hint:  That family was not lice educated.  Unless they came over and rubbed their heads all over Keira's, tried on her helmet, put on her shirt, there was no way they were getting lice.  They were just scared, judgmental people with no compassion for the bug-ridden families of the world.


We jumped in the car.  I frantically googled lice, lice products, lice anything.  My head started to itch.  All heads in the car started to itch.  So many options for lice removal.  There was the chemical way.  The homeopathic way.  The essential oil way.   The chanting with incense way. The ignore it and blame it on someone else way.  How could I choose?

The car screeched to a halt in the Safeway parking lot.  Sean walked in.  He walked out, hat low, head ducked, furtively holding a small white bag.

"Did anyone see you?"

"No, it was clear.  No one saw me."


I opened the bag.  Chemical, baby.  We were going chemical.  With the headlights off, we quietly rolled out of the parking lot and headed home taking our creepy, crawly secret with us.

Helpful Hint:  There is much discussion about which method to choose.  The chemical way is harsh and I did have concerns about using it on the kids.  But, if you are a salt of the earth, homeschooling person with tremendous amounts of patience and/or an inclination to wear long, flowy skirts, then you would probably do well with the mayonnaise method.   At this point, I had no strong convictions other than wanting the bugs gone, eradicated, their blight upon our family nothing but a distant memory.  We used RID.


This is a case of hindsight.  We panicked.  I made the kids strip down, briefly considered burning the clothes, but changed my mind and threw them into the washer.  We took the kids up to our bathroom where we removed all rugs.  I gave them towels.  They sat naked and shivering on our cold, tiled, bathroom floor.  It looked like a prison camp for children.  I expanded my search.  Sawyer and Ella both had evidence.  My head itched even worse.

Over the next four hours we shampooed and combed, and combed, and combed, and combed.  It became a game for me.  Like locating and digging out blackheads.  I cried triumphantly at each nit I found.  My head itched.  It was my turn.

Helpful Hint: All live lice should be dead after the initial shampoo.  Your job after the first shampoo, is to comb, comb, comb to remove all nits.  Nits can hatch later and bring all your problems back.  So comb, comb, comb.


You do not need to go over your house with a magnifying glass.  Or burn everything your kids may have looked at.  Just wash and/or dry on high heat everything they may have slept on or have just worn.  Pillows, bedding, blankets, stuffed animals, hats, clothes.  Lice prefer warm juicy scalps.  They are the ultimate mooch and do not generally survive longer than 24 hours away from their host.  Much like a 46 year old who still lives at home.


God really thought this one through.  People lice need people blood.  So the lice on your head turn up their noses to dog and cat blood.  It's true, look it up.  Step away from your dog.  He's not part of this.  


I'm sorry about this one.  I really am.  But it must be done.  And it will feel icky, like you're calling former partners to alert them about a sexually transmitted disease.  But it is the right and responsible thing to do.  I'll give you an example.

"Hello, Nita?  This is Melissa.  You know how Keira was at your house yesterday watching cartoons on your couch and scratching her head?  Well, we just discovered she has lice, so uh, maybe you should hose down that couch?"

Or perhaps your child recently had a play date at an OCD parent's house.  You can fess up using this informational opening:

"Hello _____, long time no see.  How are the kids?  Did you know that lice is more common than you think?  And that also, it's not indicative of poor hygiene?  Interesting factoid, lice actually prefer clean hair over dirty.  Since we're on the subject…."

The only way to stop the spread of lice is to contact those you've been around within the last two weeks.  It's humiliating, I know.  Just grow a pair and do it.  Honesty is like chicken soup for the soul, or something like that.  


At this point you might think you are out of the woods.  You might even be feeling just a tad bit cocky about the whole thing; pleased with your lice handling skills.  That confidence will be your greatest downfall.  Keep combing.  The nits are still there, patiently waiting to bring you down a notch when they hatch in 7 to 12 days.  Keep combing.


You may have already done this.  If so, bravo.  But if you haven't, order it today.  The brushes that come with the kits are crap.  The Licemeister will pull out nits even after you have patted yourself on the back for a nit-free head.


Don't skip this.  If in all your exhaustive combing you have missed a nit, it will hatch.  Then that little nit will become another round of lice yuckiness.  For your own sanity and reputation, do the follow-up treatment.    You do not want to have to make another round of phone calls.  A second round of phone calls will only serve to earn you the reputation as an inefficient lice manager.  Play dates will be cancelled, carpools dissolved, sleepovers prohibited.  Don't let this happen to you.


When you do not think you can take the combing any longer, when you have actually begun to communicate like a monkey because you act like one, when your flashlight has run out of batteries, and all you dream about is nits, then you know that it is the most critical time to KEEP COMBING.   I combed for 4 weeks after our second treatment.  When I went a full week without finding a single nit, I combed for another week.  Excessive?  Perhaps.  But I had to know that the bugs had left the building.  And they had.


For the record, we are currently a lice free family.  But we have been irrevocably changed by our experience.  I'm itching now just writing this.  I itch any time I think about lice.  I find myself casually scrutinizing other people's hair for nits.  I think twice before affectionately tousling the hair on a kid's head.  I'm a tad bit paranoid.  We never found a live bug on me, but we did pull out a few nits  Ick!! Ick!! Double ick!!

Somehow, Sean escaped the lice.  But as a reliable source once shared with me, it is a well-known semi-fact that the family member least likely to get lice even when everybody else is infested is the dad.  Is it the short hair?  A superhero immunity?  Are they like a dog?  You be the judge.

If you and your family are currently enduring lice…be strong and comb.  You will be fine.  If you, like us, have earned a lice survival badge, then fist bump sister, we are family now.  And if you have never had lice and are at this very moment congratulating yourself for your strong constitutions, cleanliness or general wealthiness, well now, I do not wish lice upon you because that is cruel and vindictive.

But, does your head itch?



  1. Melissa-you have a true gift to make a story about lice so entertaining! I'll read anything you write!


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