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The Lice Whisperer

The Lice Whisperer

By Amalah

Love you, your blog, your kids…My problem is lice and how to handle my daughter’s BFF who always seems to have them and always passes them to my daughter.  I love this little girl and she spends whole weekends with us all of the time, but I have to head check my daughter every time she leaves and without fail, we have lice, again and again and again.  You get the idea. Her mom knows that it is a reoccurring problem, but I think she thinks they are passing it back and forth, which isn’t true.  We clear it up and we get it again.  I don’t want to upset the little girl or her mom, but geeze, there is only so much nit picking one mom can handle.

Thanks, actually, for this dose of perspective. I’ve spent the last couple months railing against the unknown culprit who keeps sending a lice-infested kid to my son’s school so, like you, we clear it up and BAM, a month and a half later we’ve got it again. But now I realize that just because you *know* the source of the little critters doesn’t actually make the finger-pointing and demanding action any easier.

This is awkward, yes, but this is also a situation that requires the VERY ADAMANT PUTTING DOWN OF FEET. Head lice don’t carry disease or anything dangerous, but they are an incredible nuisance, not very comfortable for your daughter and can lead to missed days at school and/or teasing if her classmates start picking up on the problem. Plus, if you were to ever miss an infestation, your daughter could spread it to classmates or extracurricular teammates and THEN you’ve started a whole other cycle of kids’ parents not clearing it up all the way while the kids swap it back and forth and on and on it goes.

The next time your daughter’s friend comes over, invite her mom in for a little chat and come-to-Jesus moment. Tell her you’d really like to put a solid end to the “passing it back and forth” routine and come up with a battle plan together for ridding your households of lice. The frequent reoccurrences in her daughter suggest that she’s simply not doing enough to prevent a re-infestation — there’s SOOOOO much more to fighting lice than just a single shampoo and combing for nits one time, as I’m sure you know. Perhaps she needs a little educating on that part, but I think you can frame it in a non-accusatory way if you’re like, “hey, I’ve been doing some research and I think I’ve figured out what we both need to do to put a stop to this once and for all.”

Then like, hand her something you printed from the Internet. Here, like this! This is our personal Lice Battle Plan, adapted from an email I got from a very nice, very lice-experienced reader. IT IS AWESOME:

1) Throw out all the combs and brushes.
2) Take ALL stuffed toys and put them in giant plastic garbage bags for 3 weeks. Store the bags outside or in the garage. Collect all jackets, hats, scarves and temporarily quarantine them in a bag or plastic bin too — we’ll deal with these in a bit.
3) Put all pillows in the dryer and dry on high for 30 minutes. Don’t forget throw pillows on the sofas!
4) While the pillows are heating, wash the sheets and towels.
5) While the sheets (mattress covers) and towels are washing and the pillows are heating, spray the beds and sofas with lice repellent spray (you have just the perfect amount of time for the spray to dry on the mattresses and sofas…by the time the sheets are dry, the mattress is dry, too.
6) When your washer and dryer are free, put all the jackets, hats, scarves, etc., in the dryer for 30 minutes.
7) Spray down the car seats–especially the headrests.
8)  Put deloused kids in deloused jackets in deloused car seats, drive to Target, buy everyone one new stuffed toy, one new comb/brush, and some more lice repellent spray.
9) Wait two to three weeks. Repeat steps 3 to 7.

In addition to making sure your home is free of eggs and bugs, of course, there’s the whole delousing of the child part. I’m sure you have your own preferred process/products for that, so again you could go over that part with the mom in a “hey let’s compare notes” sort of way. Ask her questions as if you’re curious and trying to educate yourself. What products are you guys using? What are you treating the sofas and mattresses with? (Don’t be surprised if she admits it’s “nothing.”) Any chance the bugs have developed a resistance to RID or NIX and it’s time for us to switch things up? Have you tried using a repelling shampoo (with tea tree and rosemary) or spray in between treatments? Have you talked to your pediatrician about a more heavy-duty treatment shampoo? Do you know there are professional nit-picking services? Crazy-sounding I know, but I’m getting pretty tempted! Here’s the website, if you want to check it out, etc.

By the end of your chat, try to have come to a polite agreement that this needs to END. NOW, and you’ll both be following a set of all-inclusive steps to rid your girls and homes of the problem…AND that get-togethers absolutely must be preceded with a head check. It’s horrible that you basically have to ask this woman to please not send a child with an active lice infestation into your home, but as long as you agree that the checks will go both ways and you will cancel playdates and plans if you find nits on your daughter, I think you can keep it out of the accusatory “I think you’re a neglectful idiot” realm.

If it continues to happen even after this talk — that you’re confidently lice-free until the girl visits, you MIGHT need to conduct the head checks yourself. And then call her mom and tell her that sadly, the visit needs to end. I know this will be heartbreaking for both of the girls, but at some point you have to get a little tough love about this, or else resign yourself to having lice until this girl moves away or stops being friends with your daughter.

In the meantime, make sure your daughter knows to do everything she can to stay lice-free even around someone with the problem. NO combing each other’s hair or sharing brushes or dress-up hats or clothes. Try to keep them sleeping separately, with their own pillows and bedding, and “helpfully” bag up her friends’ sleeping bag and pillow as soon as possible in the morning. Spray lice repellant on everything before a visit. And good luck. Imma go try to stop scratching my own head now, because lice talk still gives me the heebies.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Published February 8, 2012. Last updated March 23, 2012.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Olivia

    February 8, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    I so dread dealing with lice in the future. In fact, my daughter’s daycare posted that there was an incident at the facility, but not in her room. Then I walk in and see her wearing a costume hat. *sigh* And she has really curly, somewhat coarse hair that things like lint stick to really easily.

    I also find it really weird that it seems like there are so many cases of head lice now compared to when I was a kid. I only remember one incident of it and that wasn’t until I was in high school. Is it like the bed bug thing, just getting worse and worse until the whole country ends up infected?

  • tracy

    February 8, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Amy’s advice is good, and I have one more suggestion. You want the other mom to know that you are getting rid of the lice, and are not spreading them back to her daughter, so she understands that she’s not totally eradicating them, right? So, the next time the girl is going to come over, tell her mom “I believe I have finally gotten rid of every single louse and nit. We haven’t seen one in weeks. When you bring your child over, would you mind checking my child’s hair, and I’ll check yours? Maybe you’ll see something I’m missing.” This will help you catch any lice that might be on her child’s head, and will also reinforce that yours is as lice-free as you think.
    Personally, we found that lice were harder to spread than you think. My daughter had them twice. The first time, right before we figured out what it was, she was sick and had slept in our bed while her father slept in her (surely lice-ridden) bed, but neither he nor I caught them. The second time, she’d spent the night with a friend and they slept in the same bed, but the friend didn’t get them.

  • Tracy

    February 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Okay, mine was actually an adaptation of Amy’s, not an actual new suggestion. 😉 But I think it might work better to say “Please see if I missed anything, and I’ll do that for you too” rather than “I insist on checking your child’s head, and just so’s we’re even, you can check mine too.”
    Also, many experts say the sprays for carseats and the like aren’t necessary, so don’t go straight for righteous indignation if she says she’s not using them. She may be doing research too and just getting different results.

  • PinkieBling

    February 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    OMG I am so itchy after reading this!

  • lh

    February 8, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    One more thing: If your daughter’s hair is long enough, keep it tightly braided the entire time she’s visiting with her friend, including while she’s asleep. This is of course totally not effective without the other steps but it is just an additional measure you can take to try and limit spreading.

    I’ve also read (everywhere I researched) that lice sprays are ineffective. I’ve never used them either, and during my nearly thirteen years of parenthood we’ve had lice twice (we have three long-haired girls and I have long hair also) and gotten rid of them by following all the other suggestions above. So please don’t assume the mother is somehow being neglectful if she “admits” that she’s not using something that’s expensive and probably does not work.

  • Shannon

    February 8, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    These instructions are a bit overboard. I am actually home today from work because my 2-yr-old got sent home from daycare with lice. We did have the professional company ( come over and they were great. They didn’t clean our house, but they spent an hour combing the sh*t out of my (long, thick) hair and my toddler’s (long, thick) hair and found a total of about 10 nits and 2 live lice – a mild case. The key is to wet-comb the hair of the child EVERY DAY FOR 10 DAYS with a special comb, preferably one called The Terminator. You have to comb every hair in all 4 directions (comb back, comb forward, comb each side) by lightly scraping the scalp. That is what is going to get rid of 99% of the lice/nits. We checked and combed our daughter today after the pro did it yesterday and we were both still 100% nit and louse-free.

    I spent my day off reading all the reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Here:;126/2/392.pdf

    Getting lice from pillows, bedding, etc., is actually VERY RARE. For children, it is primarily head-to-head contact. Lice die without a scalp to live on within 48 hours. You can dry bedding, stuffed animals, pillows for 20 minutes on high heat, or quarantine everything else in a room or closet for 48 hours. Vacuum rugs and furniture. Importantly, parents and siblings should also be checked and treated with wet combing, since they often get it w/out knowing. Only about 50% of people experience any itching, so often people/kids have lice with no knowledge.

    For prevention, you can use an eco/natrual peppermint, tea tea oil, or rosemary spray on their hair EVERY day that your kids interact with other kids (until age 13!). And like the poster above mentioned, girls should wear ponytails or braids to help reduce risk of getting lice.

    The professional we used said kids often put their heads together to look at/share portable electronics. (iPhone, iPad, etc.) Interesting point!

    Also, AAP and CDC recommend against the no-nit policies that many schools used to have. They say no need to send kids home from school, but parents should be informed to check and do treatment.

  • A

    February 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Vacuuming the mattresses/carseats/couch is more effective (and has fewer chemicals being inhaled by the kids) than lice repellent sprays.
    Last year my kindergartener kept bringing lice home because the school refused to send a note home to all the other kids (I’m serious!) and our doctor gave us these suggestions:

    1. When she gets home from school bag her jacket/hat/backpack/etc.

    2. Have her jump right in the shower, wash her hair, apply some oil with tea tree and rosemary oil in it, and blow dry her hair.

    3. Put her hair in a bun on top of her head before school and urge her not to put her head near anyone elses.

    These in combination with weekly lice checks really worked for us. I would suggest doing all these things when your DD goes to the friend’s house and do a lice check on the friend if she comes to yours. Excellent suggestions about the mutual lice checks at each house, you could be missing some too.

  • Shannon

    February 8, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Also, no need to toss brushes and combs. Again, lice/nits need scalp blood to survive and can only live within a certain temp range. You can throw combs/brushes in the dishwasher (for extreme high heat) or put them in the freezer (extreme low heat) for 48 hours.

  • Sarah

    February 8, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I don’t know how old your daughter is, but it was one of the ten commandments in my house that we did not touch anyone else’s hair, hair things, brushes, combs, or hats, let alone put them near or on our heads, since pre-school at least. This was more strictly enforced than the no-hitting rule, honest to God.

  • Tom

    February 8, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    There is some really good info in the AAP link above. Specifically, I picked up this:
    Transmission in most cases occurs by direct contact with the head of an infested individual. Indirect spread through contact with personal belongings of an infested individual (combs, brushes, hats) is much less likely but may occur rarely.
    Lice found on combs are likely to be injured or dead, and a healthy louse is not likely to leave a healthy head unless there is a heavy infestation. This is further illustrated by 2 studies from Australia. In 1 study, examination of carpets on 118 classroom floors found no lice despite more than 14 000 live lice found on the heads of 466 children using these classrooms. In a second study, live lice were found on only  4% of pillowcases used by infested volunteers. Thus, the major focus of control activities should be to reduce the number of lice on the head and to lessen the risks of head-to-head contact.

  • wookie

    February 9, 2012 at 7:29 am

    The tone of the comment “Don’t be surprised if she admits to ‘nothing'” sort of stuck in my craw a bit, after my research on the topic of sprays.  My reading has steered me away from “lice repellent sprays” as well.  

    Through vaccuming (we vaccum the mattresses, car seats and under/behind the beds and couches), high-heat for the bedding, bag up all the stuffed animals for 3 weeks etc. totally, but the sprays are (from what I’ve read) pretty much useless.  We didn’t throw out our combs but I did boil all the combs and brushes and set one aside per kid to use for nit checks.

    Not meaning to contradict any of the advice, just throwing out what I learned in my 2 week battle.  

  • Lice Knowing You

    February 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    There is some serious misinformation in this blog. First of all, you do not ever need to throw anything away. Hairbrushes, combs and other accessories can be collected and put in a ziplock bag and stuck in your freezer for 3-4 hours. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, needs to be placed in garbage bags or quarantined. While lice can live off your head 24-48 hours, once they have been off a human host for longer than about 12 hours, they can no longer feed or lay eggs. Eggs or nuts will not hatch off the head. The most effective way to prevent lice is to perform weekly head live checks on your kids. We recommend wet head lice checks. We have a video on our website which teaches you how to do a wet check. If you get Luce, remember that 99% off the issue is on your head and only a small amount is required environmentally.

  • Lice Knowing You

    February 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    Auto correct is frustrating– nits not nuts, lice not live or Luce (:

  • the mom

    February 10, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Thanks for the great advice – I hope I can use all of this info to help my daughter and her friend finally end this awful cycle.

  • Tracy

    February 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Good luck – please let us know what happens!

  • Jenny

    February 13, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Tea tree oil. My friend who is a foster mom always puts a little tea tree oil on the scalp and massages it. You can literally see the lice jump from the head, they hate it so much. 

  • ann

    February 16, 2012 at 12:59 am

    I found the following much easier to deal with:

    put hairbrushes/combs in the freezer after each use. only use them on the person in the family with lice.sometimes i even put stuffed animals in the freezer if it was with my child at night who has lice. if you have a big standing freezer you can fit bedding in it.

    instead of washing everything……the lice can only live so long if they don’t have food………have the person with lice sleep in a different place each night. there own bed. the floor on a sleeping bag the next night. the floor in the living room the next night with a sleeping bag. use a different pillow case each night. it works and you don’t have to go crazy. comb the persons hair everynight and pic the nits out. great time to have conversation….really it is.

  • Carol

    March 11, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Lice is not as bad as everyone thinks. Lice cannot infest your house just your head. People are spending too much energy cleaning when they should be combing. If a louse came off your head it would be dead in 24 hours. All you need to do in your house is the following:  wash sheets and pillowcases (not pillows!), stuffed animals that are slept with can go in the dryer for 30 minutes. Vacuum upholstery and floors, Boil any brushes and combs for 5 minutes. This all needs to be done on the first day, That’s it! Concentrate on using a non-toxic treatment with a good metal nit comb. If you need help, please call us at 866-561-0492.

    • ??

      January 2, 2015 at 10:08 pm

      putting tea tree oil directly on skin is not good, it can burn. it’s better to put a little into shampoo in between treatments