Some things are fun to share during the winter: turns on the sled, cups of cocoa, big blankets on the sofa, warm hugs. Other things, I could do without — and one of them is lice. As a teacher and a mom, I've seen more than my share of the little critters, and almost all of the cases occurred during the cold-weather months. So there's a lot that teachers want parents to know about lice, now that school is back in session.
It may make your head itch just to read this, but lice are almost as common as colds among the school-aged set. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated six to 12 million kids between the ages of three and 11 are infested every year; that's a lot of lousy heads. So it pays to know the basic facts: Lice spread when adult bugs crawl (they don't hop or fly) from head to head, where they lay eggs close to the hairline. The young lice, called nymphs, emerge, feed on blood from the scalp, and grow into adults in about one to two weeks. The eggs, or nits, can look like dandruff, but they don't brush off the way skin flakes do. Adult lice live about 28 days, laying about 10 eggs per day, explained the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). So it's easy to see how big of a problem they can be if not treated promptly.
Lice have no dormant period, so they're active all year long; however, winter and summer are both popular times for infestations because children are in close contact during school and summer camp. We teachers always pray to get through a semester without a lice outbreak, but our prayers aren't always answered. Here's what we hope you'll keep in mind during the cold-weather lice season.
1. Anyone Can Get Them
"My kids will never..." No.
"We're so clean..." No.
"It only happens to those people..." No.
Lice don't discriminate. Outbreaks are just as likely to happen in elite private academies as in inner-city public schools, affirmed USA Today. With such a high incidence across the country, the odds are pretty good that even your child will be affected at some point. Oh, yeah, and lice don't prefer dirty heads to clean ones, according to Lice Clinics of America. So if it happens to your child or to one of their classmates, don't get bogged down in guilt or judgment. Hey, if a celebrity's kids can get head lice, so can yours.
2. It's Not Our Fault
When the lice notice comes home from school, please don't start blaming the teachers. There's only so much we can do to prevent an outbreak. In a crowded classroom, we can't keep best friends from huddling next to each other. Head-to-head contact is the most common means of infestation, per the CDC, and in the winter, that's hard to avoid. If teachers devoted all their time to separating everyone's coats and hats and keeping their students at arm's length from one another, there'd be no time for trivial things like reading and long division.
Yes, of course your child can pick up lice from a classmate. But kids can just as easily pick up lice from siblings who were exposed to the bugs in their own schools. Lice aren't bananas with stickers showing their place of origin. And a child can have lice for a month or more before anyone detects it, according to the AAP. Rather than obsessing over where your child got the bugs, focus on treatment so no one else has to deal with them.
3. Know Your School's Health Policies
Once upon a time, children were sent home for days if so much as a hint of a louse was found. Today, schools are becoming more chill, thanks to the most current recommendations from the AAP. Because only adult lice (not the nits or nymphs) are transmittable from person to person, many facilities have a "no live lice" policy, meaning that children are only sent home if live bugs are seen, explained the Lice Doctors lice-removal service. Other schools have a stricter "no-nit" rule, sending kids home just for having eggs in their hair. Even then, a school nurse who sees just a nit or two might opt to pick them out and send the child back to class.
Medical professionals agree that missing days of school is much more inconvenient for a child than the relatively low risk of passing on head lice to classmates. Still, knowing what your own kids' school rules are will help you determine how likely it is you'll have to leave work for a louse sighting.
4. Be Honest With Your Child's Teacher
If you *shudder* find lice in your child's hair at home, please don't be embarrassed to let their teacher know. It gives teachers the opportunity to take precautions such as vacuuming classroom rugs and washing dress-up clothes. We'd rather be informed than stay in the dark and suddenly have to deal with an entire classroom of kids scratching their heads.
5. Don't Ask Us, "Who Else Has It?"
Some parents ask teachers to blab the names of students who've been diagnosed with lice. Not only is that totally unethical, it's also nosy (would you want everyone to know about your child?) and serves no purpose. What would you have us do? Stick a scarlet L on every affected student? Um, no.
6. Call Your Pediatrician For Advice
Although many OTC lice treatments are available at drugstores, the National Association of School Nurses recommends speaking to your child's doctor first. Why? Pediatricians know things you may not, such as whether you live in an area known for "super lice," or lice that have become resistant to the pesticides found in the most popular treatment brands. In that case, a prescription medication may be a better bet — and you may not even need to do combing sessions.
7. Check Everyone In The House
If one of your children has lice, it's likely that someone else in the family does too. Rather than take chances with a re-infestation, take the extra time to examine everyone in the house (except the dog, because pets don't spread lice). Some families opt to use an OTC lice treatment on all the children (and, sometimes, the grownups), just as a precaution.
8. Don't Freak Out
It's hard not to get skeeved out by the thought of your kids having critters in their hair. And we know it's tedious having to change all the bed linens, vacuum the sofa cushions, and put the stuffed animals in plastic bags for a couple of days. But try to keep things in perspective. It's lice, not cancer. Teachers quickly learn to accept it as one of those unpleasant but unavoidable facts of life; if you can do the same, you'll survive the elementary-school years a lot more easily.
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