Head Lice: Do You Ask? Do You Tell?

So you have head lice?  Who have you told?  (Besides me.)  In so many of the emails I receive, people say, “I don’t know what I will do if my (insert close relative or regular acquaintance) found out!!”  In my own home, there is no stigma around having head lice.  My children have never been grossed out about it, even in those times where they have had it.  We respect the bug but we know that it is no match for us. So, talking about head lice with the people we know – friends, family, co-workers, teachers – is a non issue. I would love a world where everyone can be so comfortable with this issue; most of the time and energy wasted on the problem of head lice is due to misinformation and paranoia. Because I am familiar with what head lice are (and are not) I think everyone should just talk about it freely.  

But it isn’t that easy.  I get messages from teenagers who say that their parents would ruin their lives if they found out.  I hear from parents of children who will be cut off from seeing people they love if their head lice is discovered. This issue can bring blaming and fighting and stress.  People’s lives are often restricted or tormented because of the head louse. The tiny louse can bring a huge tension into the home that can have very real consequences. 

So, who have you told?  Who will you tell?  I usually encourage people to tell everyone about their head lice because we will not end the stigma of head lice unless people get comfortable talking about it. And of course, this is still what I think is best.  Ramit Sethi said, “Success in life is directly proportional to the number of awkward conversations you are willing to have.”  I know it can be difficult and embarrassing to start the awkward conversation about head lice.  But once it is started, I believe you will find people are more understanding and helpful than we often expect they will be.

Unless they aren’t. There are things in life that are so much worse than head lice.  Panic. Isolation. Fighting.  Abuse.  If the people in your circle are going to be hurtful to you because of head lice, then I understand why you might want to keep your head lice a secret. It is such a polarizing issue. I have met some people – mostly people who have never had head lice before – who feel that there is some moral obligation for people to disclose if they have head lice.  As if going to work when you have head lice or sending a child to school who has head lice is seen as the most irresponsible act imaginable - the equivalent of going into public with the plague. It is so sad to me that with all the horrible things in this world, people still get ostracized or bullied because of lice.

Because of this, though I would prefer that everyone talk openly about their head lice, I don’t think they should absolutely have to or should be forced to.  Who you talk to about your head lice is your personal choice.  If you discover that your child has head lice, do you have to tell the teacher or the parents of the other children?  Do you have to tell your roommates or your family members?  That is a question you must answer for yourself.    Whatever you do, I hope you can find at least one person who you can confide in about your head lice. I’d say email me, but the reality is, by the time I respond to your email, your louse problem might have already come and gone.  If you can think of one person in your life who is open, caring, non-judgmental, and isn’t grossed out by bugs, maybe that’s the person you should reach out to. Test the waters by asking, “Have you ever had head lice?” Their response, and the panic or lack of panic that goes with it, might inform you about how they might take your news.  And everyone will take the news better if you can demonstrate that you actually know something about this problem and are taking steps to beat it – get informed by reading the posts on this blog and check out the research links.

And if someone discloses to you that they have head lice, follow the golden rule.  Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Kindness is the best lice treatment that there is.


The Enstads said...

Thank you so much for your website. Although I was a teacher for eight years, the fear of my daughter getting head lice as a kindergartener makes me panic sometimes! There are four kids in her class that have it right now so I have been wet combing each day. I just came across your website and what a blessing it is and it had put me at ease. Thank you so much.

Unknown said...

I would take preventative measures such as tea tree oil in her shampoo and putting her hair up and spray with hair spray before going to school.

Unknown said...

I would take preventative measures such as tea tree oil in her shampoo and putting her hair up and spray with hair spray before going to school.

Haley Hansen said...


Can you please share this, we are trying to get signatures to get the no nit policy back to our schools. Our school system has had outbreaks since school started and the school does nothing!


Cathy, the Nice Lice Lady. said...

Sorry, Haley, but I DO NOT endorse no-nit policies as they give parents a false sense of security which I think can actually increase the problem in our schools. Research has been done on these policies and they are simply not effective in the fight against head lice. Before the nits are even noticed, most people have had head lice for 3 months or so and have already been spreading head lice. On the other hand, having a nit does not mean that a person has an active case of head lice. I have been to homes where nits were present but they were old and inactive - there were no lice on the head.

I think no-nit policies can often cause harm. Besides ostracizing children amongst their peers, these policies can cause serious problems for parents. I remember a call I received from one parent whose daughter was not allowed to return to daycare because they thought they saw a nit. Because the mother did not have daycare, she had to call in sick to work and they fired her. I worked with another family whose child was sent home from school because they thought they saw a nit; they sent her home in the middle of the day and her parents were not home so she sat outside of her locked house in the winter. In both these situations, the unnecessary panic of head lice led to some bad choices that had consequences far worse than head lice.

Also, if a school has a no-nit policy, when can the child return to school? Who decides that? Some schools say that a child can return to school when they have had a lice "shampoo". But most of these pesticide based treatments have become ineffective and children return to school with an active case of head lice. Also, studies have shown that many professionals, even doctors, misdiagnose head lice. I have heard stories of school secretaries having to be the school gatekeepers when it comes to checking the children for lice and why should these often inexperienced and misinformed people have the power to refuse our children's education?

I truly, truly understand your frustration with this issue. However, though lice are an inconvenience, they are not a public health issue. And lice can be dealt with easily - even if other parents are not diligent in addressing this problem with their children, you can be diligent in addressing this problem with your children. By diligent, I do not mean doing any extra cleaning or laundry - that's just a waste of energy. The best thing you as a parent can do is to do weekly lice checks (via a quick wet combing) with your children. That way, if your children do have head lice, you will catch it before it even becomes an issue. Early detection is the best prevention.

Unknown said...

Hello, is there a way to privately email you?