We’re Talking to Our Kids About Head Lice All Wrong

HairThe letter arrived from school last week. “A case of head lice was reported in your child’s classroom.”

I immediately started to scratch at my head, as one does when two of the most terrifying words in the English language are dropped on parents (I’ll pause to allow you to remove your fingers from your scalp. My advice? Put them beneath your bum to hold them in place; as those will be repeated a few more times in the following paragraphs).

The good news? It was not my child. The bad news? Well, there was head lice in my daughter’s classroom.

I immediately went into defense mode, advising my daughter her hair was to be tied back in a tight braid every day moving forward, and despite the distasteful smell of the anti-lice conditioner, she was to use it nightly.

All I could think about was keeping the scourge out of my house because that is what you do when you’re a parent. You protect your own from whatever threat presents itself – be it bullies, bad guys, or teeny, tiny, insidious bugs.

But in the inevitable head-scratching reaction to lice, it behooves us as parents to remember what message it is we’re sending our kids.

Shortly after handing the letter over to me and my immediate freak out, my child came back and confessed that she thought she knew who was to “blame” for the letter, a child we’ll call Phoebe (name made up to protect the innocent). The child had been sent home early the same day the letters were distributed, a pretty direct clue to the rest of the kids in the class that Phoebe had head lice (keep those hands down).

In that moment, I realized what it is that some schools have taken to keeping kids in class for the rest of the day after lice are discovered. Because to send them home can put a target on their backs, and one that’s completely unwarranted.

As I told my daughter after her confession, lice are not a child’s fault. They don’t mean the child is bad or even dirty. I reminded her that a friend’s daughter was infected just a year ago, despite living and attending school in a tony suburb of Manhattan, despite having parents who could afford to blow nearly $700 on taking the whole family to a special “lice salon” to be treated (yes, really …).

My point? Any kid can get lice – even you, my dear child (heaven help me) – so judge not lest ye be judged.

A few days later, my daughter came home with yet another confession. She’d been right on the money. The child in question had asked my child if she could be trusted, and when my daughter said yes, “Phoebe” confessed.

The mother in me was relieved that my child is the type who kids in uncomfortable positions would turn to; it means the lessons about being kind and not bullying have sunk in. But it only cemented the feeling of unease that sprung up in me earlier in the week as I tried to tamp down my discomfort in favor of an open discussion about discrimination and the need to keep an open mind.

No parent is ever going to welcome a lice outbreak at their kid’s school, and as a mother, I can’t help but support the schools (like my daughter’s) that send kids home in order to protect other kids from the ordeal that is being deloused.

I’m hardly advocating for more lice here.

I would, however, like to remind every parent of one simple thing: the next time that lice letter comes home, imagine how you’d want parents to talk if it was YOUR kid who was patient zero.

THEN talk to your kids.


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  1. Good post, Jeanne. Teaching compassion and empathy, even in cases of Lice, is a good thing. We try to be a little proactive (hair short for my sons, I try to pull my daughter’s hair back), but I am sure it will happen at least once. I’ll make sure my kids don’t ever shame anyone over it.

  2. shelly peterson says:

    Great lessons you are teaching your daughter! Good for you! I remember those head lice days when my girls were little. They got it a couple times but thankfully it was always treated immediately and they were never sent home for it. I’m sure it is embarrassing for a child having kids at school know of this.

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