Calm The Hell Down: It's Just Lice

by Christine Burke
Originally Published: 
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Recently, I was at my daughter’s school and another mom came over to me, looked over her shoulder, and whispered conspiratorially, “OMG, did you hear?” Expecting to hear a juicy tidbit of PTA gossip, I leaned in and waited to hear what she had to say. She took a pregnant pause and said dramatically, “Little Suzy has lice!” and she shuddered as if she’d just announced that the principal had personally injected the entire student body with the Ebola virus. She was appalled when I shrugged my shoulders and said, “So?”

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As a nurse, I am constantly amazed by what people freak out about when it comes to kids. Considering the vast array of deadly childhood illnesses, lice (also known as pediculosis), falls pretty low on my panic list. Is it a nuisance to treat? Yes. Would I love it if my kid came home with it? No. Am I going to freak the hell out if my kid has nits? Definitely no. I’ll save the freak out for when the doctor tells me my kid is in actual harm’s way.

Nothing seems to incite an all out panic amongst moms like lice does. All it takes is one mom’s Facebook status (“Uh oh! Little Julie got the dreaded lice letter!”) to send moms screaming in the streets. Parents flood the nurse’s office at school with demands for head spot checks and calls to burn the classroom to the ground. Word spreads like wildfire and normally sane parents are rendered paralyzed with the fear that the nits are coming to eradicate their entire family.

Calm the hell down, people: It’s just lice, and it’s not a big deal.

Really, it’s not. I swear.

Because I often work in the school setting, I have the opportunity to educate parents about the hard facts regarding lice (read: talk panicked parents off the ledge). I have hugged hysterical moms and promised them that their entire family need not rock the Sinead O’Connor haircut. I have assured panicked parents that they do not need to re-carpet their second floor or buy new couches. I do let them use lice as an excuse to throw out stuffed animals though. We could all use less of those in our house, right?

I am always shocked by the misconceptions crawling around the school yard. For example:

1. Say it with me: LICE NITS DO NOT JUMP.

The nits don’t jump, I promise. They are not mini pole-vaulters taking a flying leap from head to head. They don’t have wings, cannot fly, and it would be a feat of physics for them to make it across the table to your kid’s head. The absolute only way a nit can make it to your head is if it is placed there via a vessel (hat, brush/comb, hair accessory, etc.). So, stop saying that you are worried that your kid has lice because another kid six classrooms down has lice. You sound ridiculous when you say that to the school nurse, just sayin’.

2. Lice cannot live without a human.

Nits don’t live in the grass, on animals, or on inanimate objects. They don’t materialize from the sky or spontaneously explode from hives. They survive on human blood only (OK, that’s a little gross, I’ll give you that). No human host means no feast for the nits — plain and simple. They won’t last long without a blood source so you can stop panicking that they’ve taken refuge in your kid’s stuffed animal collection or that one will crawl into your ear from your pillow. It’s pretty unlikely.

3. Lice is an equal opportunity offender.

This is the misconception that drives me batshit crazy. Anyone can get lice — anyone. Lice bugs do not seek out lower income families nor do they have the ability to determine skin color. Nothing frosts me more than when I hear a parent allude to a case of lice being caused by a “dirty” kid or a “poor family.” Lice are found in all socioeconomic areas, and no amount of money can buy you protection from nits. And also, lice are bipartisan too, though I wouldn’t mind if a few nits got into Donald Trump’s coif but I digress.

4. Mayonnaise doesn’t work so just stop it.

Without going into a lengthy technical discussion, suffice it to say that mayo and other condiments can stay on your sandwiches. Slathering your kid’s hair with mayo will only serve to make him smell like a ham sandwich, and though it will leave him with silky smooth, deeply conditioned hair, the nits will still be there. Do us all a favor and use the medicine your doctor prescribes and stop it with the condiments. Seriously. Just knock it off.

5. Schools don’t exclude for lice because it’s not contagious.

Most school districts do not exclude a child for having head lice. Parents are often stunned to hear that their special snowflake has to attend school with a child who has a case of head lice. Let’s review: Since nits don’t jump, aren’t contagious and do not impair cognitive function, there’s no need to sideline a kid. Parents should worry more about getting their kids flu shots and immunizations than a silly little case of head lice.

With the number of diseases that could actually kill or harm our kids, lice should be the least of our worries. Don’t panic if you get the dreaded Lice Letter: I’m sure you have a nurse friend like me who will talk you off the ledge — or at least pour you a glass of wine while you comb for nits.

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