Easing Anxiety About Head Lice

How to reassure your child and yourself about head lice

head lice inspection
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Your school may have contacted you with the news that your child has been diagnosed with head lice. Or perhaps you made the discovery yourself during a routine spot check of your child’s hair with a lice comb (which is a great way to catch an infestation early and stop it in its tracks). However, the discovery is made, finding out that their child has head lice can often lead to a myriad of unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, worry, and even guilt for many parents.

While some parents may take the news that their child has lice in stride, others may become anxious or upset. (The distress is completely understandable; after all, head lice are parasites that are essentially feeding on your child’s blood.) Many parents may also experience feelings of guilt that they may not have done enough -- or did something wrong -- to cause the problem.

But the reality is that your anxiety won’t solve the problem, and may, in fact, make things worse. For instance, parents who panic may fail to follow manufacturers’ instructions and resort to overtreatment, which can lead to serious medical problems in children. Moreover, parents who are feeling stressed about the lice infestation may worsen any anxiety their child may already be feeling about having lice.

In short, when it comes to handling head lice, parents should adhere to that old adage about helping yourself before you can help your child.

When you put the lice problem in perspective and get the facts, you can stay calm and make clear-headed decisions about how to tackle the problem.

How to Handle Your Own Anxiety

Control and contain your own worries. Your anxiety may make your child upset. A child may already be distressed about having lice living in her hair.

Seeing your anxiety may make her more upset than she already is.

Get the facts. Head lice are not known to carry disease. They may take some time and effort to get rid of. There are alternatives to medicated products if you do not want to use those products in your child’s hair. And head lice are very common, especially among school-age children. Knowing the facts about lice can help you feel more in control and understand how to handle the problem, which can greatly help reduce your stress about the situation.

Try not to overreact. Panic and anxiety are common reactions parents may have to the news that their child has head lice. But it’s important to remember that panicking can often lead to bad or even dangerous decisions such as using a medication or other remedy in an unsafe manner (by using too much or not following directions, for instance).

Shun the Stigma. Despite efforts to educate people about how head lice is transmitted and who gets head lice (anyone who comes into head-to-head contact with someone who has head lice or shares a personal item such as a comb or bedding with someone who has head lice), the fact is that there are still many myths and misunderstandings about head lice.

If you encounter someone who seems to be under the impression that head lice are caused by poor hygiene or that lice can jump from one person to another, steer them toward the real facts about lice.

Cut yourself some slack for feeling anxious. Often, we know the medical facts but still feel anxious about something. This is perfectly normal, especially for parents who are dealing with their child’s discomfort.

Breathe. Something as simple as deep breathing can be a great stress-reliever. Also, try finding a yoga class or video to help yourself feel calmer and more centered. Try similar relaxation techniques for children to help relieve your child's stress.

How to Help Your Child Relax

Help your child understand the problem. Don't assume that young children cannot understand the facts about lice. Give them the basics so that they know exactly what is going on in their hair. Some facts you can convey:

  • Tell your child that head lice are common and that many children and their families have this problem.
  • Reassure her that she didn’t do anything wrong to get it.
  • Explain that the lice will go away and that you will make sure you keep checking her hair and treating the problem until it is gone.
  • Steer clear of some of the more unsettling details that may be distressing to a child, such as the fact that the lice are feeding on her blood.
  • Help your child understand that it may take patience and time to remove the lice, but that the problem will go away.

Make the combing time as fun as possible. Put on a favorite video or a new kids’ movie your child hasn’t yet seen to keep him occupied while you comb out the lice and nits. You can also make it part of bath time so that it’s an extension of a routine you already have.

Try some quick stress relievers for kids to help your child relax. Some breathing and relaxation exercises, massage, and even playing a game together can do wonders to relieve kids' stress and tension.