Coping With Head Lice

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Finding head lice can often lead to anxiety and worry, and—if it's your child that's affected—maybe even guilt. You can take steps to cope with these emotions and make treatment as non-stressful as possible for your family while doing all you can to keep lice from spreading. Explore positive ways to get through this episode.

Head Lice Life Cycle

Verywell / Emily Roberts


While some people may take the news of lice in stride, others may become anxious or upset by it. Many parents may also experience feelings of guilt that they may not have done enough to protect their child or that they did something wrong to cause the problem.

It's important to remember that ​anyone can get lice. All it takes is head-to-head (or hair-to-hair) contact with someone who has it.​

While feeling this way is quite natural, it may negatively influence the situation. For instance, panic can cause you to fail to follow treatment manufacturers’ instructions and over-treat, which can lead to serious medical problems in children. Moreover, parents who are feeling stressed about the lice infestation may worsen any anxiety their children may already have about having lice.

How to Handle Your Own Anxiety

These tips may help:

  • Get the facts. 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. In particular, know that head lice are very common, especially among school-age children. And although they may take some time and effort to get rid of, they are not known to carry disease. If you are against the use of medicated treatment products, there are alternatives you can consider.
  • 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

Helping your child understand the problem can help reduce any worries they may have about it. Don't assume that young children cannot understand the facts about lice. Simply work to explain what's going on in basic terms.

Here are some suggestions for doing just that:

  • 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.
  • 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.


No matter which treatment method you use, combing and nit picking is necessary. When treating kids, make time spent doing this 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 this part of bath time so that it’s an extension of a routine you already have.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against shaving a child's head due to lice as it is not necessary and can be "traumatizing to a child and distressing to the parent."

If you opt for a shorter hairstyle to make combing and checking for nits easier, present this in a positive way and make it a stylish choice.

If lice have been spreading at your child's school or within your family, you can instill new habits to prevent head-to-head contact. Discuss ways she may have contact and explore alternatives. If playful head bumps, napping with head contact, or games that have head contact are common, you may suggest alternatives. Also discuss not sharing combs, brushes, barrettes, hair ribbons, and hats.

You don't have to undertake exhaustive cleaning measures of your home or fumigation if a family member has lice. You can machine wash and dry (hot water and high dryer temperature) any items that have been in contact with the head of the person with the infestation. Vacuum furniture, carpeting, and fabric-covered items that can't be machine washed. Clean any hair care items in hot water.

If there is anything that you are still worried about, you can bag it in a plastic bag for two weeks. That is sufficient time for any eggs to have hatched and died and the item will be safe. If a beloved stuffed animal is taken away for this purpose, present this in a loving and positive way to a child, as it may initially be distressing.


Despite efforts to educate people about how head lice is transmitted and who gets it, 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.

Sometimes this stigma fuels a code of silence about head lice. However, you or your child got lice from someone else. Spreading between children is common, but it's possible for adults too, so you should review ways you or your child may have had head-to-head contact and alert those involved to screen for lice.

It is ultimately in your best interest to inform the school nurse or daycare administrator if you detect lice on your child. While you may treat it effectively, you or your child will get infested again if lice continue to spread. Alert the parents involved if your child has had a sleepover. Work together toward eliminating the spread of lice. Discuss how to screen family members so those who need treatment can start it.

You may want to take positive steps to help reduce the opportunities for lice to spread.

Observe and ask other parents to watch what is happening during playtime, sports, and during sleepovers. Explore ways to reduce head-to-head contact and sharing of hair care items and headgear.


Your school, daycare, or business may have a policy on head lice. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Association of School Nurses both advise that students should be allowed to return to school once they've begun treatment for lice.

However, some schools have a "no nit" policy and your child won't be allowed to return until he is clear of both live lice and nits. You may want to advocate for a revision of the policy based on the recommendations of those two organizations.

These rules and guidelines may apply to adult staff and volunteers as well. If you have lice, you should return to work and social activities after you have begun treatment unless there is a no nit policy in force.

If you can't get a change or exception to a no nit policy, you will need to arrange child care or stay home from work in the interim. This can be a challenge for a family. Diligent wet-combing and checking is the best thing you can do to get back to your normal routine as quickly as possible. While only nits near the scalp should be of concern, it will be reassuring if you are able to remove all of the nits.

Remember that it can take time to fully resolve an infestation—and try not to be discouraged while you wait.

Talk to your family doctor or pediatrician about the steps you are taking and ask if there are better methods to try. Some communities are seeing lice that are resistant to some forms of treatment, so there may be a better choice than the one you are using.

Head Lice Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Child

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can head lice survive on pillows?

    Not for long. They need to be on a living being in order to feed, so they'll die within a day or two if they're not on a person's head. The same is true of nits (head lice eggs), which won't hatch unless they're kept at the same temperature as the human scalp. Even so, it's advisable to wash and dry bedding and clothing used by someone with lice.

  • Can a head lice infestation clear up without treatment?

    It's unlikely. The life cycle of head lice has three stages—nit, nymph, and adult—that will repeat over and over every three weeks for as long as the adults have a steady source of blood to feed on. Destroying the nymphs and adults and removing nits is the only way to break the cycle and get rid of head lice for good.

  • What should I not do when treating my child's head lice?

    The medications that kill lice are pesticides, so it's important to use them with care. When treating a very young child for head lice, do not:

    • Leave them alone with medication on their head
    • Cover their head with a plastic bag, as it could pose a safety hazard
    • Rinse off the medication in the shower—do it over a sink so the medication can't run into their eyes or get on their skin
    • Use a hair dryer around lice medications, as they're flammable
11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006.

  2. Devore CD, Schutze GE. Head lice. Pediatrics. 2015;135(5):e1355-65.

  3. Sangaré AK, Doumbo OK, Raoult D. Management and Treatment of Human LiceBiomed Res Int. 2016;2016:8962685. doi:10.1155/2016/8962685

  4. Dawes M. Combing and combating head lice. BMJ. 2005;331(7513):362-3.

  5. Lwegaba A. Shaving can be safer head lice treatment than insecticidesBMJ. 2005;330(7506):1510. doi:10.1136/bmj.330.7506.1510-c

  6. Pearlman DL. A simple treatment for head lice: dry-on, suffocation-based pediculicide. Pediatrics. 2004;114(3):e275-9.

  7. Schoessler SZ. Treating and managing head lice: the school nurse perspective. Am J Manag Care. 2004;10(9 Suppl):S273-6.

  8. Sciscione P, Krause-parello CA. No-nit policies in schools: time for change. J Sch Nurs. 2007;23(1):13-20.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites. Lice. Treatment.

  10. American Academy of Pediatrics. Head lice: What parents need to know.

  11. KidsHealth from Nemours. Head lice.

Additional Reading
  • Head Lice. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Devore CD, Schutze GE. Head LicePediatrics. 2015;135(5).  doi:10.1542/peds.2015-0746.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.