It’s the itch every parent dreads. The moment your kid comes home from school with their fingers in their hair, you know it’s over.
Sheets will need to be washed, hair treated and the awful lice-comb pulled out.
Aussie mum-of-seven Em Ward, is so fed up with the lice routine that she’s come up with a genius hack to ensure her five, long-haired daughters wouldn’t spread the bugs between them.
For just $20, she picked up five plastic tubs and five hairbrushes, and labelled and isolated each of them so her girls wouldn’t use the wrong one.
Other mums responding to the hack also suggested braiding long hair and applying a preventative spray of tea tree and lavender oil every morning.
“I needed to find a better way,” Em tells Be, “my thought is that if no-one shares brushes/hairbands etc, this will reduce the impact in our home.”
Along with her five daughters, Em and her husband also have twin boys, so putting in place measures to decrease the likelihood of lice spreading, is much better than having to treat the entire family.
“We are a family of nine, when nits are discovered, the process is of epic proportions!” she says – and she isn’t wrong.
First up, everyone's bedding is stripped – that includes mattress protectors, cloud bases, pillows and duvets – and it’s chucked into their 10kg washing machine long with their stuffed toys, throw rugs and dressing gowns.
“A load of sheets (five sets of bedding) takes an hour and a half, then it is on to the next load, drying the first load etc,” she explains, “All up there is anywhere between five to nine loads of washing to do - depending if it's summer (less bedding) or winter (blankets galore).”
Next comes the vacuuming with the family’s industrial carpet shampoo and vacuuming machine, “the whole house top to bottom, mattresses, school bags, beanbags - any material surface,” she says.
The bathroom needs to be cleansed too, with all towels and mats going straight to the wash, while hair bands are binned and brushes disinfected in boiling water.
When it comes to getting the kids lice-free, Em says, “everyone lines up in the bathroom for hubby and I to apply the treatment to their hair, section by section, child by child.”
“These treatments can be for 10 minutes to overnight. Although I avoid overnight treatments as this affects the bedding situation - and I can't sleep thinking there are nits crawling in my kid’s hair.
“Once the treatment is washed out, it's combing time! Again, section by section, child by child.”
Both Em and her husband work full time, and are understandably fed up with the extra work a lice-infested child at school causes for their family.
“When we get home from work, we are helping our kids with homework/assessment tasks – I’m studying at university myself now too - so preventable situations like these are such an enormous interruption to our family and the things we want to be doing/achieving in life,” she says.
“Moreover, if nits are found in the morning of a school day, they miss out on school because I keep them home to treat them, which means I have to also miss work that day too!
“This means my workload goes up the next day.”
There’s also the financial cost that comes along with it. With seven heads to treat and bottles of special shampoo costing approximately $15 each, it works out at a minimum of $75 just at the chemist each time.
That doesn’t take into account the electricity and water costs of all the laundry, and showers needed.
But what frustrates Em most is the lack of preventative measures taken at school.
“The school my children attend are saying that they cannot single out kids, so they are allowed to be at school with nits,” she explains.
“This is so outrageously unfair. I do not want a single child to be named or shamed, I want the school to act appropriately by calling the parent of the child to come and collect their child/children and treat the issue before they return to school.
“Make it a top-secret mission, that’s great, just get the mission done so everyone else doesn't have to suffer!”
Em has also set up a Change.org petition hoping to convince other parents to keep their kids at home when they have lice, so as not to promote the spread.
According to the Department of Education in NSW – where Em and her family live – schools only need to send letters home to parents when they believe there’s an infestation in a class or across the whole school.
“Advice from NSW Health indicates that there is no need for students to be sent home or excluded from school because of head lice,” their website states.
Meanwhile in Victoria, it’s recommended that schools ‘exclude infected students until the day after treatment has commenced’.
You can support Em's nits-free schools petition here.
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