Why I don’t panic about ticks and my kids

It’s tick season again.

In fact, given the very mild winter we had, I’m not sure we were ever out of tick season. Certainly it is poised to be a very bad year of the creepy crawlers, given the lack of a good cold spell to help with die-back.

But do we let fear of ticks keep us inside? Nope. Not at all.

I don’t underestimate the prevalence of tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease. I live in one of the highest-risk areas of the state and I know lots of people who have been affected. I take the problem very seriously. But for me, the danger of staying inside is still far greater than the danger of ticks. So instead, I educated myself and we take precautions.

Here’s how.

We got to know our ticks.

There are up to fourteen species of ticks in Maine, but only two main ones to look out for: the deer tick and the dog tick. The good news is that they look really, really different. Deer ticks are the more significant concern, as they are the ones that carry Lyme disease. They are also, unfortunately, smaller. When I’ve seen a dog tick on my kids, I knew immediately it was a tick. Those tiny little deer ticks? More than once I have confused them with dirt. (“Come here, kiddo, you’ve got a speck of dirt on your AAAAUUUUGH.”)

I am not dirt.

I am not dirt.

We keep a chart on our fridge with clear pictures of the tick varieties and consult it regularly. I can’t remember where we got it from, but this one from the Department of Health and Human Services is very similar. Learn to tell the difference between deer ticks and dog ticks and you’ll know when to be worried and when to just be annoyed and vaguely grossed out.

We spend less time in tick-heavy environments.

Ticks are most often found in tall grass or leaf litter, so we tend to stick more towards the deep woods, the ocean, or lakes. Staying on trails while hiking can also help. Essentially, the more you brush against vegetation, the greater risk you take. Our woods have lots of oak and maple trees, so we keep the area around the house pretty well-raked. We also let our chickens free range around our yard when we can. (Experts differ on whether chickens eat ticks, but I fall into the “it certainly can’t hurt” camp.)

I won’t turn down the opportunity for a picnic in a meadow filled with wildflowers and tall grass, but if I take it you bet I’ll be wearing light-colored clothes and putting on some repellent.

We established a tick check protocol.

Our kids get a tick check every night when they get ready for bed. This doesn’t have to be a big deal. I just wait until they are changing into pajamas and then do a quick scan, making sure to check under armpits, behind ears, and other areas that are harder to see. My kids know that when I announce “tick check” they need to hold still and not roll their eyes.

If we’ve spent any significant time outdoors that day, especially in an area that’s more tick-friendly, I do a more thorough check. I find it significantly easier to do this after a bath. First, it cuts out the dirt-or-tick confusion and second, it’s much easier to look over the scalp when hair is wet. Just section off their hair, run a comb through each section, and keep a close eye out.

Ticks on hand

This is not my hand. These are not my ticks. (photo credit: RJN0000PC0024 via photopin [license])

I do occasionally find ticks,┬ábut because I check so regularly only once did one have enough time to get embedded. Thankfully, I identified it as the relatively harmless dog tick. I followed protocol and gently pulled it out with a pair of tweezers, made sure I hadn’t left any bits behind and dabbed some medicine on the spot. As I started to drop the tick into the waiting rubbing alcohol, my son stopped me.

“You can’t kill it!” he said. “It’s part of nature! It might be a female! It might LAY EGGS!”

I was unable to convince him that ticks were not the kind of nature we were intended to save, so I headed downstairs in defeat with him scolding me the whole time for attempting to kill the bug that I just pulled out of his neck and released it on the deck.

Kids, man.

Don’t worry. I went back and squished it after he went to bed.

Those bloodsuckers won’t bring me down.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.