Having both a toddler and preschooler in the house is never easy, but it has been particularly challenging for us lately. My little guy can be the sweetest boy ever lavishly giving out hugs and kisses to everyone, but he can also be quite aggressive pushing, hitting, and throwing objects at other children. Some days he is fine, but other days his behavior is completely uncontrollable. My daughter, on the other hand, can be touchy and emotional. If they are both having a bad day, then our days are filled with whining, screaming, and crying. Eliminating gluten from both their diets did dramatically reduce the number of bad days, but the bad days kept coming back.
After my son's most recent ear infection and round of antibiotics, I had an epiphany of sorts. Prior to the antibiotics, I was beginning to feel like we were making progress on his behavior issues, but the bad behavior returned with a vengeance even after the physical symptoms from the ear infection had dissipated. He returned to school, and his teacher had a terrible time keeping him from hurting others and calming him down when he became upset. After several days of racking my brain trying to figure out what was different with him, I began to wonder whether the antibiotics were playing a role since it was the only thing that I could think of that was different. I had read that artificial dyes are associated with hyperactivity, so I wondered in the dyes in the antibiotics could be the problem. We also had a particular bad day on a day when I made the kids Rice Crispy treats. Yep, you guessed it. Dyes again. The packaged marshmallows that I used had blue dye in them as well.
We decided to eliminate dyes from the kids diet for two weeks to see if we noticed a difference in their behavior. After only a couple of days, we saw a major difference in my son's behavior. He is still a bit rambunctious at times, but the unprovoked hitting and pushing quit completely. The relatively few instances of aggressive behavior since the diet change have been fairly normal instances of toddler frustration and tiredness. Plus, we noticed that he responds much better to gentle reminders and correction than he did before the change. On bad days in the past, redirection and time outs were completely ineffective. I found that I just had to limit his interaction with other children on bad days. While the changes in my daughter have not been as dramatic, her moods are becoming more stable with less weeping and fussing over minor issues.
In addition, we noticed that our daughter became extremely hyper after eating cheese. Other diary products did not have any effect though. After reading labels and searching for information on the ingredients, we discovered that some parents have found that their kids have a reaction to the "natural" annatto color commonly used in cheeses and other dairy products. After a recent incident with yellow cheese, my daughter was bouncing off the walls for several hours. Then she went through a period of weepiness where everything imaginable brought her to tears leading up to a fit of rage with screaming and repetitively kicking on her door because I asked her to pick up a few toys. The tirade finally ended with her in tears, shaking uncontrollably in my arms. Once she calmed down, she went back to her normal, mostly agreeable self.
Needless to say, my family's diet is now gluten, dye, and annatto free!