Tears And Fears: Grandparents’ Guide To Dye-Sensitive Grandkids

Happy new year to all you parents, grandparents, caregivers, and teachers!  Spending the holidays out west with my parents was such a wonderful and eye-opening experience for this little dye-free family.  I wanted to share some things that I’ve learned from our child’s grandparents near and far, in hopes that this will help other “Grands” out there who are bedeviled by this whole food dye allergy thing.

First off, I want to share the honest perspective of one grandparent on her granddaughter’s past and present behavior – before and after becoming dye-free.  After her story I provide a short list of hopefully helpful tips to get any grandparent off on the right foot for the next babysitting gig or family gathering.  Please feel free to forward this along to your own parents, babysitters, and relatives…I’m sure there are lots of Grands out there who can relate to something in here…

“I was very concerned that I would not be able to share a meaningful relationship with my grandchild because of her tendency to go into overwhelm.

Donna, mother of five children and “Nonna” to one dye-sensitive grandchild, wrote:  “That makes me think back to one of the first times I babysat.  She was about two years old.  The typical evening started when I came over at 6pm, in time to watch her have dinner, get her bath, dance a bit and then she would have story time.  That is usually when Mom and Dad would leave and she and I would read more bedtime stories until she went to sleep, or so it was supposed to go.”

On one particular night, nothing pleased her.  She must have had to go potty four or five times.  In between each potty break, she was thirsty.  It began with her not wanting to lie still and listen to the stories I read.  Once I finished reading, left the room and closed the door…the fireworks began.  After her last extended potty sit-in, I finally got her back in to bed and closed the door.  When she said she had to go potty again, I said, “No”, helped her back to bed,  from which she instantly jumped back up, while screaming she had to go potty, and, “I want my Mommy!”

For the next two hours she screamed and kicked the bedroom door for long spells and without much rest in between.

I felt like a terrible grandparent!  I thought I should have handled it differently but could not think of any other options…she was out of control.  I had fear that this was going to set a precedent for our future times together.  I felt like my chance to bond with her and be her loving grandmother was in jeopardy.

That was the only incident of that nature that happened during my babysitting visits.  What became equally frustrating behavior later on, was witnessing my granddaughter being belligerent and sometimes physical with her Mom.  She would kick and yell at Mom while Mom, though clearly challenged, patiently handled the overwhelm.

The last incident was probably the worst.  It happened at our 4th of July party.  We had about two hundred guests around the pool and patio.  A live band was playing, as I greeted guests and made sure everyone was taken care of.  Suddenly, above all of the noise, I could hear my grandchild’s screams.  She was in the pool with her Mom, in a complete state of emotional overwhelm.  Nothing would soothe her.  It was a scene that every parent dreads and is most certainly challenged by: “How do I control this child who is out of control?”

The challenge for me has been to witness this situation, feel helpless to do anything while seeing the pain all three of them were going through.  From a selfish point of view, I was very concerned that I would not be able to share a meaningful relationship with my grandchild because of her tendency to go into overwhelm.

Since her diet has changed, I have observed a difference in her behavior that is totally opposite to what it was before.  She is calm.  Her emotions do not seem to be at the surface of every interaction, ready to explode.  She is happier and more conversational.  Her personality is witty and I enjoy witnessing her enthusiastic participation during our visits.”


Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.  Donna is describing my child, literally.  Donna is my child’s grandmother.  I am so lucky to have such an experienced, open-minded, supportive and knowledgeable mother-in-law.  Her own story about the early days of the Feingold diet will be featured here on the DFD blog soon.

As I mentioned before, we had a fantastic visit with my own parents this holiday season.  They hadn’t seen our daughter for about a year and a half, so there was a learning curve involved (just as there was with us).  My sweet, precious mom e-mailed me before the trip to ask about what foods she needed to have on hand.  I told her what we avoid, reassured her that her menu plan sounded great, and told her that I’d shop for anything else we needed at Whole Foods. 

There were candies and treats but no tantrums, no fights, and no major drama.  Success! (At least in our parental eyes it was successful…but perhaps the Grands were glad they didn’t have to witness our energetic child “under the influence” of dyes!)

I later learned from my brother, however, that my dear mom worried herself sick over the idea of feeding her grandchild the wrong thing.  So this post is dedicated to my parents, my husband’s parents, and all you Grands out there who either had no idea about dye sensitivities, or just need a little confidence booster.

And admittedly, I’ve added a pinch of snark for those rogue relatives who just. don’t. get it.  (This does NOT include my child’s grandparents.)

Grandparents’ Guide To Dye-Sensitive Grandkids:

Making sure your grandchild is fed the right things for him/her is the parent’s primary responsibility, not the grandparent’s.  Take a load off.  Mom and Dad know what to buy from experience, so let them shop.

Fight back any guilt from thoughts of how you raised your own adult kids.  You probably didn’t ruin them with food.  You won’t ruin your grandkids, either.

Have dye-free children’s medications on hand such as dye-free ibuprofen, acetaminophin, and diphenhydramine (Benadryl).

Beware of feeding your grandkids your diabetic and sugar-free foods and drinks.  Those sugar-free jellies, puddings, cookies, yogurts, ice creams, and candies are usually loaded with petroleum food coloring.  We found this out through experience…sugar-free dyed pudding = Crazies.

Avoid these additives on food labels:  Any color name followed by a number such as Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2, and Green 3, to name a few.  Food coloring will usually show up at the end of the ingredients list.  Avoid preservatives like sodium benzoate, BHA, BHT, and TBHQ.  Skip the  “artificial flavors” like “Vanillin”, and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), too.  Many times it’s easy to avoid these by just buying organic stuff.

You can find a printable list of food additives to avoid here to make shopping easier (also looks good when bookmarked on your smartphone).  I give more detailed information about food coloring in Colorful Language: How To Identify Petroleum Colors In Food.  And here is a simple list of fascinating food coloring facts that I posted on my friend Megan’s SortaCrunchy web site.

Ask questions:  If you’re unsure of a food or beverage, just ask the parents, restaurant servers, grocery store managers, or the child’s doctor.  I regularly have servers bring me cartons from storage and freezers so that I can inspect the ingredients list personally.  As my 7-year old says, “It’s pretty easy to find the food colors nowadays!”  If she can do it, so can you.

Don’t cheat.  Ever.  For anyone who subscribes to the “Just a little won’t hurt” or the Depression-era  “you’re lucky to have any food” schools of thought on food coloring, I propose your punishment to be a 2-3 day babysitting stint with no Life Line or Phone A Friend options.  And Mom and Dad’s cell phones will be turned off, sorry!  But seriously, some parents report life-threatening reactions to dyes such as seizures, breathing problems, and hypoglycemia.  It’s just not worth it.

You can still spoil your grandbabies with dye-free treats and baking supplies from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, local health food stores, chain store organic brands, IndieCandy.com, NaturalCandyStore.com, and Amazon.com.  Ask Mom and Dad for the names of their favorite brands.

During longer visits, you can gain insight into your grandchild’s behavior by keeping a simple Food Mood log…just a list of what they ate each day and notes about behavior after meals.

If your grandchild accidentally ingests food coloring, have the child drink loads of water.  If you give medicine such as Benadryl for allergic reactions, please ensure it is dye-free. Disclaimer:  There is no guarantee that these methods are effective for every child, so if your grandchild is suffering from severe allergic reactions, please call a doctor right away.

If a dye incident happens, don’t feel bad, and don’t take it as a personal failure.  It happens to the parents of dye-sensitive kids all the time.  Be sure to tell Mom and Dad, because some symptoms show up hours later.

Even though all the new information about dietary restrictions can be overwhelming, do not waste a minute worrying. Enjoy your time together.

Share this post and the other information from the DFD blog with all of your friends who are parents and grandparents.  So many parents aren’t aware of the effects of food coloring, so it’s likely that other grandparents don’t know either.

Lastly…“Keep calm and carry on.”

P.S. Dear Mom (Grandma A.):  Your granddaughter proudly says “My grandparents look out for me.  And for their daughter.”  Thanks for caring enough to ask questions, and for all that you do!  xoxo

 “It could change the world!” – Grandpa Joe, Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory


Do you have any more tips and tricks to tell grandparents about?  Please share them in a comment below!


3 Responses to “Tears And Fears: Grandparents’ Guide To Dye-Sensitive Grandkids”
  1. Nonna says:

    I would like to add that punishing a child for bad behavior when the chemistry in their little body and brain is making them go NUTZZ! is not the solution. Most of my generation grew up with spankings and we spanked our kids for bad behavior. (If we only knew then what we know now, right?) So, some of us think that all a child needs is a swat on the butt and that will cure everything. Don’t! It won’t change the fact that there is a chemical reaction going on that is causing the bad behavior. Be patient. Take a deep breath. Don’t take the bad behavior personally. Give your grandchild the space they need while staying close enough to protect and help them, if needed. It will pass and the two of you can talk about it later. Be sure to share everything you have learned here with your children, your grandchildren and your extended family. Nonna-Donna

  2. Amy says:

    I suggest leaving your kid with grandparents (just once) for a LONG weekend…3 full days, if possible. This was the ONLY way for my inlaws to true experience and believe that dyes were the problem. Otherwise they’d blame it on an event that happened on the way there or something we did to upset our child, etc. It wasn’t until they were in control for a few days that they realized that my son was behaving badly because of chemicals, not because of something we did as parents.

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