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How do I get my three-year-old out of diapers? Add to ...

The question: I can’t get my three-year-old out of diapers. What can I do to successfully toilet train him once and for all?

The answer: Three is an appropriate age to try toilet training, provided the child shows signs of being ready.

Most developmental experts these days favour the so-called “child-centred” approach – as opposed to letting parental or cultural influences determine the timing. For example, if an in-law pressures a parent to toilet train a child or a preschool staffer wants to accelerate that process, it’s not advisable to pressure the child into doing it.

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To figure out when the time is right, look for signals from your child. These can include showing an interest in using the potty, verbally expressing the need to go and keeping a diaper dry for a few hours.

You’ve said your child is resistant to potty training; it’s okay to back off and try again in a few months. Start by using a potty, not a toilet, so the child can feel secure and stable. Many kids respond positively to praise, so keep the encouragement going, even for small progress.

Other things that may make a difference include allowing the child to watch parents on the toilet so they have something to imitate. Use positive vocabulary and avoid words such as “dirty” or “stinky,” which may make the child self-conscious

When the child moves on to the toilet later, make sure the seat is adapted to fit his size. Have a stool he can rest his feet on for support, so they’re not dangling in the air.

More guidance on toilet training can be found on the website of the Canadian Paediatric Society, cps.ca.

But keep in mind that a child who is not fully toilet trained at age 4 should see a doctor.

Send pediatrician Peter Nieman your questions at pediatrician@globeandmail.com. He will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Peter Nieman.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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