Balloon Boy Falcon Heene Hides 5 Hours, Like Tom Sawyer

"Remember [that] one of the most important words kids first learn as a sign of love is 'no,'" he said. "This applies to putting a fork in the light socket, pulling the cat's tail, stealing or lying. Parental limit setting is intrinsically stabilizing for the child. The hiding is way for the child to say, 'Come find me! I need you in my life!'"

Stress can also play a role in hiding, according to experts. On a national TV interview this morning, Falcon threw up while being interviewed -- perhaps a sign of stress.

"Children have a limited set of skills for coping with stressful events, especially events that are quite unique, as this one would appear to be," said Paul Miller, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Arizona State University, an expert on how children cope with stress.

"He is also old enough to know that his action of releasing the balloon, however inadvertent or accidental, was not something his parents would be happy about," Miller added.

Faced with not knowing what to do, children this age often use avoidance strategies that either get them out of the situation physically or mentally, according to Miller.

Falcon told authorities that while in hiding he played with toys then napped for several hours.

"His hiding ... was an avoidant action. However ineffective in the longer term, it addressed his stress in the short term," said Miller. "A key, but often not well-articulated role in a great deal of parenting is helping children learn strategies for coping with stressful events."

Miller said that Falcon likely had no idea he had sent his family into a panic.

"So, we can't presume that the child acted they way he did knowing how it would affect his parents," he said.

Parents need to have open lines of communication with their children so the kids feel "safe" when parents are delivering "bad news," according to Miller. Without learning coping strategies, children can continue avoidance behaviors well into adulthood, he said.

Bur Dr. Steven C. Scholzman, associate director of child and adolescent psychiatry residency at McLean Hospital in Boston, said there were "no simple answers."

Developmentally, 6-year-olds have concrete thinking and "struggle with their desire to initiate their own projects at the expense of potentially feeling inferior," according to Scholzman.

"In stressful situations, kids move backward -- they regress -- so that emotionally they start struggling with feelings of guilt and shame," he told "Kids get stressed, lose even their ability to think concretely and, instead, think dichotomously, 'I will be punished; but if I am not found, then I won't be punished.'"

Even adults can regress when they are under stress.

"Think of adults who steal trust funds and then disappear," he said. "Sometimes, they're trying to get away with things, but they might also have genuinely needed the money, saw the money when stressed, and took the money the way a kid takes a cookie. This doesn't make it OK, but it allows us to understand how childish thinking can influence behavior."

Though Scholzman did not want to comment specifically on the details of Falcon's case, he said hiding can bring some "secondary gain."

"Think of Tom Sawyer," he said, referring to scene in the Mark Twain novel and the scene where Becky Thatcher and an entire town weep for the presumed drowning death of three boys.

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