When Cindy Ballagh's 10-year-old son Kaden lost his portable video game recently, she asked him where he last put it. His answer: on his dresser.
After they spent several minutes searching on, under and all around the dresser, she happened to spot the game—buried in his bed. He had been playing with it there the night before and broke a rule by falling asleep with it, says Ms. Ballagh, of Clarksville, Tenn. Frustrated, she told Kaden he would get in less trouble if he would "just be honest and tell the truth."
It's a tense moment—one almost all parents experience: You look in your child's eyes and realize: "He's lying."
Lying is, in truth, a milestone of normal child development and starts as early as age 2. More than one-third of 3-year-olds will lie to keep from getting in trouble, based on research led by Victoria Talwar, an associate professor of developmental psychology at McGill University in Montreal. By ages 4 to 7, more than half of children will lie to avoid punishment, as Ms. Ballagh believes Kaden did, or to gain attention or approval; the same pattern appears in studies in Britain, West Africa and China.