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Sympathy: Are First Graders Too Young to Feel Compassion?

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Youngsters Discuss Compassion

Compassion is sympathy for someone's suffering, so says parenting expert, Michael Sabbath, author of the book, The Good, The Bad, and the Difference. Today he'll share a clever experiment exposing first graders to suffering. No, he didn't use violence or blood but he did help kids to choose between obedience and compassion. Let's find out what he did.

 Michael, a lawyer, routinely visited classrooms to prompt discussions about values. One day he went to the first grade classroom at Cherry Hills Village Elementary School.

The Compassion Experiment

He asked the teacher, Sandy, to instruct the children to "stay in their seats while she and I went to the principal's office."

Once outside the room he slammed a nearby door and yelled, "Help, help, help!" Right away half the students ran to his rescue. He told the students that he slipped and fell against the door. Some believed him.

This experiment grew into a great classroom conversation.

The Compassion Discussion

Stacey was one of the first students to run to help. Michael asked the class if Stacey was 'good' even though she got out of her seat. Here is what some of the kids said:

1. Katie said, "Stacey was both good and bad. She was bad when she disoberyed and got out of her seat but good when she tried to help you."

Michael interpreted Katie's answer as high level thinking. "Helping is more important than disobeying about sitting in a seat."

2. Little Stacey defended her disobedience by saying, "If you're dead, you can't come back to life."

Michael viewed Stacey's comment as valuing life over obedience.

3. Joan used her creative imagination by holding her chair to her bottom and opened the door to see if help was needed.

Michael viewed her actions as ingenious. She didn't disobey and she did go to help.

4. Other first graders who ran to help made comments like:

   . "I'd want someone to help me."

   . I'd feel bad if I didn't help the person."

   . "I'm happy when people helped me when I needed it so I wanted to help you."

Michael said Compassion posters hang on school walls. (Do kids always pay attention to them?)

By this experiment, Michael showed that first graders aren't too young to feel compassion. Even better, they chose compassion over obedience because of their moral judgments. (From pages 211-212.)


Michael is ingenious with creating marvelous discussions that make kids think. If I were still a teacher, it would an honor to have him discuss ethics with my class. Whether you are a teacher or a parent, you too can have impressive discussions with your children.


Pick up The Good The Bad & The Difference: How To Talk With Children About Values. You'll find discussions on courage, integrity, wisdom, justice, compassion, reason and more.

Cover The Good, The Bad,

Let's CONGRATULATE Michael Sabbath for his creative ways to get kids to think on higher levels and express their values.

Michael Sabbeth best
Michael Sabbath


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With warm wishes,

Jean Tracy, MSS

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