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Numerous studies characterize, define, and identify problem children, but compassionate and kindly children have received very little attention from the research community. But, hopeful that these more positive qualities can be taught, a University of Florida researcher is working on a study that seeks to identify compassionate children and to learn why they are the way they are.

Theodore Landsman, a psychology professor, and his colleagues studied 166 5th and 6th graders in Gainsville, Fla., Miami, and Atlanta.

They looked at the children's self concepts, their relationships with the physical world, and how compassionate they were to others.

They also developed a 20-item questionaire, based on other 5th and 6th graders definitions of compassion, that they administered to the group. The same questionnaire was adapted, and given to the children's parents, teachers, and peers to see how compassionate they thought the subjects were.

The data have not yet been analyzed, but so far, the researchers have discovered that teachers and peers have more realistic opinions about compassion than do children. The parents, Mr. Landsman reports, were much more idealistic.

The researchers plan to give the questionnaire to a larger group of children, and to look at the many possible explanations for why a child is compassionate. Birth order, characteristics of parents, pet ownership, family life, and periods of unhappiness successfully weathered with help from someone else are some possible factors.

Despite growing concern about the phenomenon of latchkey children, "employment by mothers, fathers, or both is neither universally good nor bad for children," according to a panel of the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

At a time when more than half of the children in this country have mothers who are employed outside the home, the panel's review of recent research suggested that, "with very few exceptions," the school achievement of those children differs little from the achievement of children with nonworking mothers.

But, cautioned the panel, the data are limited and few studies have examined systematically the effects of family work patterns on children's social and intellectual development.

Moreover, where working mothers are concerned, the research should be approached with "skepticism," the panel reported.

"There is an undercurrent of thinly veiled alarm regarding the consequences of maternal employment or social change that rests on the developmental theories of another era," according to the panel's report, Families That Work: Children in a Changing World.

The panel concluded that the only uniform effect of parental employment was "to add to family income and to decrease the amount of time parents have available for family tasks." The effects on children, it says, are more likely the result of the many other factors, including: the characteristics of the children and the parents; the jobs the parents hold and their attitudes toward them; a family's socio-economic status; and how the children are cared for.

Among other recommendations, the report calls for further study of the effects of "social, demographic, and economic trends; family functioning; workplace policies and practices; and the roles of other formal and informal community institutions" on the outcomes of school programs.

The report, the first of two that examine the effects of changes in employment patterns and family structure on children, is available for $15.95 prepaid, from the National Academy Press, 2101 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20418.

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