Research Impact Case Study by Assistant Professor Laura Taylor & Dearbháile Counihan (runners-up in the 2022 UCD Research Impact Case Study Competition).
This infographic video offers a glimpse into the goals of the HelpingKids! Lab and our current research exploring children’s inclusive peacebuilding!

This short video summarizes our previous international research and collaboration! Meet the Helping Kids! team and hear some of our research backgrounds, questions, and findings.


Episode Title

The Helping Kids! Podcast

Episode Description

Could children helping and sharing with members of diverse social groups be the seed to promoting greater peace and reconciliation across the island of Ireland?

Helping Kids! is an international lab, collecting data in five different countries (Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Republic of North Macedonia and Israel), exploring children’s intergroup empathy and prosocial behaviours framed by the Developmental Peacebuilding Model.

Join researchers at the Helping Kids! lab as they discuss how uncovering the developmental, individual, family, and contextual factors related to children’s empathy and helping behaviours could help to future-proof peace.

This episode will also feature interviews with Sara Singleton from the Dublin-based Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC), and Lynn Johnston from the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE), both of whom will explore the potential societal impact of Helping Kids! research.

In this episode, researchers at the Helping Kids! Lab and members of our Local Advisory Committee (LAC) will discuss:

Introduction to the Helping Kids! Lab [00:07].

Bethany Corbett– How can we increase host-children’s empathy towards refugees? How does children’s awareness of symbols and labels influence their helping behaviour in divided societies?  [03:24].

Dearbháile Counihan- Children’s awareness of the Traveller community in Ireland- can children recognise cultural symbols when physical differences are not present? [10:25].

Laura K. Taylor- Promoting children’s inclusive peacebuilding in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland- how studying children’s early helping behaviours across group lines could be the seed to building a society that respects all identities and traditions across the island [15:08].

Isabelle Nic Craith- What does collecting data for Helping Kids! studies entail, and how can playing interactive games with kids have implications for a more harmonious society? [18:54].

Dean Polly– Day-to-day experience of working as a Helping Kids! Data Collection Assistant [21:50].

Lynn Johnston- The importance of integrated education for promoting peace and reconciliation across Northern Ireland, and the potential value of Helping Kids! research and tools for supporting the goals of NICIE [23:26].

Sara Singleton- How TASC works to transform research into action to promote greater reconciliation across the island of Ireland, and the societal impact of Helping Kids! for harnessing youth’s potential for future peacebuilding [31:07].

Funding and Acknowledgements [33:00].

Find out more about the Helping Kids! lab

Learn more about our Local Advisory Committe

References and Additional Resources

  • Taylor, L. K., & Glen, C. (2020). From empathy to action: Can enhancing host-society children’s empathy promote positive attitudes and prosocial behavior towards refugees? Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 30(2), 214-226.
  • Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J., & Rylander, R. (2020). Symbols and labels: Children’s awareness of social categories in a divided society. Journal of Community Psychology, 48(5), 1512-1526.
  • Counihan, D., Carol, S., & Taylor, L. K. (2022). Children’s awareness of ethnic outgroup symbols: Piloting an instrument in the Republic of Ireland. International Journal of PsychologyAdvance online publication.
  • Moran, D., & Taylor, L. K. (2021). Outgroup prosocial behaviour among children and adolescents in conflict settings. Current Opinion in Psychology, 44, 69-73.
  • Taylor, L.K. (2020). The Developmental Peacebuilding Model (DPM) of children’s prosocial behaviors in settings of intergroup conflict. Child Development Perspectives, 14(3), 127-134.
  • Taylor, L. K., Tomašić Humer, J., & Dautel, J. B. (2022). Predictors of outgroup empathy among children in a conflict-affected society. Children and Society, 36, 949– 967.
  • Shamoa-Nir, L., Razpurker-Apfeld, I., Dautel, J.B., & Taylor, L.K. (2020). Outgroup prosocial giving during childhood: The role of ingroup preference and outgroup attitudes in a divided society. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 45(4), 337–344. 
  • Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J., Maloku, E., & Tomovska Misoska, A. (2021). Children’s outgroup prosocial giving in settings of intergroup conflict: The developmental role of ingroup symbol preference. Developmental Psychology, 57(8), 1350–1358.
  • Tomovska Misoska, A., Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J.,& Rylander, R. (2020). Children’s understanding of ethnic group symbols: Piloting an instrument in the Republic of North Macedonia. Peace & Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 26(1), 82-87.
  • Lennon Malbasha, L., Dautel, J., & Taylor, L.K. (in press). Exploring children’s knowledge of Irish and European Symbols: A comparison of Gaelscoil and English-speaking primary school children. Irish Educational Studies.
  • Taylor, L.K., O’Driscoll, D., Dautel, J., & McKeown, S. (2020). Empathy to action: Child and adolescent outgroup attitudes and prosocial behaviors in a setting of intergroup conflict. Social Development, 29(2), 461-477.


Edited, mixed, and produced by Zach Deering:—x23



Introduction to Helping Kids!

Launch Event with An Taoiseach for TASC dialogues on a Shared Ireland

News Articles International study, even Kosovar five-year-olds identify with political symbols (Tetova Today), 03/07/2022.

India Education Diary. Queen’s University Belfast: Children relate to political, religious and sporting symbols from age five, 01/07/2022

Bollyinside. From the age of five, research reveals that children begin to identify with religious and political symbols, 30/06/2022.

Ni4kids (Circulation : 63680). Children as young as five identify with political and religious symbols, says QUB study 30/06/2022.

HEAD TOPICS. Children identify with religious symbols from early age, 30/06/2022. Children ‘relate to religious and political symbols’ from as young as five years old, 30/06/2022.

Belfast Telegraph. Children ‘relate to religious and political symbols’ from as young as five years old, 30/06/2022.

News Break. Young children identify with political symbols – research, 30/06/2022. Young children identify with political symbols – research, 30/06/2022.

BBC Online. Young children identify with political symbols – research, 30/06/2022.

The Irish Times (Circulation : 54147). Children as young as five identify with political symbols in North, research shows; Research shows flags and painted kerbs had the ‘highest preference’ at a ‘very early age’, 30/06/2022.

Irish News. Research reveals children begin to identify with religious and political symbols from age of five, 30/06/2022.

RTÉ.ie. Children identify with religious symbols from early age, 30/06/2022.

The Sunday Times. Children in Northern Ireland learn sectarian differences by age five, 22/03/2020.

Belfast Telegraph. Five year olds ‘know symbols associated with Northern Ireland traditions’, 23/03/2020.


RTÉ Radio 1 (Circulation : 1393000). RTE Radio 1, Drivetime, 01/07/2022.

BBC Radio Ulster (Circulation : 524000). BBC Radio Ulster, The Nolan Show, 30/06/2022.

BBC Radio Ulster (Circulation : 524000). BBC Radio Ulster, The Connor Phillips Show, 30/06/2022

U105 (Circulation : 174000). U 105.8, Breakfast Show, 30/06/2022.

U105 (Circulation : 174000). U 105.8, Frank Mitchell, 30/06/2022.

U105 (Circulation : 174000). U 105.8, Lunchtime Bistro, 30/06/2022.


Newstalk (Circulation : 769000). Newstalk, Moncrieff with Sean Moncrieff, 30/06/2022

The Conversation, 09/04/2018, 2018.


BBC Northern Ireland. BBC 1 NI, Breakfast, 30/06/2022

BBC Northern Ireland. BBC 1 NI, BBC Newsline; Weather, 30/06/2022

Five year olds 'know symbols associated with Northern Ireland traditions'.

Children as young as five years old in Northern Ireland are already aware of the symbols that mark out the region’s two political and cultural communities, according to new academic research.

Conducted by researchers Dr Laura K Taylor, Dr Jocelyn Dautel and Risa Rylander from University College, Dublin and Queen’s University, Belfast, the research looked at how more than 200 children reacted when asked to label a range of symbols.

Participants were given an iPad and asked to label symbols as being either Irish/British or Catholic/Protestant.

Among the symbols were images of flags, such as the Union flag and the Irish Tricolour, shamrock, and poppies, as well as items used in cricket, hurling and rugby.

The researchers found that the children – who were between five and 11 years old – were more likely to sort symbols by tradition than they would have if their decisions had been made randomly.

The UCD/QUB research paper, called ‘Symbols and Labels: children’s awareness of social categories in a divided society’, is published in the Journal of Community Psychology.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, lead researcher Dr Laura K Taylor said: “How and when children develop an understanding of group boundaries has implications for conflict resolution.”

She hoped the research would inform education policy and teaching in Northern Ireland.

“Our research is trying to help understand what it means for children to grow up in a post-accord society. Children today did not grow up in a violent society, so how do they learn about it?

“These findings suggest that, by late childhood, children in Northern Ireland can readily identify and associate symbols with their hypothesised social categories.”

Separate school systems, as well as strong family networks and homogeneous lifestyles, shape children’s cultural awareness, the researchers suggest.

The UCD/QUB research echoes a 2002 study for the Community Relations Council, which found children as young as three were able to recognise symbols as being linked to either loyalist or nationalist cultures.

That earlier study – carried out by the University of Ulster – found that by the age of six, 69% of the more than three hundred children surveyed could identify flags and parades as belonging to one ‘side’ or the other.

Reporter, S. (2020, March 23). Five year olds ‘know symbols associated with Northern Ireland traditions’. Published in the Belfast Telegraph.


Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J., & *Rylander, R. (2020). Symbols and labels: Children’s awareness of social categories in a divided society. Journal of Community Psychology.

*Glen, C., Taylor, L.K. & Dautel, J. (2020). Promoting prosocial behaviour toward refugees: Exploring the empathy-attitude-action model in middle childhood. In N. Bavlin & D. Christie (Eds.), Children and Peace: From Research to Action (pp. 71-87)Switzerland: Springer Peace Psychology Book Series.

Taylor, L. K., & *Glen, C. (2020). From empathy to action: Can enhancing host-society children’s empathy promote positive attitudes and prosocial behavior towards refugees? Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 30(2), 214-226.

Taylor, L.K., *O’Driscoll, D., Dautel, J., & McKeown, S. (2019). Empathy to action: Child and adolescent outgroup attitudes and prosocial behaviors in a setting of intergroup conflict. Social Development.

Tomovska Misoska, A., Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J., & *Rylander, R. (2020). Contact, conflict and interethnic attitudes among children in North Macedonia. Primenjena Psihologija12(4), 409-428. doi:10.19090/pp.2019.4.409-428.

Tomovska MisoskaA., Taylor, L.K., Dautel, J.,& *Rylander, R. (2019). Children’s understanding of ethnic group symbols: Piloting an instrument in the Republic of North Macedonia. Peace & Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology.

(*Supervised student author)    

Children’s awareness and understanding of conflict-related groups in divided education systems

Over 420 million children live in conflict-affected areas. Conflict greatly disrupts education, with long-lasting negative effects even after peace agreements are signed. Northern Ireland (NI), Kosovo and Macedonia are settings of protracted conflict in which the primary conflict-related groups remain largely segregated, particularly across schools and neighbourhoods. As a result, the overt conflict in each setting has continued to affect children born after the peace agreements, or in the ‘post-accord generation’.

The Helping Kids! lab has conducted comparative research in primary schools in each of these settings. We study how majority and minority children in separate education systems develop an understanding about conflict-related groups. We argue that sharing across group lines can be considered an antecedent of later peacebuilding potential in children.

All three settings have education systems divided by group background (NI: Protestant/British, Catholic/Irish; Kosovo: Albanian, Serbian; Macedonia: Macedonian, Albanian). Our trained experimenters visited primary schools and played child-friendly games on a laptop or tablet. These games asked children about their recognition of and preference for images, symbols and names associated with each background in that context. Additionally, the games measured participants’ contact with, attitudes about, and sharing with outgroup children.

Social identity development theory (SIDT), which acted as a framework for this research, centres on children’s ethnic identity development having four (potential) phases: undifferentiated, ethnic awareness, ethnic preferences and ethnic prejudice; the shift between these phases is informed by social context. Across the three settings, our findings supported these phases. In each setting, participants were evenly split by gender and background (NI: 529 pupils; 263 male, 266 female; ages 5–11 [M=7.8, SD=1.76; 46.4% Protestant, 53.6% Catholic]; Kosovo: 219 pupils; 108 male, 111 female; ages 6–10 [M=8.07, SD=1.33; 54.3% Albanian, 45.7% Serbian]; Macedonia: 199 pupils; 107 male, 92 female; ages 6–11 [M=8.40, SD=1.41; 44.2% Macedonian, 55.8% Albanian]).

In each setting, children readily recognised the social cues associated with conflict-related groups. For example, in NI, children identified poppies as British and shamrocks as Irish; in Kosovo, children consistently categorised murals and pop artists as Albanian or Serbian; and in Macedonia, children distinguished celebratory foods as Macedonian or Albanian.

Overall, the more aware children were of conflict-related group markers as belonging to one group versus the other, the more children preferred ingroup symbols. That is, children with higher awareness of group symbols also expressed greater preference for ingroup images, supporting the link between ethnic awareness and preference in SIDT. Children who preferred ingroup symbols shared fewer resources (that is, stickers) with outgroup children. Children who reported more positive experiences with and attitudes about outgroup children, however, shared more resources with outgroup children.

The Helping Kids! lab will continue to identify antecedents of children’s peacebuilding in divided societies. Fostering positive outgroup attitudes and opportunities for outgroup helping may have promising, long-term implications for more constructive intergroup relations. Through discussions with families, schoolteachers and administrators, non-governmental organisations and government officials, we hope our findings can inform public policies that aid children living in conflict-affected areas around the world. As a result, our findings may help inform peacebuilding interventions in schools and communities, with the long-term aim of fostering more cohesive societies.

Post by Laura K. Taylor, Alexandra Jacobs, Jocelyn Dautel, Risa Rylander, Ana Tomovska Misoska, and Edona Maloku.

Published on the BERA Blog.

„Толку блиску, а толку далечни!“ – Социјалната оддалеченост и заедништвото со „другите“

Прашањето на заедничко живеење во разновидност е тесно поврзано со искуствата и перцепциите за тоа колку сакаме да се дружиме, учиме, споделуваме и сочувствуваме со „другите“. Споделување на задачи и соработка можеме да очекуваме во понатамошниот живот да се ефектуираат во прифаќање на разновидноста и реалистично гледање на мултикултурализмот, споделување на ресурси и пријателства. Времето и особено квалитетно поминатото време со другите, влијае и врз ставовите и однесувањето кон нив, особено после конфликт.

Социјалната поделеност е дел од реалноста во Македонија исто како и на други места што биле погодени од конфликти. Денес во Македонија децата посетуваат настава според нивниот мајчин јазик што во голема мерка коинцидира со нивната етничка припадност. Ваквата определба на политиките, во однос на физичкиот простор и заедничките активности резултираше со преферирање на паралелизам и поделеност наспроти интеграција. Овие одделни и паралелни структури ја обликуваат средината каде што учат децата, како и нивните ставови и однесувања кон „другите“. И додека прифаќањето на разновидноста не е иста со „живеењето“ на разновидноста како животен стил, сепак, поради социјалната блискост и соработка можеме да очекуваме децата како возрасни да покажуваат поголемо прифаќање на разновидноста и реалистично гледање на мултикултурализмот, споделување на ресурси и пријателства.со „другите“. Времето и особено квалитетно поминатото време со другите, влијае и врз ставовите и однесувањето кон нив, особено после конфликт.

На која возраст децата во Македонија стануваат свесни за сликите и симболите кои ги идентификуваат како група? Како идентификацијата со својата група влијае кон социјалната оддалеченост од „другите“?

За таа цел, во 2017-18 година, преку проектот Помагање на децата!“ (Helping Kids!) истражувавме како идентификацијата со симболите и социјалните структури на сопствената група кај децата на возраст од шест до единаесет години влијае кон нивните ставови и однесување кон „другиот“. Игравме серија на игри прилагодена за возраста со деца од училишта каде наставата се одвива на македонски и албански јазик, со вкупно 219 ученици. На пример, децата беа запрашани дали серија од 16 парови на слики, или вкупно 32, ги поврзуваат со Албанци или Македонци. Одбравме слики од различни аспекти на социјалниот живот, како религија, култура, храна, политика, спорт и животот во нивните средини.

Главно, децата беа спремни да ги категоризираат сите 32 слики со една од двете групи, и тоа повеќе од само како случајност. На пример, слика од македонското знаме го асоцираа со македонската етничка група. Но, детектиравме и разлики според возраста.

На возраст од шест години, децата можат да категоризираат девет од сликите (плоштадот на Скендербег, македонското знаме, албанското знаме, македонската азбука, имам/оџа, дресот на Ренова, симболот на поддржувачите на Балистите и улица напишана на албански јазик) како македонски или албански симболи. На возраст од седум години, децата можат да категоризираат 16 од сликите и симболите со некоја етничка група додека до десетгодишна возраст сите 32 слики. Односно, како созреваат, децата подобро ги асоцираа сликите со соодветната социјална група. Резултатите укажуваат дека овие сознанија се зголемуваат со возраста, како што поминуваат повеќе време во јазично поделени паралелки и средини.

Овие сознанија кои се базирани на групните разлики влијаат и врз нивното чувство за заедништво со „другите“. Колку повеќе децата се свесни за симболите и сликите на групите кои некогаш биле во конфликт, толку повеќе ги преферираат симболите на својата група. Децата кои се посвесни за симболите на својата група, почесто и преферираат слики кои се асоцираат со нивната етничка група. Децата кои повеќе споделуваат ресурси (на пример, стикери како награда) со својата група исто така помалку им се допаѓаат и помалку им веруваат на лица со друго етничко потекло. Исто така, споделувањето на повеќе ресурси со својата група е поврзано со помала желба да се игра со деца со друго етничко потекло и помалку пријателства.

Генерално кажано, преференциите за сопствената група се рефлектираат и како желба за поголема социјална дистанца од „другите“ и како повеќе перципиран конфликт помеѓу групите. Ова е важно затоа што колку децата поминуваат повеќе време во јазично поделени паралелки и средини толку се зголемува јазот помеѓу нив. А тоа се зајакнува со преференција за сопственото знаме наспроти ситуациите во кои се вејат знамињата на македонската и албанската етничка заедница заедно и особено што повеќе перципиран конфликт е поврзано со поголема социјална дистанца.

Сепак, светлата страна е дека претходните позитивни искуства со „другите“ можат да се спротивстават на овие сегрегирачки тенденции. Колку повеќе време децата поминуваат заедно со „другите“ толку е помала перцепцијата за социјална дистанца помеѓу нив односно повеќе им се допаѓаат, им веруваат и сакаат да ги играат со „другите“. Исто така, колку повеќе другари со различно етничко потекло имаат, толку е помала перцепцијата за социјална дистанца помеѓу нив. На пример, еден татко (Албанец) чија ќерка оди во училиште каде наставата се одвива на македонски и албански јазик ни кажа: „Јас сум многу среќен што мојата ќерка ми кажува дека има многу пријатели кои се Македонци. Ова е многу позитивна вест за мене и овие пријателства ги воспостави во школо.“

Проектите кои изминатите години се спроведуваа со цел за меѓуетничка интеграција во образованието беа насочени кон создавање на краткотрајни и долготрајни можности за контакт помеѓу децата и наставниот и стручен кадар во претходно испланирани активности. Според експертите, нивните најголеми резултати се опфатот на ученици, училишта и наставен и стручен кадар и малите, но значајни промени во политиките (на национални и локално ниво) додека најголеми недостатоци се зависноста од странски донатори и отсуството на позитивен role-модел на возрасни во плодоносна и спонтана меѓуетничка соработка (ад-хок и недостатокот од трансфер од професионална соработка во пријателства).

Препораките за политиките од ова истражување укажуваат дека градењето на долготраен мир треба да почне од рана возраст. Децата мора да имаат можност да стапуваат во интеракција и да создаваат пријателства со оние од другите етнички групи. Повеќе можности за позитивен контакт помеѓу групите се неопходни. И овие можности за контакт треба да се базираат на претпоставките за еднаквост помеѓу групите и поттикнување на активности кои се интересни и иновативни за децата, и кои се базираат на заедничкото добро. „Кога децата се во меѓусебен контакт, тие секогаш покажуваат љубопитност и обично резултатите се позитивни“ “– ни укажа професорка во основно школо (жена, Албанка). „Краткотрајни и долготрајни активности кои се приентирани кон продукти, во рамки на редовната настава и во рамките на екстра-курикулум активностите, партнерства помеѓу училиштата и наставниот кадар од различни региони и наставни јазици се неопходност во поддршка на интеретничката интеграција во образование“ – наведува практичарка во проекти за интеретничка интеграција (жена, Македонка).

Дотолку повеќе што политиките за меѓуетничка интеграција треба да се прошират и надвор од училиштата, кон местата на живеење, возрасните. „Најтешко достапна група ни се родителите и потребни се повеќе напори за да се вклучат во целни активности во училиштата и заедницата“ – посочува практичарка од областа на мултиетничка интеграција во образованието (жена, Ромка).

Разбирањето на овие ефекти може да им помогне на проектите за помирување и градење на мир кои се базирани на соодветни истражувања кои помагаат во разбирање на основите на односите помеѓу групите.

Развивањето и зајакнувањето на попозитивни ставови за другите групи и можности за помагање помеѓу групите може да има ветувачки, долготрајни импликации за градење на поконструктивни односите помеѓу групите во Македонија.

Published on RadioMof.

The Colors that Divide

On the 11th anniversary of Kosovo’s independence, how do our children now view their own national and ethnic identities?

Symbols and images can act as powerful markers of identity. They are an important element of the way that a group, in a certain context, becomes ‘one.

National flags, language signs, traditional ethnic and religious clothing, and important statues or sites are some of the ways children come to recognize social groups. This awareness has important implications for resolution after conflict.

How and when children recognize names, symbols and social markers influences how they understand and identify with relevant social groups. More importantly, how children identify with one group also affects their attitudes and behaviours toward ‘others’ that belong to the other groups particularly after conflict.

But what is the story of symbols common among Kosovo children? In particular, how do young generations born and raised after the Kosovo war and the 2008 declaration of independence respond to these symbols? How do they understand the symbols and markers associated with the new Kosovar national identity compared with those from ethnic Albanian and Serbian identities?

More importantly, are these national icons able to help foster a shared identity instead of perpetuating exiting division between ethnic groups?

Developing the Kosovo identity

Generally, the development of the Kosovo flag and national anthem following the country’s independence has shown that people feel strongly about the icons that represent them nationally. Creating these national categories and symbols in inclusive terms is often engineered to help repair intergroup relations.

Their neutrality can provide new ways to reconsider and redefine the groups’ picture by moving away from an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ view, to a new common ‘we’.

Inclusiveness can develop more positive attitudes towards previously antagonistic ethnic groups. Yet, creating inclusive national symbols does not necessarily erase group distinctions rooted in the history of intergroup conflict.

It takes time to make them meaningful and functional. It is a hard process, especially for people who identify strongly with other group categories or those that belong to ethnic minorities. To them, identifying with the new national symbols feels like a loss of identity       

National and ethnic symbols in the eyes of children

Recent work by a team of social, cognitive and developmental psychologists shows that even at early ages, children are aware of the icons around them and what they represent.

The study, called ‘Helping Kids! Promoting positive intergroup relations and peacebuilding in divided societies,’ found that six to eleven-year-olds in Kosovo can readily and accurately perceive common social markers – such as icons or images – associated with conflict-related groups (i.e. either as being Albanian or as being Serb.)

In a series of interactive games, Albanian (119) and Serb (101) children were shown 13 pairs of images (26 in total) anticipated as either Albanian or Serbian. As early as six, children could categorize a church, a street sign for Gracanica and the Serbian National football jersey as Serbian, and not Albanian.

By age seven, children could associate 20 of the images and symbols with each ethnic group. By age 10, children were able to categorize all 26 images with their respective ethnic group label.

Kosovo Albanian and Serb children not only readily categorized all images, but their recognition also increased with age. This suggests that as children of these ethnic groups grow older, their awareness of group markers and group differences becomes more and more evident.

Growing older is not the only reason for this ability to identify and categorize these symbols and images.

A Kosovo Albanian representative of a local educational NGO said that “There is no cooperation between different groups mainly due to the separation of classes and schools, and lack of common spaces.”

Given that these children are brought up in divided schools, with minimal or no inter-ethnic contact, the system feeds on these ethnic polarizations very early on. It strips children away from the possibility to interact with children from the other ethnic group and witness first-hand how the ‘other’ really is.

The practice of separation of classes and schools based on ethnicity has been cemented by decades of segregation, and has its roots in the ‘90s when different schools for children of different ethnicities became the norm.

“It is among children that things are the worst,” said a Kosovo Serb teacher in the study. “If children do not have a chance to engage with other children from different backgrounds, they will not develop a sense of tolerance.”

When asked to choose which flag they preferred, children from both groups showed a higher preference for own ethnic flag, Albanian or Serbian (68 per cent) over the Kosovo flag (32 per cent) the older they got. And, if children preferred the Albanian or Serbian flag over the Kosovo flag, they also wanted more social distance between the respective ethnic groups.  

This preference for one’s own ethnic group over what is envisioned to be an inclusive Kosovo national flag may indicate children’s preference for ethnic separation in schools, neighborhoods or the cities they live in. This is most probably affected by the narratives that adults – primarily parents and teachers  – use with children.

“Parents’ biased attitudes are reflected upon children  – therefore ensuing that lack of contact and interaction between them continues even more,” said one Kosovo Albanian education official.

A Kosovo Serb teacher who participated in the study echoed these sentiments.

“When it comes to conflict and how children perceive it, the children that I teach know about the conflict based on the stories their parents or grandparents told them. However, they only know one side of the story – one where Serbs are victims. They don’t actually know the causes of the war, and they are afraid that something similar could happen again.”

According to a Kosovo Serb community activist that participated in the study, the consequences of the past reflect in the the present and the future.

“Our youngest children… of Serbian ethnicity tend to see Kosovo as having been taken from them by Albanians – or at least attempted to be taken away.”“Those from the Albanian side see Kosovo as an independent country, which Serbs refuse to let go of.”

The bright side of the story

It is clear that previous experiences can help children counteract this pattern. First, children with more contact with children from the other ethnic group preferred the national Kosovo flag alongside their own Albanian or Serbian flags.

When they were shown an integrated picture that included an Albanian or Serbian flag flying alongside the Kosovo flag, 48 per cent of children preferred the integrated flags,  almost as much as their ethnic ones standing on their own (52 per cent). This suggests stronger preferences for symbols that convey dual identities (ethnic and national together) compared to those where children have to make a preferential choice of either ethnic or national (Kosovar) identity.    

Understanding how symbols as group identity markers unfold for Kosovar children has important implications for the future. These generations can serve as an important catalyst for promoting peace in the years ahead and safeguard possible future conflicts.

“Exposure to children from each ethnic group is crucial. My personal desire would be to see an integrated, dual-language education system. Until that is possible, education policy makers should prioritize learning English to enable dialogue, and running mixed ethnic youth groups and children’s activities,” said the Kosovo Serb community activist.

The Serbian language is an official language alongside the Albanian one.

“It would be great to see a history curriculum in all schools which reflects a balanced account of the conflict,” she continued.

Although the conflict in Kosovo ended twenty years ago, it has had lasting effects on the post-conflict generation, especially the young born and raised after the country’s independence.

Long-term peacebuilding must start early. Children must have the chance to interact with and become friends with those from other ethnic groups as well as engage in meaningful intergroup experiences.

Fostering more positive attitudes and opportunities may have promising, long-term implications from more constructive intergroup relations. At the same time, supporting the creation of an inclusive overarching national identity, by use of shared symbols and icons on Kosovo, can support a healthy society for generations to come.

Working on these antecedents of peacebuilding with primary school children may hold promise for Kosovo’s future anniversaries in the years to come.

Post by Edona Maloku. Laura K. TaylorJocelyn DautelRisa RylanderAna Tomovska Misoska, from the HelpingKids! team co-authored the study on which this article reports. Published on Prishtina Insight.