Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland are locked into sectarian mindsets from as young as three years of age, according to research conducted by the University of Ulster. Three-year old Catholics are twice as likely to have formed a dislike for the police as Protestant infants, while three-year old Protestants are twice as likely as Catholics to prefer the British Union flag to the Irish Tricolour. The study into community divisions polled 352 children of all ages and found that 15% of Northern Ireland's six-year-olds were making sectarian comments. One six-year-old Catholic girl remarked to a university researcher that Protestants were bad "because they want to kill Catholics" and a four-year old Protestant girl told another that Catholics were "the same as masked men, they smash windows." Researcher Dr Paul Connolly said segregated education was in part to blame for the early development of traditional attitudes. "It certainly raises important questions about the indirect effects that our segregated school system is having on the development of young children's attitudes." But he said children's negative attitudes towards other communities were also attributable to family and community factors, while nurseries could also do more to build cross- community relations. The University of Ulster report suggested that to address the problem of young children holding sectarian attitudes, children from three upwards should be encouraged to explore and experience different cultural practices, events and symbols, while five-years-olds should be taught to understand the negative effects of sectarian stereotypes and prejudices within the community.
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