Alongside The Royal Foundation for Early Childhood, The Princess of Wales hosted the first Shaping Us Symposium at the Design Museum last week.
Opening the event, Catherine gave the keynote speech, in which she spoke about her passion for early years and the vision for the future of her early years campaigning work.
Answering a question she gets asked often, the Princess stated that she focuses on early childhood because she cares ‘deeply about making a positive difference, in helping the most vulnerable and supporting those who are most in need’, highlighting that it isn’t just focusing on younger children in society but also ‘many young people and adults who are suffering’.
Catherine reflected on her own experiences of meeting those who have ‘reached crisis point’, whether that is is ‘in prison rehabilitation programmes, addiction recovery centres, or those affected by homelessness’. She said the ‘biggest difference in preventing similar pathways for future generations’ is by ensuring a sense of ‘ safety, belonging and love in early childhood’ all of which should be ‘human nature’ in striving for these things.
Stressing that ‘we must acknowledge and address the root cause of some of today’s toughest social challenges and work together to find better answers’, Her Royal Highness added that ‘ultimately, we are all part of a delicate, interconnected ecosystem and just as we need to restore, protect and invest in our planet, so we must restore, protect, and invest in our societies, communities, relationships, and ourselves’.
Catherine then recalled what a prisoner told her during a recent visit to a prison, thought to be at HMP High Down: ‘Prison was the best thing that happened to me,’ the person said to the royal guest. ‘I thought how I was living my life was normal, but it allowed me time to stop, not just being busy and keeping up with what I was expected to be doing, it allowed me time to be with ‘me’ and consider my needs, my mind. I had never had a chance to do that before. I just didn’t know I needed help.’
Explaining how ‘for many individuals like this, trauma, stress, and adverse experiences in their childhood, has caused fundamental harm that they have carried for years’, this impacts our psychological capabilities and ‘they continue to grow and therapeutic interventions can help with the healing process, providing the support and crucially the skills needed to cope on the journey to recovery’.
HRH highlighted how it’s interventions like prison can help to understand individuals better, and be more compassionate to individuals’ needs and behaviours and help to ‘communicate and express ourselves in order to build relationships with others and the world around us’ which are ‘the foundations of any happy, healthy life’.
Kate poses the question ‘why does it so often take individuals to reach breaking point, rock bottom or even a prison sentence to finally find the support they so desperately need?’
If individuals are told that ‘our social and emotional knowledge and capabilities are vital to us’ then these needs must ‘be prioritised, normalised, and nurtured if we are to build resilience for the future’.
The Princess explained that the early years shapes an individual’s future and the adults that they become, therefore it is important to shine a light on this stage in life;’it is the golden opportunity to establish the core foundations and capabilities we need to thrive all the way through our lives,’ Kate said.
‘This period, especially between pregnancy and five, is when the brain is at its most receptive, and developing faster than any other time in our lives. Despite the fact that each and every one of us has had our own childhoods, few people understand the true impact our formative years have had on shaping who we are today.’
The mother-of-three added this is why she decided to launch the Shaping Us campaign earlier this year.
‘The latest science clearly indicates that early childhood development must focus on more than just the physical and technical skills of our children – we also need to prioritise their inner worlds too. Because their social and emotional development helps them understand and value who they are, and profoundly shapes how they think, behave, and connect to others. How they manage anxiety, low mood, tantrums, self-loathing or anger; these are the things that will shape their future lives, and without solid foundations in childhood, they may become vulnerabilities later.
‘No matter how outwardly successful they may be. Our ability to do all this requires a social and emotional skill set and if we don’t put these building blocks in place when we’re young, we find it much harder to manage ourselves, communicate and connect to others and engage with the world around us in adulthood, leaving us vulnerable to isolation and adversity.’
“If we can create a society which sees the child within every adult – and the adult within every child – we will finally start to change it for the better.”
We want to make the link between the skills we develop in early childhood and the core foundations that set us up for… pic.twitter.com/bMdmJZJwdu
— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) November 15, 2023
Catherine ignited the idea for this year’s Shaping Us Symposium to take a deeper look at how individuals grow and behave and answer one key question: What are the key skills we develop in early childhood, but continue to grow beyond it, that help establish the core foundations for life and allow us to go on to thrive as adults?
‘Nurturing skills that enable us to know ourselves, manage our emotions, focus our thoughts, communicate with others, foster positive relationships and explore the world are just as valuable to our long-term success as reading, writing or arithmetic’ all of which are bedrock skills that not only help children ‘to thrive, but also for restoring, protecting, and investing in humankind’.
The Princess concluded her speech with the call to action of that if we are to ‘rebalance and restore’ then there must be ‘new thinking and action at every level’ as the future of our children is something that can be built together.
‘It is therefore time we understood that building a healthier world means nurturing the foundations that support our children – everything from the systems that govern early care through to our attitudes to those raising the next generation, and the support they receive’.