Duchess of Cambridge talks of ‘naive’ parenting plus unplanned speech at Royal Foundation conference

At The Royal Foundation’s ‘Mental Health in Education’ conference yesterday, The Duchess of Cambridge spoke of her naivety as a new parent when it came to her children’s mental health.

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Catherine shared her own experiences as a mother of three at a round-table discussion at the Mental Health in Education conference at Mercers’ Hall, London. The conference’s focus was on what could be done to tackle mental health issues in schools and support teachers in the process, by bringing together experts from across the mental health and education sectors.

“When I first started out and I’ve learnt a lot in a short period of time working with organisations, I was very naive myself as a parent, of really just how important particularly the early years are for children’s futures,” the Royal said. “And how critical it is, everyone looking after children at a critical time, teachers, parents, and everyone who’s caring for them, how important it is that we get it right.”

In a 45 minute discussion, which included the CEO of Place2Be, Catherine Roche, the Duchess took notes on the conversations;  the panel spoke about engagement of teachings with students as well as parents, to assist with pupils’ development in and out of the classroom.

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Kate said: “I wonder what the base level of the importance of child’s early development is for teachers at the moment.

“Is that part of the current existing teacher training at all? Is it discussed at any part of the training on your journey to become a teacher? I know from a parent’s perspective it’s certainly not discussed, the importance of childhood development, and I know that’s a different challenge.

“But also the importance of relationship building, empathy and resilience can also be taught and monitored at home as well.”

Young people’s mental health is one of Catherine’s key focuses in her charity work, launching a campaign for mentally healthy schools last year.

BBC presenter Kate Silverton welcomed the Duchess to the conference, and praised the future Queen for “all the work” she has been doing in the field of education.

“As you will know [she] has been a great driving force behind the Royal Foundation’s work supporting children in their earliest years,” Ms Silverton told the conference. “And, Your Royal Highness, it’s an honour to have you here with us today.”

In 2018, Catherine formed a steering group of health experts, academics and charity leads to look into the correlation between early years and those who experience mental health problems in later life. Their findings are expected be announced later this year.

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Prior to leaving, in an unexpected address to delegates, The Duchess said on stage: “I wasn’t actually planning on speaking but I do just want to say a few words on reflection after today’s wonderful speakers.”

“It’s really so exciting to hear everyone here speaking with your wealth of experience about the importance of mental health and particularly the emotional development of our children and teachers.

“Thank you all for your dedication to this important cause, whether you work in schools, universities, charities or elsewhere.

“Over the last eight years working with charities I’ve met some of our leading experts in mental health, addiction, family breakdown, homelessness and education,” the Duchess remarked.

“They have taught me over and over again that the root cause of so many of today’s social problems can be traced right back to the very earliest years of a person’s life and often over generations. The scientific and other evidence is clear the first few years of a child’s life are more pivotal for development and for future health and happiness than any other single moment in our life time.

“It is also clear that the positive development of our children is directly linked to those who care for them, teachers, carers and parents.

“No one of us however can make a difference alone. I feel so passionately about working together and being here today has affirmed to me just how much already is being done, so thank you to all of you who are prioritising the importance of mental health and the importance of childhood development as a whole. I look forward to hearing how your discussions will lead to proactive steps and to an ever more resounding commitment to mentally healthy schools, teachers and children.”

the duchess of cambridge unexpectedly addressed delegates at the royal foundation mental health conference (kensington palace)

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