The Duchess of Cambridge says that “addiction, self-harm, and suicide” could be prevented later in life if children learn to properly manage their emotions.
Speaking to a group that included the Health Secretary Sajid Javidshe called for mental and physical health education to be given equal importance in addressing “today’s toughest social challenges”.
It comes after a poll found less than a fifth of parents understood the ‘unique’ importance of development in children under six.
Kate, who founded the Royal Foundation Center for Early Childhood last year, made the remarks during a discussion with health experts and politicians at the Royal Institution in Westminster.
Sitting in front quinceMinister for Children and Families, the Duchess said: “The importance of early years is clearly underestimated.
“We know that only a minority of people understand the critical importance of the first five years of a child’s life, and that’s what we really need to change.
“If we can teach children to deal with their emotions and feelings from an early age, it will help them avoid having to turn to addiction, self-harm or suicide, even later in life.
“Together, we have a huge opportunity here to help shape the future.”
Earlier this year, Kate traveled to Denmark to learn how its education system promotes the mental wellbeing of children.
As she spoke, Mr Javid nodded and took notes in a book with the motto ‘The first step is to make one’ printed on the front.
There is “certainly more to be done” to improve children’s cognitive development, he admitted.
Mr Javid said: ‘The early years couldn’t be more important in terms of cognitive, emotional and physical development.
“Because of the past two years and the impact of the pandemic…it’s given us even more work to do.”
According to an Ipsos poll, commissioned by the royal foundation, almost half of the public believe that parents are not sufficiently supported to help their children develop.
It also found that parents are much more likely to seek help with their physical rather than mental wellbeing.
In the past year, 35% asked for advice on child nutrition and 34% on vaccines, compared to only 21% and 23% on the social and emotional development of children.
“If we remove the barriers and stigma around mental health, more parents and families will be able to access help and support,” the Duchess said.
“We are going to have to work holistically to build an ecosystem of early childhood support.
“At the end of the day, it’s about the adults they will become and the society they will form.”