Prince George with his pop, Prince William. Photo: Rex USA /Illustrated by Sydney Haas.
So, you're a baby. You think the mobile that hangs over your bed is hilarious. You love milk and you hate not having milk immediately when you remember it exists. You’re working on your core. You’re making progress on your crawl. You’re starting to get the hang of balance and taking tiny steps in tiny shoes with rubber soles. You’re really leaning into that moment when you fall and everyone pauses to see if you’ll cry. And then, you’re hit with some big news: You're the royal baby.
Not just any royal baby — the royal baby, the one who jump-started the U.K.’s economy before you were born, the one whose christening on Wednesday sent half of CNN across the Atlantic. And, the same one who will, at some point in the next 60 or 70 years, inherit the British monarchy. When do you figure out this information and, more importantly, what do you do with it?
We turned to some experts (re: psychologists and old magazines) to find out.
"Prince George will first realize he is a prince of exalted status well before the time he turns three,” says Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a New York-based family psychologist.
So, age three, that’s it? Not exactly. Self-awareness comes in stages, according child psychological theorists, starting from around age two and lasting through the tween era. Strap yourself in, kid.
For Prince George, the bumpy ride will start rolling about a year and half from now. That’s when, says Hokemeyer, "he will begin to realize he exists in relationship to other people and will internalize how others respond to him.”
When you’re surrounded by a coterie of saluting staffers, you’ll probably learn early on that your relationship to people is predominantly boss to employee. William was living like the president of the United States before he could even spell. He had nannies, yes, but also two Scotland Yard detectives and a family panic room in his country house.
The same protections and luxuries will be the case for little Georgie. He may not be able to wrap his head around the concept of royalty in the next couple of years, but he will notice that grown-ups — all grown-ups — make a big fuss over him. Once that’s all clear, it’s time for phase two of the kingdom realization: socializing.
Photo: Rex USA.
In a way-too-deep-dive of old People magazines from the ‘80s, we were able to deduce that between four and six, William struggled with his place in nursery-school society, despite his status in the world at large. One People magazine reporter claimed, “He has angered his classmates by pushing his way to the front of the refreshment queues, and his rough-and-tumble playground behavior has earned him the nickname among some parents as ‘the Basher.’”
It gets worse, according to the same 1986 article time forgot: “Stories circulate that he occasionally flexes his royal muscle,” telling other children, ‘My daddy can beat up your daddy...my daddy's the Prince of Wales.’ Worse still, he reportedly whines when he doesn't get his way."
Today, with the fancy Internet and the demand for 24-hour royal coverage, Prince George’s process of self-awareness will be, if nothing else, sped up.
Still, says Hokemeyer, the young prince will be seven or eight before he really starts getting that the world is watching. “Prince George will learn what it means to be a royal, what the expectations are, what his lineage looks like, and what the duties will be,” he explains. “He will do this in part by observing how is family acts and is treated and how the rest of the world acts and is treated.”
During this time, George will be processing “how his peers treat him, how he is expected to act toward his peers,” says Hokemeyer. It’s hard to be the kid whose family requires security checks for playdates. Who can you trust? Why are you treated differently? And, how do you downplay your title and uphold it at the same time?
For William, the conflict may have led to early maturity. By the ripe old age of six, two years after he walked to his first day of school accompanied by 100 photographers, he was settling into his role, without rubbing it in people’s faces. "William knows he's special," a visitor to the six-year-old prince’s country house told People. "He's incredibly confident for a little boy his age. It's a bit like talking to another adult."
Even if Prince George has the same “sangfroid” (as another royal insider put it) as his dad at age six, he won’t be done with the mental Rubik's Cube of self-awareness until he’s a little older. “Adolescence marks the developmental point when Prince George will begin to question the notion of royalty and understand how it relates to him specifically,” says Hokemeyer. “He will now have the capacity to think and verbalize his own thoughts and feelings about this role as prince and the future king. He will also very likely rebel and challenge these notions during this stage.”
Friendships only complicate the matter. “He will hunger for a kinship — with his peer group who will in all likelihood consist of elite people but not royals,” he says. All this social and internal conflict could lead to “distress and cause him to feel isolated, alone, and misunderstood,” says Hokemeyer.
Woe is the little prince on a lonely planet of one. But, in some ways, some of this prepubescent introspection sounds familiar. Feeling lonely and misunderstood? Been there, done that. The good news for George is that when he looks back on those 12 or so years of royal growing pains, it won’t seem like such a big deal. Just ask Prince Charles.
"I can't pinpoint any particular moment," Charles once reflected of his own lot in life. "I didn't suddenly wake up in my pram and say, 'Yippee.' I think it just dawns on you slowly, that people are interested, and slowly you get the idea that you have a certain duty and responsibility."
Until that happens, Prince George, enjoy the blissful ignorance of being a baby. And, keep working on your core.