Cleaning Up Our Child’s Mental Health Mess – Dr. Caroline Leaf


In this episode, Dr. Stephanie has a profound conversation with Dr. Caroline Leaf, a renowned cognitive neuroscientist, about validating individual experiences regardless of clinical diagnoses. They explore the brain-mind distinction and emphasize a holistic approach to mental health. Topics include the detrimental effects of labeling and medicating, brain waves and learning, and managing emotions.

They also highlight the significance of parents’ role, the mind-brain-body connection, unstructured play, and the importance of seeking professional advice.

Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist, audiologist, and clinical and cognitive neuroscientist specializing in psychneurobiology and metacognitive neuropsychology. Her passion is to help people see the power of the mind to change the brain, control chaotic thinking, and find mental peace.

Since the early 1980s, Dr. Leaf has researched the mind-brain connection, the nature of mental health, and the formation of memory. As a highly sought-after expert on mental health, she is the host of the top-rated podcast, Cleaning Up the Mental Mess. Dr. Leaf is also the author of several bestselling books, including Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, Switch On Your Brain, Think and Eat Yourself Smart, The Perfect You, Think, Learn, Succeed, and many more. She has a Master’s and PhD in Communication Pathology and a BSc Logopaedics. Dr Leaf does ongoing research and clinical trials in the field of psychoneurobiology in order to improve mental health interventions.

Your story is valid. You do not need a medical diagnosis to make what you’re going through valid. What you’re experiencing deserves to be honored.

Dr. Caroline Leaf

In this episode you will discover how identification and labeling significantly impact your mental state. You will also explore the transition from a purely medical approach to a complete, comprehensive perspective on mental wellbeing. Grasp the necessity of mental management and imparting key support to parents grappling with children’s mental health. Delve into the intriguing connection between mind, brain, body, and the pivotal role of emotions in psychological health. And finally you will learn effective techniques to educate children about their emotions and the practice of neurocycling for resilience and effective emotional management.



00:06:43 – The Impact of the Biomedical Model,
Dr. Leaf explains how the focus on the brain and the biomedical model has led to the pathologization of childhood and the labeling of normal responses to life events as medical problems. This shift has removed hope, disempowered individuals, and failed to improve mental health outcomes.

00:10:34 – Mental Illness as a Response,
Dr. Leaf challenges the notion that mental illness is a physiological problem and instead highlights that it is a response to environmental factors and experiences. She emphasizes the importance of reframing anxiety and depression as valid responses to life circumstances and the need to honor each individual’s story.

00:12:54 – Validating Experiences Without Medical Diagnosis,
Dr. Leaf asserts that individuals do not need a medical diagnosis to validate their experiences. She emphasizes the importance of honoring and validating each person’s unique story and experiences, regardless of whether they have a clinical label.

00:13:15 – Importance of Validation and Honoring Experiences,
Dr. Leaf emphasizes the need for validation and honoring of experiences.

00:14:56 – The Danger of Labels,
Labels such as ADHD and fibromyalgia can become part of our identity, making it difficult to extract ourselves from them. This can limit our self-value and hinder personal growth.

00:17:40 – Misunderstandings and Mislabeling,
Mislabeling can occur when symptoms are attributed to a medical disease instead of addressing the underlying cause. This can lead to a misunderstanding of the true issue and hinder proper treatment.

00:18:03 – Chemical Imbalance Myth,
The belief that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance has been widely accepted, but research has shown that this is not the case. Misconceptions about the causes of mental health issues can be invalidating and damaging to one’s self-worth.

00:20:08 – Mind-Brain-Body Connection,
Our mind, brain, and body are interconnected, and negative experiences can impact all three. Understanding how to manage our mind in the moment is crucial for maintaining mental health and recognizing when additional support is needed.

00:25:56 – Helping Parents,
To address the mental health crisis in children, it is important to support parents in understanding and managing their own mental health.

00:28:52 – The Importance of Managing the Mind,
Dr. Caroline Leaf discusses the importance of teaching ourselves and our children how to manage our minds in order to effectively deal with the changes and challenges of life.

00:29:45 – Overcoming Challenges and Building Resilience,
Dr. Leaf and Dr. Estima discuss the inevitable challenges of life, such as heartbreak, tragedy, and academic setbacks.

00:30:51 – The Neurocycle and Rewriting the Story,
Dr. Leaf introduces the concept of the neurocycle, a step-by-step process for managing our thoughts and emotions. By engaging in the neurocycle, we can evaluate how we’re feeling, rewrite our story, and effectively metabolize the power of negative experiences.

00:31:53 – The Science Behind the Neurocycle,
Dr. Leaf explains the science behind the neurocycle and how our thoughts and experiences shape our brain and body. She describes the brain as a tree-like structure, with thoughts and memories growing as branches on neurons.

00:42:50 – Understanding the Four Categories of Signals,
Dr. Caroline Leaf discusses the importance of looking at the whole person, including emotions, behaviors, bodily sensations, and perspectives.

00:43:32 – Biological Indicators of Emotional Well-being,
Dr. Leaf explains that biological markers such as cortisol, homocysteine, prolactin, and telomeres can provide insights into a person’s emotional state.

00:44:06 – Building a Complete Picture,
By combining the information from the brain, emotions, behaviors, and bodily sensations, a complete picture of a person’s mental health can be formed.

00:44:34 – The Four Categories of Signals,
The four categories of signals to look at when assessing mental health are behavioral, emotional, bodily sensation, and perspective.

00:49:02 – The Neurocycle Process,
Dr. Leaf outlines the steps of the neurocycle process, which involves gathering awareness of the four signals, reflecting on the details, writing them down, and then analyzing the connections and patterns.

00:55:44 – Addressing Negative Behavior in Children,
Dr. Caroline Leaf discusses the importance of helping children understand their emotions and providing them with alternative ways to express their frustrations rather than resorting to negative behavior.

00:56:11 – Introducing “Brainey” as a Mental Health Companion,
Dr. Leaf introduces “Brainey,” a toy character that walks the mental health journey with children. Brainey serves as a point of contact for children to express their emotions and provides a sense of companionship and understanding.

00:57:26 – Creating a Safe Space for Processing Emotions,
Dr. Leaf suggests designating an area in the house as a safe space for children to process their emotions without judgment or invalidation.

00:59:04 – Age-Appropriate Prompts and Language,
Dr. Leaf emphasizes the importance of using age-appropriate language and prompts when discussing emotions with children.

01:00:36 – Recognizing Physical Signals of Emotions,
Dr. Leaf discusses the importance of recognizing physical signals of emotions in both children and adults.

01:07:17 – The Importance of Redoing and Reflecting,
Dr. Leaf discusses the importance of redoing and reflecting when facing challenges and mistakes. She explains how this process, known as the neurocycle, can help us gather awareness and make improvements in our lives.

01:09:05 – The Neurocycle as a Deliberate System,
Dr. Leaf explains that the neurocycle is a conscious and deliberate system that helps us understand and manage our thoughts and emotions.

01:10:04 – Daydreaming and Neurocycles,
Dr. Leaf discusses the role of daydreaming in the neurocycle process.

01:12:38 – The Benefits of Unstructured Play,
Dr. Leaf emphasizes the importance of unstructured play for children’s brain development and overall well-being.

01:15:06 – Balancing Structured Play and Video Games,
Dr. Leaf advises parents on finding a balance between structured play, video games, and unstructured play. She encourages parents to teach their children how to manage their time and engage in various activities, such as outdoor play.


This is possibly my favourite cardio machine ever – For a limited time, get $100 off CAROL Bike with promo code BETTER. Visit today.

I’m Dr. Stephanie

Part geek, part magic, and all the way passionate about being a well-lived woman.

I want to throw my grandkids in the air in my 70’s. I want to be squatting even more weight than I am now, and putting my OWN luggage in the overhead bin. Sound like weird goals? For me these are just some of the little things that represent a life well-lived.

My health is MY job – I’ll be damned if I rely on luck, ‘good genes’ or a cocktail of drugs that over promise and under deliver.

The Betty Body is my first book-baby, and a collection of what I’ve learned after thousands of clinical hours, hundreds of conversations with the world’s top experts, and most importantly…

This book is an outline of what took ME from “rock-bottom health” at 38, to being my own version of a Betty in my perimenopausal mid 40’s. A woman who is physically strong, full of energy, enjoys mental clarity, great sex and a joyful family life. Is it all roses? Of course not. But I have the stamina and tools to deal with the push and pull of life so that it doesn’t turn into chronic stress.

I want this for you too. Let’s go Bettys!