Orenda Week 6 Motivational Interviewing

“What advice would you give to your 15-year-old self?”

That is one of 27 questions we answered during Week 5 of Orenda’s group session.

Last week we brought together young working professionals who grew up in similar environments to share with parents who want to better understand their children. Parents who could see the perspectives of what the speakers went through can use these lessons and ideas to help their children succeed. You can read more about our panel on our blog by clicking this link.

This week, Orenda held a workshop on the technique of motivational interviewing, a powerful tool used in health fields to facilitate intrinsic motivation from people in order to change their behavior.

Parents often struggle to effectively share their concerns about their child’s schoolwork, social life, or health habits. I remember when my parents would storm into my bedroom, demanding me to stop playing video games and instead get to studying. I would shout back, yelling at them to get out of my room. These conversations often begin and end in argument and frustration. We want to help parents avoid these situations. Our workshop last week taught parents how to more calmly, healthily and thoughtfully direct their conversations with their children towards productive ends.

What is Motivational Interviewing?

Motivational interviewing is a technique developed by psychologists in the 1980s to help people successfully enact behavioral change. There have been hundreds of studies in the past 35 years on the effectiveness of motivational interviewing to help people quit habits such as alcoholism. While the issues our students face are less serious, the same principles can be applied to help our students create their own desires for change.

In our program Orenda coaches use motivational interviewing by helping students come to their own conclusions about how they want to change their lives. We also wanted to teach these same skills to parents.

The research from the 1980s demonstrates that the best way to motivate someone to change their behavior is to help them realize how their current behavior is preventing them from achieving their own goals.

The four pillars of motivational interviewing can be summed up as the following:

  1. Open-ended questions: Open-ended questions allow students to express more than just a simple yes/no. For example, instead of asking a close-ended question such as “Do you feel good?” (which encourages only a yes/no response), we taught parents to ask questions such as “How are you feeling about the amount of homework you have today?” that allows students to share more.

  2. Affirming statements: As students share their feelings and thoughts, we encourage parents to say affirmative statements. These statements express agreement, understanding, empathy and care. After a student shares, “I feel bored by this assignment” or “I’m upset at my teacher” we teach parents to first let the students know that they are being heard by using statements such as, “I can see why you would be bored” or “I see where you’re coming from.” These statements don’t imply that a parent necessarily agrees with the child’s feelings; rather they are simply acknowledging that the child has those feelings.

  3. Reflective listening: Parents can show their students that they are engaged and present in the conversation by reflecting back to the students what they said. By using adjectives and ideas that the student offered, parents can demonstrate to their children that they are truly listening. Parents can use phrases such as, “It sounds like you’re saying that you’re feeling sad and upset.” or “You mentioned that you are very tired right now.” to offer signs that they are deeply listening to understand their children.

  4. Summarizing statements: Finally, parents learn how to help students summarize their own thoughts and feelings by using statements such as, “So in conclusion …” or “To summarize …” These phrases help students piece together their own thoughts, helping them make meaning out of their own lives. This creates more understanding, awareness and motivation in them.

Parents learned these concepts through interactive role-play with the coaches. They brought up a real situation with their children, and we acted it out with them while pretending to be their child. Parents practiced using motivational interviewing in these situations and we shared feedback with them. Many of them found the technique useful.

There are many ways to build a better relationship with your children. Not all situations will call for using techniques from motivational interviewing. Sometimes a parent should be direct and firm in his or her statements. However, often when your child is struggling or needs support, parents need to demonstrate that they are listening and willing to ask questions to understand their child before making judgements or commands.

Next Week

Next week we resume our workshops for teenagers. We will share with them the activities we did with their parents, helping them become more receptive to the conversational techniques we are teaching.

Our next week’s topic will focus on social fluency. Many students have questions about how to become more socially fluent, and more capable of interacting with other teenagers. This is usually something that’s highly important to most of the children we work with, for good reason. Teenage years are when students often start finding their social identity. We will hold a workshop that teaches students how to ask deeper questions and become better conversationalists.


If you are interested in learning more about participating in Orenda Academy, please fill out this link: Spring 2018 Interest Form.

We are also holding a limited number of spots for Spring 2018 virtual coaching where coaches work online with students located outside of the Bay Area. Please indicate if you are interested. You can also email us at carl@orendaacademy.com.