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Motivational Interviewing - Methods to a healthy mind

Date published: Date modified: 2022-12-09

Dealing with children and young people with behavioural issues can be difficult. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to force them to do something they don’t want to do. If they don’t want to change, they won’t.

Traditional behaviour and classroom management techniques can give you short term results, but when all of these have been exhausted what’s next?

How do you get the children who are damaging their futures, and distracting the children around them, to change?

The simple answer is, you can’t. A child must first realise this for themselves and make the conscious decision to change. After they have made this decision, you can support them to take action.

Bypassing Resistance

The common reaction to a misbehaving child is discipline if they are being disruptive or breaking rules.  However, this is not always the best method.

Coercive intervention methods that rely on punishment, restraint and control can produce successful results for a short-term period but often fail in the long term. This is because coercive methods fail to understand that children and young people are on a constant road to independence. If you fail to respect this, the child will continue to fight back and put up barriers that will make it harder for you to get through to them.

The Motivational Interviewing method, was created by Miller and Rollnik (1991) to deal with alcohol abuse. This has been adapted for use with children and young people to help bypass resistance by putting the importance on the child who seeks to change. It veers away from the conventional counselling techniques and focuses on a positive, collaborative style between the instructor and child where the child is acknowledged as the expert in themselves.

Results for your pupils and results for you

The aim of Motivational Interviewing, and any intervention service in education, is to help children avoid exclusion, avoid pupil referral units (PRUs),resolve the underlying issues that are preventing them from learning and have less of an impact on their peers.

Research by Barnado’s found that:

School Improvement Speech Mark
Young people who had been frequently excluded [have] personal costs [that] are significant and long term. […] Compared with the cost of exclusion, even the most intensive model of intervention saves money in the long term, as well as helping young people to resolve the issues that distract them from learning. [Not present and not correct: Understanding and preventing school exclusions by Barnardo’s]Green Speech Marks 2

With the cost (both monetarily and personally) of permanent exclusion, and placement in PRUs being so high, intervention programmes are not only beneficial for your pupils, but also for your school.

Making the change

Once a pupil has made the conscious decision to make a change they can then begin sessions that revolve around shaping a foundation to achieving that change. Pupil’s often have an ambivalence to change, they often don’t trust adults with their problems or issues because they are constantly told what to do and how to do it. Motivational Interviewing helps children pick their own aims and construct their own path towards this in an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion.

As the name suggests, the method is all about motivation. Instead of lecturing, the instructor will evoke and elicit the children’s reasons for why they want to change. They will provide the children with the resources and help along the way, so they can get closer to the change, but the child is always in control. If the child believes they have a better way or method to reaching the change, the instructor will take this on board.

The method helps children constantly visualise where they want to be, how to get there and how to avoid the pitfalls that will send them back along the way.

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By Stuart Tongue
SAAF Education 340 110

19 April 2018


School Improvement

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