Start Omhoog


How to act in everyday life conflicts In a residential living group

In: R. Soisson

Aktuelle Probleme Jugendlichen in der Heimerziehung in Europa,
Texte zum internationalen Kongress,
juni 1985, Luxemburg,
FICE, Zürich, 1986



When a childcare worker or houseparent in a residential living group goes on duty, he usually reads the journal (diary or daily report) first. To begin with, let us read such a journal

Example 1: Bad morning

"Good morning. – That is: Bad morning. Damn. What a riotous tribe. This morning I was busy for an hour giving them serious warnings and telling them off. I got very annoyed with them. Especially with Otto and Ferry. First they played some rock music at a deafening volume; then I could only just prevent them from throwing the laundry basket down the stairs.
At breakfast the two of them were a pain in the neck, particularly for Bernard, Harry and Nigel. I sent Otto up to his room. Given the chance, Ferry would go on all by himself. From upstairs came the noise of Harry being knocked about by Carlo, Gene and Charlie, because he had been banging on the wall of Carlo’s room again. So I got Charlie down. 
But all right, they kept me running up and downstairs a good half of the morning. They all left for school on time, however. Afterwards I was told that the staff room downstairs was a terrible mess; flowers and plants had been torn out of their pots, and the like. I have got a notion that Ferry and Otto or Harry know more about this."

This is one of over five thousand entries about conflicts that I have analyzed in my research project and discussed with the house parents in question. Here are two others:

Example 2: Back from school

"At half past twelve the all came back from school. It was quite a tense affair again. Gilbert, William and Bertie were very mischievous and noisier were hardly approachable. We ate sandwiches in a very unpleasant atmosphere. We hardly knew how to break through this situation." (A child care worker wrote this in the journal for a Wednesday afternoon.)

Example 3: I failed once more

"At half past five everybody sat down under to dinner. I was a very sociable company and they were enthusiastic about the food… Up to the point where a few plates were empty, and in no time it was noisy and rebellious again, and the was much laughter. They were damn hard to manage. I failed once more." (Another worker from the same team.)

And here are two examples from the discussion with the child care workers:

Example 4: I reach my limits:

"In conflict situations I reach my limits. I get depressed and anxious and I withdraw within myself. I let nothing affect me and only try to make the boy see my standards. It becomes a struggle for power then, and any contact is lost." (A chief child care worker at a team session.)

Example 5: Primitive feelings

"When I am angry, I get stuck with my primitive feelings. My whole thought gets influenced by my anger. I am afraid I will go too far, become unreasonable. And that is not all what I want. Later, I regret it all." (A child care worker).


§ 1.

 "Action research" is a form of investigation which is carried out in cooperation with field workers. Levin is considered one of its founders. In the seventies, notably in the German language area, the conviction spread that this kind of research required a specific methodology and philosophy of knowledge. Moser in particular contributed these, enabled to do this also through the insights of the Frankfurter School, and especially those of Habermas

In the Netherlands these notions have taken root in form of research that wants to be an alternative to the traditional empirical-analytical approach. I have conducted such research in eleven residential living groups in the Netherlands. Conflicts in daily life have been described by child care workers immediately after their shift. I have analyzed these conflicts and discussed them with the workers. The purpose of this was: finding possible modes of action, supported by insights, for child care workers. The modes of action developed in the first four groups, were tested for their usefulness in seven other groups and supplemented.

Action is a central concept in this research, and it is meant to be the counterpart of Behavior. In behaviorism. Behavior is considered to be caused by factors. Action is regarded as a purposeful choice made by actors in a given situation. 

In this research project Action is conceptualized as: "Performing deeds which are meaningful, purposeful, chosen in freedom and on the basis of, to a certain extent, rationally founded knowledge and standards; which deed can produce a change in the environment, and are performed by persons who know themselves responsible for them." Action progresses process wise; in this process seven successive elements can be distinguished:

  1. The perception and interpretation of the situation;

  2. to will something, or the choice of aims and the production of a plan,

  3. the choice and performance of certain deeds in certain ways,

  4. the perception and interpretation of the situation after the deeds and the interpretation of the outcome,

  5.  the perception of a retrospective feeling, and

  6. the development of insights. At length a seventh element can be distinguished, namely

  7. the development of insights concerning the development of new insights.

The insights intended under (6) can be used in actions to perceive and interpret the situation, to state aims, etc. This type of insight enables one to act. The insights intended under (7) can be used in going way to come to new  insight. With this type of insight one can come to better action.

§ 2. 

The method of research can be outlined in the same cycle of action in a threefold way:

A. In a daily cycle:

  1. The child care worker goes on duty, perceives the situation and interprets it.

  2. He states his aims and makes his plans.

  3. He performs acts, and

  4. he sees, records and interprets the outcome in the journal when his duty is finished,

  5. as well as his retrospective feeling and

  6. his thoughts about his experiences and

  7. his thoughts about possible improvement if his course of action.

About 2.500 of such daily records were written and analyzed; they contained over 7.500 "events", which in their turn contained more then 5.000 conflicts.

B. In a number of monthly cycles:

  1. The perception and interpretation of the situation of the living group at that specific moment, made a note of by the researcher after he has read and analyzed the journal. This note is discussed with the workers and in this discussion possible alternative interpretations and

  2. alternative aims and action plans are considered.

  3. The actual actions of the workers in the group in the following weeks, which actions are recorded.

  4. The perception and interpretation of the recorded outcome and of 

  5. the retrospective feelings in the journals.

  6. In the next team session insights are formulated about the possible ways of action and

  7. the possible improvement of the actions.


C. In a cycle of an average 9 months per group:

  1. Perception and interpretation of the situation at the starting point: the first stage of visualization of the group climate.

  2. Stating aims and making plans in cooperation with the team.

  3. The action stage of several months: finding other methods of action.

  4. The perception and interpretation of the outcome: the second stage of visualization.

  5. The perception of the retrospective feelings: evaluation with the team.

  6. Formulation of the attained insights and

  7. the acquired methodological knowledge.


§ 3.

 In every group, entries of conflicts were found in the journal. Many had a bad ending: the conflict escalated and/or worker and child par ten both angry. There were always some that did turn out well, though they were very scarce sometimes, and these ended with the solution of the conflict, even with improvement of the contact.

Comparative analysis of the mode of action revealed the differences:

If the worker acts this way, he gets stuck in the conflict;

if he acts that way, the conflict is solved.

Consequently, it is logical to act in that way.


The reasoning is that of the practical syllogism of Aristotle:

I want to archive this.

I know, that if I do that, I can archive that.

Therefore I do that.


It is also the reasoning of John Dewey’s pragmatism: that which works, I take for valid for the time being.

In every group the comparative analysis has been reported out to the team, using their own journal entries so that they could always draw their own conclusions is their own terminology: Let us try that way.

§ 4. Concerning methodology, the following can be added:

  1. The procedure is inductive. A method is developed starting from the action, not from existing theories - because these turned out not to work.

  2. The researcher does more than observe only: he also participates; as a supervisor and sometimes as a child care worker. Students took part in the group life and the research as trainees. In one of the groups for example, where putting the children to bed was a daily recurring problem, I put the children to bed; where the meals gave difficulties, I took part in the meals.

  3. The child care workers are not objects of research, but fellow-researchers of their own ways of action, subjects.

  4. What was recorded in the journal, the evaluation and the reports of discussions, were not the objectively observable facts, but the subjective experience and interpretation of the facts by the actors and the researcher together, in critical dialogue. No positive facts but the ideas of actors about these facts. No positivism but idealism as a scientific philosophy. The aim of the research is not finding casual, systematic explanations of conduct, but finding out new ways of action. Not the know-why but the know-how: how to act.


In short: the methodology of action research differs fundamentally from that of positivistic and deductive research - and consequently from what is usually called: empirical-analytical research. It has a different underlying philosophy, a different conception of knowledge and ultimately a different concept of man: man as an actor who deliberately chooses his actions, and not man as a reactor to stimuli or factors working causally and therefore determining him. I said "man" and not "man except the children". I see children as acting people too. They differ from adults gradually, but not essentially.

In addition: For about seven years I worked as a child care worker in residential living groups. After that I supervised child care workers in special residential treatment settings in the Netherlands for about then years. I did professional training and research at the university of Nijmegen for about five years. At the moment I am engaged in research into training methods for professional care workers and writing my doctor's dissertation: the report of the research project I am discussing here. In my everyday life I always have children around me, it is simply the way of the life I have chosen. 

Let us return now to the conflicts and the possible modes of action in everyday life conflicts between children and child care workers.


§ 1.  

Let us go back to the first example, "Bad morning", and analyze it, i.e. paraphrase it tersely. The seven elements insofar they are rendered, on the basis of the narrative of the worker.

  1. How does this child care worker perceive this situation on this morning? As riotous; the boys are "a pain in the neck".

  2. What is it that this worker wants? What is his aim? Does he makes a plan? He wants to regulate the group, steer them into certain channels, and get them to go to school on time. There is no trace of a plan.

  3. What does he do and how does he do that? He warns them; prevents them from doing things; he packs somebody off to his room and gets him down again; he runs about the place and plays the detective.

  4. How does it turn out? Unrest; boys doing things on the sly; still they get to school on time.

  5. How does the worker feel afterwards? "Bad morning; damn; very annoyed."

  6. and (7) are not to be found in this narrative.


The insights that form the basis of such action, the philosophy of care so to speak, have been put into words during the team sessions as follows. The starting point, the way of looking at the boys, was that they had a disturbance, a back-log in their social and emotional development, reflected in motor over activity and the inability to make contact and to have relationships with other people. So treatment is necessary and this begins with offering "safety" by means of "structure". Starting from this safety the boys would venture to begin relationships. In daily practice this "structure" was given the form of rules, setting limits and confrontation with unacceptable behavior, while the team adopted an attitude of detachment. For the boys had an inability to make contacts.

These insights are well-known: they are taken from professional literature. They can for instance be found in Adler's work as well as in Trieschmann's, Whittaker's and Brentro's.


Of the group where the events of the example occurred, over one hundred journals containing several hundreds of entries on conflicts have been analyzed. In this way an idea can be given of the actual way of action of the team by means of abstraction per element of action. Some important data of this picture are the following:

  1. Perception and interpretation of the situation:
    The residents are different from us: they are disturbed, above all in making contacts; they have an inclination towards chaos.

  2. The aims and plans
    Regulation; control of the situation; damning up of disquietude; fighting undesirable behavior and resistance. The ultimate aim was: safety by means of structure. Starting from this safety relationships should develop, and from this insight into one's personal behavior a change of behavior: more relaxed and in proportion to one's age.

  3. The method. 
    First of all to maintain the rules: set limits; confront with behavior, therefore to enter into conflicts and to deal with them in such a way that the worker comes out the winner. For this purpose the use of power and authority was indispensable. Almost every day boys were sent to their rooms for instance. Or, during a meal, put into a side room which was actually meant as a hobby room. 
    Up to this point everything goes exactly in accordance with the theory. Safety and relationships should come about now. But just have a look how in fact action based on this theory works and how the child care worker feels about it:

  4. The outcome. 
    A struggle for power between the care workers and the boys and also among the boys themselves governed the social climate. Unrest caused by conflicts amplified the unrest specific to the boys' age. Rebellious and sly behavior (vandalism, theft) were the order of the day. The boys who offered the most fierce resistance were master of their group - like Polsky described in "Cottage Six". 
    The team are in opposition to the boys in a constant struggle for power. Not a single one of the boys feels safe - not even the toughest.

  5. The perception of a retrospective feeling. 
    The worker feels powerless: tired to death; feels if he were standing face to face with a "mob" in the role of a policeman; he has no time for individual relationships; feels rejected and desperate.

  6. The insights. 
    Initially, the team worked from the insight that, if the present structure did not work out well, then more structure was necessary: more rules, more sanctions, tougher action - "more of the same" as Watzlawick calls it. Gradually, the awareness grew that this method did not work either and the insight dawned that this was not a proper approach. It had to be changed, but how? 

  7. Insights of type (7) about changing of action were not available. It was a vicious circle, as at the top of figure 1.


As I mentioned before, after the first stage of visualization and the stating of aims an action phase followed in which there was an active search for a different mode of action, particularly in dealing with conflicts in everyday life situations. 

At this stage it became clear that conflicts in which the boys were not sent to their rooms had a better outcome. Moreover, and this is striking, conflicts were solved in a better way when only one care worker was on duty than when there were two. Both cases corresponded in this respect: the worker makes less or no use at all of his power and authority to put an end to the conflict, but he has to "live through" it with the boy and the group: he  must keep communication going and the time will come that he has to point one clearly his personal limits at a specific moment and in a specific situation. 

And that is precisely what leads to the solution: pointing out one's personal limits. As soon as such a message has been received, things quiet down, and there is room for trying to find a substantial solution to the conflict. The team had to make clear where their limits lay and possibly very clear. "Clarity" in this group before the action stage was translated as "uniformity of rules" and the limit was set by sending a boy out of the group and up to his room. In the action stage we realized what sort of clarity the boys were asking for: personal clarity and setting personal limits. I give a short summary of a long extensive journal entry:

Example 6: Really angry

Kevin has been pestering and provoking all afternoon. The care worker tries to find out what is the matter with him but he does not respond. When the boys kick up a row about some cello tape, the fat is in the fire: "That really made me angry. I gave Ferry a terrible broadside because he started calling me names. Some time later I reflected that Ferry had got the scolding that was actually meant for Kevin, and I was sorry. I went after them and told Ferry, pretty emotionally and openly, that I had been wrong to put the blame on him instead of on Kevin. He obviously noticed that I was being sincere and quieted down again. And so did I. Kevin was clearly at a loss with the situation. (...) 
At dinner I told the whole group what had happened. Kevin got troublesome again and the entire group gave him what for. (...) 
At homework time I sat with Kevin and we had a very good conversation. When homework was finished the atmosphere was excellent again. It was a very sociable evening and bedtime gave no problems. I. I enjoyed my work." 

In this example, as in many other entries about conflict situations, we can observe a sudden change in the story immediately after the worker has pointed out his limits in the I-form. The message "You must..." simply does not work; the message "I have enough"  is received.  Gordon has also pointed this out in his work.

Example 7: My anger not in the way of contact

On another morning, Kevin and Otto are bothersome and provoking. (I make the entry slightly shorter). 
"I was very annoyed and made that clear to them. I pushed Otto till I had him in the corner and he could not move either way and then I asked him if he liked me to treat him that way. Apparently he did not. Kevin also calmed down and said it had been he who had thrown the cocos across the room and he would clean up the mess. Later I told Otto that I liked it no more than he did to behave in that way. We had a good talk in spite of my anger. And I am glad that my anger did not get in the way of our contact." 

In my opinion he owes it to his anger. Anger can indicate a limit in a personal, contact-stimulating manner. The team of his group fairly abruptly cased putting the boys in separate rooms and, in the presence of the whole group, went through the conflict in a  personal and often emotionally charged manner,  together with both boy and group. The number of conflicts diminished and the percentage of solved conflicts are increased. And in four weeks' time the climate improved enormously.


In another group the team punished the children in 70 percent of the recorded conflicts, and they rarely uttered their personal anger (13 percent). Other methods, like extra care or explanation, amounted 26 percent. (This adds up to more than 100 percent, but sometimes punishment and danger coincided.) Now it apperceived, that those conflicts in which there were no penalties, were ended in a much better way: those conflicts where no power or authority was used, but where the child care worker indicated his personal limits at a specific moment, and/or where the needs of the children were attended to. 

Penalties were reduced drastically after this insight had dawned to about one third of a considerably smaller number of conflicts. The number of "angry" cases increased to about a third in the remaining third neither anger nor punishment were necessary. 

Immediately after the report had been made and the data had been discussed, working with punishment was reduced from 70 to 36 percent in the action stage, and to 20 percent of a reduced number of conflicts in the final stage. The cases of anger increased from 13 to 33 percent in the action stage, and in the final stage anger was no longer necessary: 0 percent. Alternative methods increased from 26 percent, via 46 percent in the action stage to 80 percent in the final stage. And meanwhile, the climate had fundamentally improved. See figure 2.


In a third group, penalties were often given when the children were unquiet at bedtime. It appeared that the children went to sleep better, more quietly and faster when no penalties had been used and extra personal attention and warmth had been given: i.e. when the exertion of power and authority was omitted, and the needs of the children were attended to.

Attending to their needs, however, does not mean always giving in to their wishes. It does mean that these needs should be taken seriously and there is communication about the needs of the child, the limits of the worker and the demands made by the environment. Methods that stimulate this communication, often emotionally charged in conflicts, lead to the solution of the conflict.


But there is more to it. Meanwhile something very fundamental has been said. Namely, that needs have to be taken seriously. Needs can be extended to: the will of the child, its interests and its feelings.  And "taking seriously" is preceded by recognition and preferably also acknowledgement of needs, will, interests and feelings.  When the worker hears and acknowledges the needs -etc- of the child, i.e. when he receives the message from the child - thereupon recognizes the content of that message in his own framework of experience AND is able to transmit that back to the child - then the communication circle is closed and there is contact. See figure 3.

These methods that stimulate this contact and this communication bring conflicts to a solution. And this is even valid when some force has been used to archive a calm in the situation and to evoke communication. The connection I just described emerged time and again in thousands of conflicts; see again figure 1.The use of constraint, power and authority will at most lead to temporary adaptation of behaviour and to angry partings, but more often to an escalation of the conflict. The use of contact-and communication stimulating methods leads to recovery, often ton an improvement, of the contact and to a solution of the conflict. And ultimately to a better group climate.


The developed method is called:  The contact and confrontation model. And this model works: from all the journals and utterances of the child care workers of the eleven groups in the research the following can be verified:

  1. If the team have or have not adopted this model; i.e. if they are working to a less extent with power and authority and more with contact and communication stimulating methods. This can be counted.

  2. If in the opinion of the people involved the climate has or has not improved.

One of the eleven groups showed no change for six months, but id did in the following six months. That is the reason why I have counted this group for two groups in the diagram so they number twelve. See figure 4.

Figure 4: Changes

Style of dealing with


Not changed or worse 



Not changed, or not towards contact & confrontation model




Changed toward contact & confrontation model








Statistic is not required to be able to read this diagram: it is a matter of course.


In the meantime it will have become clear that with attending to needs and working contact and communication stimulating I do not wish to say that the requests of children should always be given in to, nor that there should be all-understanding talks. Especially in conflicts talk can be very fierce. One of the most fundamental needs of the children is in my opinion to meet men of flesh and blood. Men and women who sometimes get angry, fed up, frustrated, intolerant or unwilling, With such people, whom they can recognize as human beings - limited human beings -, they need to have contact. And limits become evident notably in conflicts, so that is where this kind of contact and confrontation can take place. 

Child care workers can also seek to avoid confrontation and wish to evade conflicts. This is the second mode of action in dealing with conflicts that I mention: evasion of conflicts. Always being nice and sweet and tolerating more than you really cope with. Up to the point where the inevitable bomb does burst. 

The third mode of action is the one I mentioned in the "Bad morning" example. I call this method the control model. Now we can compare the three ways of dealing with conflicts. By continuous analysis of the journal entries according to the seven elements of action, by summarizing each element separately and making a résumé of these summaries - by means of induction - the following overall picture comes about: see figure 5*

* Excuse me: in later stage of the project the numbers of these ways have been changed. 'Control' got #1, 'Contact" got #2 and 'Avoidance' got #3. Also a seventh category had been added. See the Summary of 'Conflict & Contact'. FG

                                                                              Figure 5.

Three ways of dealing with conflicts



Method 3: CONTROL

1. Interpretation

The resident and I are alike

Varying: fear colors perception

The resident and I are not alike

2. Will, aim

Making contact, recovering/maintaining it

Avoid conflicts

Control, regulate

3. Method

Contact-stimulating, limit-setting I-messages

Swallowing, keeping limits obscure

Use power and (verbal) authority

4. Outcome


Conflict does arise anyhow

Adaptation, or: conflict escalates

5. Retrospective feeling

Tired, but satisfied


Stress, tired and dissatisfied

6. Insight

Widening the limits for both

This does not work

Narrowing the limits for both


The given examples can be put into a diagram now and it may be a useful diagram to remember. You can ask yourself: "What am I doing? Where am I?" You can find your place in the diagram and if you do not like it, you can move. For of course that is possible: there are moments when you cannot do without some use of power and authority; there are occasions that require regulation. But with the usually temporary quiet that is achieved, you have not reached your goal yet; you do better to keep working until you find yourself back in the contact and confrontation model again. I claim that this functions better because the outcome and the retrospective feeling are better. You can also start from the avoidance model, just to wait and see, and then make a deliberate choice which way you want to go. From the contact and confrontation model you can also make a short trip to methods from the control model, without adopting that model entirely. You can return to the base, the contact and confrontation model. I conclude from the comparison of often humorous conflict narratives that in fact that is the best basis.


Very essential in this is the first element of action: perception and interpretation of the situation. People cannot perceive without interpreting at the same time. And this usually happens within a framework of interpretation. Whatever does not fit in we do not see; what is correct we cannot but see as not correct. And this influences our aims, our methods, our interpretation of the outcome, in short, our action. 

The next example (nr. 8) 

is about a boy who refused to go to school. Albert, one of the care workers,  sees this refusal as resistance so he tells the boy to go to his room and wants him to do some odd jobs. But the boy refuses to do anything and totally secludes himself. Another worker, Ben, interprets the same behaviour in a different way, namely as the expression of depression, particularly where the boy's chances for the future and concerned. Ben does some work together with him and while they are at it, he finds out how dejected the boy really is: he is even thinking of suicide. Ben does not punish him but goes to his school and talks to his teachers, negotiates, discusses prospects with the boy, who musters up his courage and goes to school again. 

Albert's frame of thought is that of control an it makes him see the refusal as resistance, "consequently" rewarded with behaviour that he sees again as resistance. Ben's framework is that of contact and confrontation. It makes him regard the refusal as a sign of depression, and thereupon he can take action. The first framework apparently narrows the limits of the worker; the second widens them. 

It is the task of the orthopedagogue to develop a framework of interpretation that is useful for practical work. This has often been done by means of deduction: starting from a theory, a frame of thought for practical action was deduced. Trieschmann, Whittaker and Brendtro  for instance did this starting from the psycho-dynamic theory and the theory of learning: a theory for the consultation room of the therapist and the class room of the schoolteacher respectively. In the practice of the residential child care worker in the living-room this leads to the model of control, as we observed. We saw too that this model gets stuck in itself. The avoidance model does not work either.  

By working inductively  I have found the contact & confrontation model in the every-day practice of child care workers and I have developed it an put into words. This model appears to be very workable and to produce a better group climate than the other two models. If the model is workable, it is worth the trouble to remain on the inductive path and to see which theory fits in and which does not. 

In order to find the answer to this question we can reason back from the main action method, which decides on the success of dealing with conflicts: making, maintaining and recovering contact. "Contact" as it is defined here, is the central issue in the method. The key words in the definition were:" recognition and acknowledgement of the needs, the interests, the will and feelings of the child and the transmission of these". 

This transmission is a matter of communicative ability. Recognition and acknowledgement are a matter of perception and interpretation, and a concept of man, child and theory. So a child care worker is required to acknowledge signals and to recognize in his personal framework of experience as human phenomena: anger, grief, abuse, nagging, messing, shouting, disobeying rules, hunger between regular meals - just to name a few occasions for conflicts. 

Required is a child care worker who perceives the children, also and especially with that kind of behaviour, as "like himself, or like he or she could be." 

A concept or theory is necessary, and it should acknowledge such behaviour and describe it recognizably as a phenomenon peculiar to man. A worker or theory that recognizes man as a limited creature with contradictions and feelings, with a will is needed. There should be room for conflicting interests and feelings. This theory should recognize the ambivalence of human existence - as we can see it described for instance in Gehlen, Bollnow  and Sartre. We need a science of education that does not regard adults as mature and therefore perfect; that does not identify maturity with harmony. A pedagogy that regards children as human beings and acknowledges the short comings of grown-ups. 

Otherwise: in the contact and confrontation model it is necessary to see the doings of the child as action that is meaningful and deliberate, and not as behaviour determined by stimuli or factors. 

This is a thesis with far-reaching consequences. It certainly means a rejection of Behaviorist theory with its staring points, its practice and the directions for child care work based on it. This theory, derived from experiments with animals by people in laboratories, is not suited for children in a living-room. It obstructs the actual contact and confrontation between worker and child. 

In the discussion with the workers terms have come up that state in short what was said above. We talked about the "sun- and shadow sides"  of people. On the shadow side there is anger, laziness, restlessness, stiffness, fatigue, etc. The children are not in the institution because of their sunny characters, but because their educators did not know what to do with their shadow sides. A child's need is to meet a complete human being: contact and confrontation of their shadow side with that of the worker. For the satisfaction of that need they provoke and challenge. A method that wants to banish the shadow side, get it out of the way, is inadequate. Notably orthopedagogy should take this shadow side very seriously and should see to confront it. An orthopedagogue in particular should be willing to show that side of his character too.


  1. In this field of research induction works better than deduction.

  2. The same goes for the supervision of the child care workers. The less the teams developed this model themselves and the more I tried to convince them, the less they accepted the method and theory. Each team will have to invent its own wheel, particular to the situation and the people involved, and adjust it to the extent that children and workers change. Change, starting from a control or avoidance model, is a process that progress step by step. 

  3. Working with the contact and confrontation model requires from the child care worker that he keeps an open mind on the needs, the will, the interests and feelings of the child. Then it goes for the supervisor of the worker that he must be open-minded towards  the needs etc. of both child and worker. Supervision based on this starting point is the very opposite of trying to talk the team into adopting certain methods - this one concluded. And the opposite of a form of giving advice in a technological way, objectively and aiming at effective interference. Improvement of the child care worker's action (element 1 up to & including 7) is more than and different from improving his acts (element 3).

  4. The contact and confrontation model fits in with a concept of man and child, as I mentioned before, It also fits in with a concept of society. Some workers could not work within this model: they had a concept of society that coincided with the status quo and their first objective was to prepare the children for that and particularly for paid jobs. And they wanted them to adjust themselves as much as possible to the standards of society. They had a one-sided view; they saw the ability to adapt as the only useful one in this society and not the ability to defend oneself. While that is what the weaker members of our society need so much.



  1. What kind of settings and what kind of children did you work with in this project? 
    Ten groups of boys and girls between 6 to 18 years old, of average intelligence, in horizontal and vertical groups. In large and small open institutions for treatment and/or education. There was one group with mothers and children. The contact and confrontation model has also been found useful in a institution for boys of low intelligence and one for youth delinquency

  2. Were there any conflicts where both authority and contact stimulations methods were used?  
    Yes. The method and outcome of 234 conflicts were shown in figure 6. Authority can be used to evoke communication in which you can stimulate contact and confrontation, as we saw in example 7.

                                                                        Figure 6.

Method & outcome in  234 conflicts


Outcome: break in contact?

Contact stimulated?

Authority used?



Type A (n = 35)





Type B (n = 63)





Type C (n = 14)





Type D (n = 122)






3.     And what if you do not want to talk or go through the conflict?  
You can say it. If you receive the child's message and take it seriously in a few words, there will be a calm in the situation. The confrontation can be avoided for the moment, but not forever.

4.    What about punishment as a logical consequence of an action?   
In the control model you use punishment to regulate the child and you stay in opposition. In the contact and confrontation model you go over the logical consequences of the action with  the child.

5.     Do you distinguish between the fundamental needs of the child and its momentary wishes?
Wishes are to be interpreted in terms of fundamental needs. One of them is: hear my wishes and take them seriously. In my concept of man not the needs but the will is the center of the personality.


Example 9: Homesick 1.

Chris is a little boy of eight years old, when he arrives at an institution for the first time in his life. He is put in a group of ten children. The example is from stage one, i.e. before the beginning of the action stage, and it covers the first four nights at bedtime. Listen to how the worker deals with what the child shows of his shadow side, namely sorrow and homesickness.

05-01-1983 Chris' first night. 
"He is very sweet. Felt sad when he went to bed. I allowed him to suck his thumb for this night, because he was terribly homesick and it was his first, after all".

06-01-1983 The second night. 
"Chris had much difficultly asleep, around ten o'clock. Before that, he came down three times. Albert (child care worker) had been working on his for some time earlier that evening".

07-01-1983 The third night. 
"Chris sat on his bed sulking and started to cry again. This time I put an end to it and did not pay much further attention. He did not stop crying but he stayed in bed and fell asleep within a quarter of an hour. (Thank God!)".

08-01-1983 The fourth night. 
"Chris crying again just before bedtime. Made very short work of him. Bang! into his bed, no more of his putting up a show! Ten minutes later he had packed his bags and got dressed with a lot of fuss. Told him he could go if he liked, but he did want to go anymore. Quickly put him to bed and he fell asleep after 15 minutes. By myself I think he is a little homesick, but for the rest is he just asking for attention and behaving pathetically. I do respond to this, but not for long, and that is the end of it".

Homesickness and sorrow are apparently hardly accepted by this worker. The first two nights they are still tolerated, but no more than that. After that she no longer interprets them as such, but in her interpretation they are "merely" asking for attention and pathetic behaviour. She is obviously concerned with behaviour and, at least after the second night, not with the feelings behind it. In and after the action stage in this group, from which figure 2 has been derived, the team have changed their mode of action: their interpretation, aims, methods etc.

Example 10: Homesick 2.

"In bed Edward felt very homesick. Lots of tears, great sorrow. First I let him have his cry out for a bit. At a certain moment, when I was sitting on his bedside, Chris joined him. I was busy handling out hankies all the time. Later we talked it over for a while. They both were happy to be back, but when they thought of home, they also wished they were there. I told them that saying goodbye to people hurt me too sometimes. Then I told them something funny. After this little story they said they would try and think about something pleasant and go to sleep. Now it is Brigitte who, shortly after her arrival, feels homesick:

Example 11: Homesick 3

"At bedtime I stayed with Brigitte for a while. She had been very quiet all evening and after a good cry she confessed that she missed her mother now an then. Brigitte told me that she appreciates our taking care of her and comforting her. She had not expected this. Whenever she draws back into herself very quietly, she likes us to be around. She needs us very much then."


1. Literature which I referred to in this article.

Adler, J., 1976: The child care worker: Concepts, Tasks and Relationships, New York

Adler, J., 1981: Fundamentals of group child care, New York

Gordon, T., 1976: P.E.T. in action, Inside P.E.T. Families: Problems Insights and Solutions in Parent Effectiveness Training, Wyden Books

Habermas, J., 1973: "Wahrheitstheorien" in: Fahrenbach, H., Wirklichkeit und Reflexion, Pfüllingen

Lewin, H., 1975: Aktionsforschung, als kritische Theorie der Sozialwissenschaften, München

Moser, H., 1977a: Methoden der Aktionsforschung, München

Moser, H., 1977b: Praxis der Aktionsforschung, München

Trieschmann, A; Whittaker, J & Brendtro, L.K., 1969: The other 23 hours, A reasoned, authoritative guide to managing disturbed children in residential treatment centers. Child care work with emotionally disturbed children in a therapeutic milieu, Chicago.

Watzlawick, P; Weakland, J & Fisch, P., 1973: "Change"

2. Literature about action research

Blankhertz, H & Gruschka, A., 1975: Handlungsforschung: Rückfall in die Emperiefeindlichkeit oder neue Erfahrungsdimension? In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, Jrg. 21, Nr. 5, Pag. 677-687

Galtung, J., 1977: Methodology and Ideology. Theory and Methods of Social research Volume 1, Copenhagen.

Haag, F.; Krüger, H.; Schwärzel, W. & Wildt, J., 1972: Aktionsforschung. Forschungsstrategien, Forschungsfelder und Forschungspläne, München

Haeberlin, U., 1975: Emperische Analyse und pädagogische Handlungsforschung. In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, Nr. 5

Klafki, W., 1976: Aspekte kritisch-konstruktiver Erziehungswissenschaft. Basel

Klüver, J & Krüger, H., 1972: Aktionsforschung und soziologische Theorien, in: Haag, e.a., München

Mollenhauer, K & Rittelmeyer, C., 1975: "Emperische analytische Wissenschaft" versus "Pädagogische Handlungsforschung", in: Haeberlin und Blankhertz/Grushka. In: Zeitschrift für Pädagogik.

3. Literature about conflicts

Baulig, V., 1984: Konfliktverminderndes Erzieherverhalten. In: Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, Jrg. 35, Nr. 5, Pag. 333-339

Dalferth, M., 1983: Konfliktbearbeitung in der Heimerziehung, eine Möglichkeit zur Effektivierung der Alltagspädagogik. In: Jugendwohl, Jrg. 34, Nr. 1, Pag.14-21

Holt, R., 1970: On the interpersonal and intrapersonal consequences of expressing or not expressing anger. In: Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psuchology, Jrg. 35, Pag. 8-12

Kluge, K., 1977: Sind autoritär - dirigistische Erzieher veränderbar? Aktuelle Einstellungsänderungen von Heimerziehern, in folge einer partner schaftlich-kollegialen Heimleitung. In: Praxis Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie, Jrg. 26, Nr. 8

Konopka, G., 1966: The adolescent girl in conflict, Prentice Hall

4. Other recommended literature

Jungjohan, E.E., 1983: Das regionale Behandlungszentrum fÚr das Kind und seine Familie; die Aprather Alternative, Marhald, Berlin

Mendel, G., 1971: Pour décoloniser l'enfant, Soci psychanalyse de l'autorité, UNESCO, Payal, Paris

Traber, J., 1979: The child, guide for the educator. In: cet enfant qui nous éduque/The child as teacher...the world as learner/Was das Kind uns lernen kann, Bureau International Catholique de l'Enfance, Genève


See for the research report, the dissertation, the Summary of 'Conflict & Contact'
De Dutch Library, Bibliotheek, has more reports about the project and a list of publications - all in Dutch.  

 Start Omhoog