Childhaven’s specialty is finding the singular key that unlocks each troubled child who comes through its doors. This was particularly true for Tristan, both metaphorically and literally.
Tristan had fascination for keys and key rings, and once identified every key on his case manager’s large key ring after being told about them the day before.
His obsession proved a valuable tool when staff began dealing with his extreme need for hand washing, bathroom and other rituals — and his habits of testing limits, throwing things and violently cursing at staff. Such behaviors are common with children who grew up in neglectful, abusive homes, as Tristan did.
“We had to help him recognize and regulate his emotions, so we created a set of laminated keys for him, each bearing a picture of an emotion,” his teacher says. “When he began to lose control, we would ask what he was feeling, and he would be able to communicate by showing us the appropriate key.”
Gradually, he learned to express himself with words and didn’t need his special key ring as much. With this newfound anger control, Tristan also stopped throwing objects and tantrums, and he began to befriend his classmates.
The success of the laminated keys stayed with Tristan even after he graduated from Childhaven. He ran into his case manager at a DSHS office a few years later, and called her by name. The first thing he asked — with a smile on his face — was, “Do you still have your keys?”