Resiliency is the ability to deal with life’s challenges and life’s changes. Through the Kids 4 Kids Leadership Program, I teach children strategies that they can use to deal with negative situations in a positive manner. By giving children the tools to deal with negativity I am also helping them develop confidence and resilience as they will have the means to successfully use life’s changes as tools they can utilize in their leadership journey.

I have worked with children who have faced extreme life challenges. The one thing that amazes me is how resilient and confident these kids are. The question is: “How are these children so resilient?”

The Most Beautiful Girl I have Ever Met – Sarah’s Story: I met a young 7-year-old girl named Sarah at a Leadership Day I was offering at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. She was born with a facial cranial difference. Her face was deformed, with a multitude of scars etched into the surface. We were involved in a game of dodgeball when Sarah arrived. She exploded into the room with the statement:

“I know I don’t look like any fairy princess, but I am a pretty cool kid. What are you guys doing? Dodgeball? Hey, I’m in!”

She got right into the game. The kids were checking her out, and when we began our discussion on differences she explained why she looked the way she did. Then she said something really profound. She said:

“When you get to know me you are going to see how cool I am and all want to be my friend.”

She was right. By the end of the day, everyone in the room wanted to be friends with Sarah. She was magnificent. She figured out that she couldn’t change her situation, but she definitely could use it to help others see the importance of seeing that true beauty comes from within.

I See Potential – Byron’s Story: I was running a program at Pleasantville Public School in Richmond Hill, Ontario when I met a boy named Byron. I was told by his mother that Byron was a little clumsy, however, he was pretty resilient and was able to bounce back quickly. I had never met a kid like Byron. He was running into walls, tripping, banging into other children and even ran into the girls change room. I called Byron over to see what was going on. I noticed that his eyes were moving erratically. I asked him if there was something he forgot to tell me. He confessed that he was blind and was afraid that if I found out I would not allow him into Kids 4 Kids. I guess this was the response he had received from other clubs. Byron stayed with Kids 4 Kids for seven years. The only time I had to help him was when we were outside, otherwise, he could cope.

The Question

So back to the question. How do kids, who have obvious challenges, become so resilient?

The Answer

All of these children have parents or significant adults in their lives who are supportive and who listen. These children are not given special treatment because of their challenges. They are taught to use their challenges as a tool to teach, to challenge themselves and to grow into the best version of themselves. A Harvard study found that: “every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed rela­tionship with a supportive adult.” These adults deliver a positive, adaptive response in the face of significant adversity. This gives children the ability to feel that they can master the situation.

Resilience helps children deal effectively with bullying, detractors and negative life situations


Resilience is what helps us all deal with negatively. Being resilient gives us strength and the courage to use our adversities as a tool instead of something that weighs us down. It is an opportunity to build character.

When I was in grade 7 I read at a grade 4 level. I was never more the average student. I never felt that my teacher’s had a lot of faith in my ability to improve. I was called DUMB by the bullies and actually felt pretty dumb as my brothers and sister could read. Why couldn’t I?

I had to make a choice. I would either stay average and remain a poor reader or do something about it. I chose the later. I enrolled in a pilot program which involved a college student named Evelyn Bagchus, meeting with me at the school and tutoring me once a week. Within a few months, I was no longer reading at a grade 4 level. I was now assessed at a grade 9 level. It was such an achievement that I got my face on the front page of the Montreal Star. I used the situation as a tool to improve my reading and build my resiliency.


When I was 16 years old I took part in a program called Exchange Canada. I was able to choose a type of community in Canada to visit for a month. I chose the Arctic. I flew from Montreal to Toronto to Vancouver to Fort St. John to Watson Lake, Yukon. First of all, I am a very nervous flier. I had never been away from my parents before and I had to navigate this journey by myself. I decided to go for it. I took action! I had to change planes at every stop. I was a little nervous getting on Japan Express to Vancouver, however, I did end up at my destination. When I got up to Fort. St. John my ticket said Grande Praire. Fortunately, I did realize that this was in Alberta and had to problem solve my way through this predicament. I stayed in Watson Lake for a month, went to school and worked at a truck stop. When I got home from my trip I had a confidence I did not have prior to my trip. Again, my parents always supported my interests. I think they knew that the experiences that I pursued would make me stronger. My parent’s support and encouragement were important factors in building my resilience.


After high school, I had to decide whether or not to go to post-secondary education. I was an average student and was told that whatever marks you got in high school would inevitably be worse in university. By this point in my life, I knew I had ADHD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity and a Learning Disability). The question this time as: “Would I be wasting my time going to university?” I decided that I should at least try. I was accepted into York University for their Fine Arts program. Even though I wasn’t great academically I was creative. I thought I may be able to excel at the arts. It was my moment of truth. I had just received my first report card from the university. Was it going to be a dismal failure or was it going to be an opportunity to prove to myself that I wasn’t dumb; a word that still affects me today. I opened up the letter revealing that my marks were A’s and B’s. Taking action, and pushing myself through the discouragers gave me this success that I could build on. Fear of trying something new and not trying is the killer of resilience.


After my first year of university, I was approached by an established rock band named Channel 5 to be their lead singer. They had a record out and looked as if they were headed for success so I thought I would work with them during the summer and decide what to do after that period. I ended up being in Channel 5 for six years. We won the Q107 Homegrown Contest twice, recorded with Paul Northfield, who was David Bowie and the Police’s sound engineer and had many exciting opportunities. We never did become a huge success, but being a frontman in a band help me build my confidence and increase my resilience. It is important to encourage children to pursue their passions as this is where they will find themselves and their purpose, their confidence and build their resilience.


After years of storytelling, I was encouraged by a boy named Sam to put my stories into a book. I thought it may be a great way of documenting my stories so I wrote a book called, “The Fantastical Town of Finkle.” It was a collection of the short stories I had been telling to children for years. I could not believe the response from children. They loved the stories, which encouraged me to write additional books. To date, I have written six books, produced a mini-movie and was part of a documentary on my work entitled, “Life Fantastical.” To build confidence and resilience in children we need to teach them that when you pursue an interest, that interest will lead you to additional opportunities that will be the source of your growth.


I established Kids 4 Kids Leadership to help students deal with bullying. I was told that it was unlikely that kids would want to come to a program that taught them how to deal with bullying. I chose 15 students, promised them pizza and gave it a-go. The kids seemed to enjoy the program so I offered it for a second round. I had 179 students sign up and the rest is history. I have had over 25,000 children go through my programs and camps. The program process of being successful with Kids 4 Kids has contributed a lot to my confidence and resiliency. It has been my resiliency that has helped me grow my vision.

I have had to deal with many supporters, but many detractors. I have had principals who denied me access to their school as they were worried that having an anti-bullying program in their school may lead people to believe there was a problem with bullying in their school. Child and Youth Workers were told by their union head to phone the school board if I was seen in their school as they felt threatened by my work. I actually had to fight to offer a free anti-bullying conference. I heard things like: Who does he think he is? What qualifications doe he have? It’s not his job! All statements from individuals who are focused on their egos and not the needs of students.

Dealing with all this negatively was frustrating, but empowered me, focusing me on my purpose. Reframing the hatred into the reason for what I do help me increase my resilience. It is important to help children understand there will be detractors in their lives, however when they appear it is a sign that they are on the right track and are to reframe the negativity to their purpose.
Building resilience and confidence will lead to opportunities. I recently received the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada. This meant a lot to me as it demonstrated to me that no matter what obstacles a person faces if you take action, push through obstacles and use challenges as tools a person can reach their potential. Awards are opportunities to acknowledge the people who have helped you reach your goals. If it wasn’t for the numerous parents, teachers and administrators Kids 4 Kids would never be as successful as it has become. Help children realize that success is never achieved alone.


Life is not always easy. It sometimes presents us with challenges that are difficult. We need to teach children to look at these challenges as opportunities to learn and grow and build resilience. When challenges enter your life you can either let them stop you from growing or push through them. There are no other choices. Defeat the challenges or let them defeat you. If children realize they can use the challenges to grow they are likely to build their resilience. If we allow them to perseverate on the negative they risk becoming stagnant.

Scott’s Story

I met Scott when he was 7 years old. At the age of 5, Scott’s dad was murdered. At a Kids 4 Kids session, we were discussing life challenges. Scott stood up and told the group what had happened to his dad. He continued to tell the kids that maybe he could use this situation to help other children who deal with loss. He turned the negative life challenge into a powerful tool to inspire, motivate and teach.


Failing forward is a quote from John Maxwell, who is the number one leadership guru in the world.

Children need to be taught that it is OK to fail. Failing brings growth and opportunity. Without failure, we stay the same.

Michael Jordan didn’t make his grade 9 basketball team because the coach didn’t see his potential.
Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper job as the company didn’t think he was creative enough.
Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’. Edison went on to hold more than 1,000 patents, including the phonograph and practical electric lamp.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, was a broke, depressed, divorced single mother simultaneously writing a novel while studying. Now one of the richest women in the world.
Abraham Lincoln’s failures were broad and numerous. He achieved the unique feat of leaving for a war a captain and returning a private (the lowest military rank). He next took failure in his stride during multiple failed business attempts. Undeterred, Lincoln marched into the political realm, where he launched several failed runs at the political office before his ascendance to President.
Elvis Presley – “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” These are the words that greeted Elvis Presley after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry, after which he was promptly fired. Disposing of the keys to the truck, Presley went on to become the world’s biggest star with a legacy that endures.
Children need to redefine what failure is. It is not an obstacle in the road, but an opportunity that needs to be taken.


I hear about numerous children who spend the majority of their free time playing video games. Playing video games is fun, but should not monopolize all a child’s free time. Kids need to join clubs, find out what they are good at and meet other children who have similar interests. This is crucial in the development of resilience. Joining clubs helps children problem solve, build relations and find out where their strengths and weaknesses are. Do not allow your child to become a couch potato!


The word, “difference” has become synonymous with a bad word. If someone came up to you and said, “Hey, you’re different!” You would probably take the comment negatively. But WHY! What makes you different has the potential of making you great. Everyone who has gained success has used their differences to excel their life. I have ADHD (Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity) and a learning disability. These challenges have become my greatest gifts. I have the extra energy needed to put on captivating presentations, can hyperfocus, which helped me create Kids 4 Kids and I think outside the box, which enabled me to create books that have encouraged a lot of kids to read. If we think our differences are negative and not see the potential in how these differences can propel us into greatness we miss an incredible opportunity. Teach children to embrace their differences. Help them understand them. Help them use them to their advantage.

Fail Forward
Use life challenges as tools to lead and help others
Get off the Couch
Celebrate and understand differences
Support your kids by listening, playing with them and building supportive relationships

Jack P. Shonkoff, M.D.

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