How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child

A few months ago (around Thanksgiving) I posted this blog link with the title above making reference to Shakespeare, several friends asked what the quote had to do with gratitude and so I thought I would tackle this one head on.

One of the biggest hot topics in the business world, at least my part of it, is about setting an “attitude of gratitude” in the workplace. I have long been a believer in this focus not only at Gymfinity but in my house and with my teams. The culture that this perspective sets will be one of success and happiness and keep your mind in tune with just how fortunate we all are and that we have a lot to be thankful for.  In King Lear Shakespeare says “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” So here are a few thoughts on gratitude to help us avoid the serpent’s tooth.

Things I try to incorporate at home and here at Gymfinity that you could easily infuse into your own houses:

*Bring gratitude into your daily conversations: Sometimes kids are slower in picking up on noticing how fortunate they are. Pointing things out, not in a lecture-y way but conversationally, will go a long way in getting them in the habit of speaking or at least noticing and being grateful. “Wasn’t it nice of that man to hold the door for us?” “What a good dog, I am so happy when he doesn’t jump up on someone. You have done a good job of teaching him manners.” “Thanks for picking up your room, it looks great.”  Sadly so many of us have gotten away from speaking gratitude that even at the Thanksgiving table we cannot verbalize something so simple as “I’m thankful for…” By not stating something that they are thankful for the Thanksgiving dinner just becomes a really big meal.

*Give kids a job. By having them do work around the house they not only aid in the effort of household operation but they begin to empathize with others. When my kids have to vacuum their own bedrooms they understand what it is for me to vacuum the other rooms. They think twice about leaving things on the floor too, but they empathize with me: that’s a double win for those of you keeping score. When we all work in the yard we can empathize with the road construction crew that toils in the heat. “Wow, how would you like to work in this heat every day? Do you think it’s as hot as Saturday when we were working in the yard?” Empathy has to be taught.

* Be generous.  “Is this where we get rid of our junk?” My son asked me as we dropped off a load of outsized clothes at the Goodwill. I informed him that the clothes were no longer of use to us, but that other kids may be able to use them. I told them that the clothes had a chance to experience our lives and now they can go and share what they know and even learn from other kids too. A little bit of fiction, but I thought it was a good idea to have them understand that the clothes, or other shared items, have value and can still be helpful to other people. Having your kids understand generosity makes them appreciate more, what they have. They also know that it has value beyond their use and so their “stuff” should be treated with respect.

To continue on the point above, I believe in saying “no” and not in spelling. (What?) Let me explain. It is a pet peeve when parents say, in front of their kids, they have some c-a-n-d-y in the cupboard. First off your kid thinks you are weird and that you are deliberately misleading them. Secondly, why not say, to whoever and with the kids listening, that you have “candy in the cupboard”? Then when the kids ask for some, tell them “no.” There is a time for the candy, or a place, or a plan of use, and it’s not here and now. By being honest and instilling control, your children will learn self-discipline and will appreciate when it actually is candy time. Or in the case of my 6-year-old; it allows him to work on his memory.  Randomly he will quiz me on when and where is the time for the candy in the cupboard, then he will be sure that at that time and place that the candy is delivered. He’s very into accountability.

* Giving kids a reality check is sometimes important. Shoveling snow can be a back breaker, but reminding kids that we are fortunate enough to have a car to take them places, makes shoveling for the car to get out a little less of a job. Again, my son Emmett, then 4, put the kids perspective on trying to get out of work “If we only shoveled out one half of the drive we could still have one car and just live with being less fortunate.” After I laughed, I had to respond that it was true and we could do with less, but how fortunate we were to have 2 cars.  I was grateful for the cars, of course, but also grateful for having such a funny kid.

Lastly be sure to reward them when they show gratitude. “it makes me feel good when you say thank you” is so easy to share and what  we pay attention to will get repeated. Kids are simple. They want to please their adults. When we tell them that their action pleased us, they will do it again and again until it becomes habit. Then we will all have something to be grateful for, and it won’t be as sharp as a serpent’s tooth.


  1. Henry Kjentvet on June 3, 2022 at 1:52 am

    This was a favorite quote that my father would use when I did something that related to it and he was upset with me because of it. I got the gist of what he meant, but I never knew exactly where the quote came from. I did know it was Shakespeare, but not which writing. Now I do, so thank you for that. (I am not a patron of the arts, so to speak – more math and science)

    • Dana Winsor on April 5, 2024 at 1:59 pm

      “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” William Shakespeare

  2. Susan on March 11, 2023 at 10:58 pm

    I wanted to say, I really enjoyed and appreciated this article. Just, everything about it. It drew me to your Gymfinity website and, again, impressive. I may be overenthusiastic, but have become disheartened by the trending behaviors we see in society lately. Disappointing and frightening. Thank you for a very articulate voice of reason.

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