How My 4-year-old’s Expectations Changed the Value of a Quarter

So my children were all playing on electronics recently when I told them it was time to move on to other pursuits. My 4-year-old promptly logged off the computer while his older sister and brother tried to wrap up their games.

I happened to have a quarter in my pocket, so just for fun I gave it to my little guy as a spontaneous reward for being the first to do as I had asked. I do not usually reward my kids like that for simply doing what I ask. I expected him to be happy with the little gift.

However, instead of a happy thank-you, my son cried, “But I wanted a hundred dollar bill!” Momentarily stunned, I asked him what in the world he was talking about, and what made him think he would get a hundred dollar bill. It’s not like we have hundreds just sitting around the house or anything.

Then he reminded me that my husband had given big brother a hundred dollar bill a few days before, so it seemed reasonable to get one. Aha. So I explained that his brother had saved up $100 over time, and then traded it for a nice one hundred dollar bill, which was very special.

I tried to reason, “If you save up your money and have $100, then we can get you a hundred dollar bill one day. For now you can be happy that I gave you a quarter.” It sounded anticlimactic even to me as I said it. But it was the truth.

Expectations are funny in the way they can color how we receive and experience life. Typically my son would see a quarter as a great gift, enough to treat himself to a new super bouncy ball from the little vending machine at the grocery store. But he had seen his brother delight in the hundred dollar bill, and it tainted his own outlook and desire.

Of course, my little guy is only four, and he will grow and learn. Hopefully, along the way, the lesson of the quarter and the hundred dollar bill will sink in: be thankful for what you have now, even as you yearn and work toward much greater things to come.

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