And visions of computer games, expensive doll houses, and noisy wheels dance in their wee little heads . . .

Most American children today live in isolation from the workplace or the farm and have no idea of the labor needed to earn money for expensive toys, says a Catholic University of America psychology professor."It is difficult for young children to understand why their parents won't buy them the bike they want when they see that parents have money," says Hans Furth, a developmental psychologist who has researched children's ideas about the marketplace.

Furth says that children can't be expected to learn the value of money until they are at least teenagers. Young children aren't curious about how things get their value, and they aren't ready to learn.

So what about the holidays?

"It depends on how children relate to their parents. If children respect their parents and see their parents handling money sensibly, the children will probably do the same."

Peer pressure to get "in" toys is a big problem, Furth observes. "Our children live in a world of commercialism, and we have to help them learn to live with it."

But don't try to make junior financial wizards out of children. "Children should be free to be children and to dream and fantasize, especially at Christmas," he says.