Dear Dr. Tightwad: I love the holidays, but I resent all the toy advertising that's directed at children. My kids make mile-long lists and ask for one outrageous thing after another. How can I cope with all the commercialism?

Also, what the heck is "Gak"?

A. - You can trash the TV, you can make good on your threat to put coal in their stockings to teach the little darlings not to be so greedy - or you can turn the commercialism to your advantage.

If the kids want to make lists a mile long let them. Then sit down with them and go over their lists, helping them separate things they need from things they want. (Even teens have trouble understanding the difference.)

Ask your kids to set priorities: Which things do they want most? If the motorized Batmobile isn't in the cards, tell them why.

If they're older have them work within a budget, choosing which toys they'd buy if they had, say, $300 to spend. They get experience in making choices, and by whittling down the lists you get off the hook.

Don't be too hard on your children. Most parents are more frazzled than usual at this time of year, so it's easy to lose patience with the kids.

But by coming to you with their wants they're only doing what comes naturally, observes James McNeal, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University who studies the consumer behavior of kids.

Preschoolers will pretty much ask for everything they see and promptly forget about most of it.

Older kids will be more discriminating, but they'll still push the limit in the hopes of getting as much as they can. If they don't, "they're not going to pack up and leave home," McNeal says.

Adults tend to prefer toys that are scaled-down versions of grown-up things, such as kitchen sets and cars. But toys that rate high in what McNeal calls "kidness value" are outrageous things that have no counterpart in the adult world - such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Gak (a jellylike substance that's a top priority with Dr. T's kids this year).