When my son was 6, he asked, "Are we as rich as Tommy?" after he had visited Tommy, who had every imaginable toy.
We were in fact "richer" than Tommy's family, and I explained that different families simply choose to use their money in different ways. Back then, he was unimpressed that we were saving so that he could graduate from college with little debt.
We always felt confident about that benefit (and the short-range one of seeing less mess in his room). Sixteen years later, the choices we made to achieve that goal also make sense to him. He has even reassured me, "I had enough stuff."
The nation's financial crisis gives families an opportunity to learn how to focus on their goals and make careful choices with whatever resources they have.
Children who never hear "no" or "not now" or who never have to save for something special are robbed of valuable skills. They don't learn how to set a goal, take necessary steps and make necessary sacrifices, delaying gratification to achieve something of greater value than temporary pleasure. Our mantra was "short-term pain, long-term gain."
Another valuable skill is to accept minor disappointments with grace. Many parents experience discomfort when they cannot give their children something they request. They want their kids to "have things better" than they did.
But often it is doing without and working toward an achievement that builds the kind of character that overindulged children will lack. It is easy to confuse our own needs with those of our children. Do they need this toy, or do we need to give it to them?
By making the managing of finances a family project, children can take pride in contributing to the well-being of the family. For example, youngsters can become the "power patrol" - turning off lights and monitoring water use.
Older children can help with shopping. When the going gets tough, the tough shop more wisely and teach their children in the process. The family can set long-range goals for some desired trip or item, and the steps to take and sacrifices to make to achieve it.
This crisis can give us all the opportunity to re-evaluate what is truly important and how we can convey that to our children.