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Handling Label-Conscious Kids

I want a Ralph Lauren shirt -- the one with a pony on it," Sarah Moore, 6, of Pittsford, NY, told her surprised mom, Connie. Turns out Sarah had made a new friend who wore head-to-toe Polo.

Kids can recognize brands when they're as young as 3, but until they're school-age they don't attach meaning to them, says Johnny Castro, professor of child development at Brookhaven College, in Dallas. That's when children start to learn what sets the cool kids apart, and in many schools it seems as if it's all about the brands they wear. To keep your child's label obsession in check:

Explain the difference between needs and wants. It's basic, but kids need to hear it from you more than once to learn it: Shoes are a need, Crocs are a want.

Talk about your values. If you don't ever (or often) buy brand names, explain that some families have more money than others, and yours chooses to spend your cash on other things, like vacations or no-name clothing.

Watch yourself. Do you covet a Coach handbag or Trish McEvoy makeup? Try not to salivate too much -- around your kids, anyway.