Dear Amy: My husband and I are childless by choice. We have one nephew — a delightful 5-year-old.

We love spending time with him. He is, however, spoiled by the fact that he regularly receives toys from his parents in exchange for good behavior.

I am concerned with what lies ahead. He has figured out that he can get what he wants by bargaining with his parents.

Christmas is approaching, and I would like to help him to realize that others aren't so fortunate and steer him away from this increasing materialism.

I would like him to learn empathy and charity, but I'm at a loss as to how.

Last Christmas my husband and I bought him one toy from his massive list and made a colorful "certificate" for him, informing of a donation we made in his name to a local charity to benefit animals. He was interested, but I'm not sure this was effective.

I keep very few toys at my home, so when he comes to visit we play more "imagination" type games. He does not complain of the lack of things to play with; he is happy to interact with us. He seems to enjoy our outings.

How do I help to guide him toward a more charitable future?

Amy says: One of the many joys of being an aunt/uncle is that you can influence the children in your life without facing the daily challenges of parenting. It can be a lofty perch, so I hope you don't judge your nephew's parents too harshly.

You can inspire a message of love, generosity and charity.

Five-year-olds are fascinated by friendship and kinship. How can your nephew be a good friend? He can share, take turns and demonstrate kindness and empathy. These pro-social attitudes are linked to being charitable, and you should foster and encourage him in this regard.

This Christmas season help him to find a toy and take it to your local Toys for Tots collection bin. Let him put it inside the bin, and talk to him about how excited the child who receives it will be. Have him pick out some cat and dog food to take to your local shelter, so the animals will have good food to eat.

Stop at the Salvation Army's collection kettle. Give him some money and let him put it in the kettle. Then you do the same.

Help him to make tree ornaments to give to his parents and grandparents. Let him help you make banana bread to take to a neighbor's house.

These simple acts are all ways to demonstrate your values without being too heavy-handed.

Social media dilemma

Dear Amy: I recently gained a follower on social media who seems to have a serious eating disorder and issues with body image/self-hatred.

I started to type a message urging that they reach out for help, but then I worried that this might scare them off, so I've just started sharing a lot of body positivity posts, in hopes that might provide a good example. Is there anything else I can do?

Amy says: Social media is a great tool for connecting, but reading a "distress call" from a stranger can be upsetting and stressful. It is important for you to understand that — while it is kind and compassionate for you to be concerned — you should not get overly involved with someone who is curating his or her own story in ways you may not realize.

The person you are worried about is making descriptive statements that alarm you. It is completely appropriate for you to express alarm, and suggest whatever solution you think is appropriate. It is thoughtful of you to not want to "scare" this person off, but you should not assume responsibility for his or her choices.

Send Ask Amy questions to Amy Dickinson at

askamy@amydickinson.com. Twitter: @askingamy Facebook: @ADickinsonDaily.