I am 6. I have two little sisters. I get left home with them a lot. Sometimes we get very hungry and thirsty and when we look for food there isn't any. My mom gets drunk a lot. Sometimes I have to look in her purse and see if there is any money so that I can go to the store and by some milke for my sisters because they cry a lot. My mom brings her boyfriends to our house and we have to go hide under our bed so they don't see us. Our clothes are dirty sometimes and my baby sister doesn't have diapers. I try to do my best to take care of them.
Fast forward five years and I am eleven. I have been adopted by really good parents. But I still can't stop thinking about how important it is that I make sure that I take care of myself. I sometimes wonder if there will be enough food, so I always take the biggest piece of meat on the plate. When they take me shopping for clothes, I have a hard time making a decision because I am worried that it has to be just right . . . because I might not get anything else. I try to believe my parents are going to take care of me, but sometimes I just know that I have to make sure that I take care of me.
Many kids from the system are hypervigilant and always looking out for themselves. What can easiliy be interpreted as selfishness is really self-preservation. It is very hard, when basic trust has not been secured, to be certain that adults can be depended on. Therefore a child has to "look out for number one."
There are other reasons why children who come from dysfunctional families appear selfish. One is the sense of entitlement that many individuals on welfare have that makes them not understand any act that is not beneficial to them. Another is that they have not had role models of others who possess skills like empathy and compassion.
It is a hard road to teach someone who has known nothing but selfishness how to be selfless. It is done by example. It is done by consistency. It is done with a lot of hard work. But the starting point I believe, is recognizing that this is a learned behavior, not necessarily chosen and that it must be addressed with compassion.