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While saying sorry is often thought of as good manners, forcing people to say it won't bring lasting change, according to a mental health professional. 

"Have you ever been the recipient of an apology that didn’t feel sincere? I have. It doesn’t feel very good at all. In fact, in those situations, we probably would prefer no apology at all. We can feel the emptiness and hollowness of a forced apology. It makes us feel devalued," says Terry Warburton, the Clinical Director at Recovery of Hope Counselling Centre in Winnipeg. 

This idea is true whether it's an adult conversation or a parenting one. 

"If we are talking about our children, of course we want them to grow up to be caring and responsible individuals, full of good values and character. We want them to say sorry when they have been wrong. But should we force apologies if the caring isn’t there?  I think that if we are trying to raise children who live out their values with integrity, we need to be careful about forcing apologies that might not be grounded in sincerity," she says. 

Simply saying a word for the sake of it doesn't bring about a real change of heart on its own, according to Warburton. 

We can get children to act a certain way, and repeat caring phrases, but this doesn’t make them caring human beings. That’s what happens in a play when actors are saying and acting their scripts. They are acting a part. 

"Sorry’s don’t always come easily or quickly for our children or for us!  We know instinctively when a sorry is genuine, in ourself and in others."

Warburtons colleague, Deborah MacNamara, is the author of a children’s book called The Sorry Plane. It's about the importance of understanding and respecting feelings and connecting with our authentic feelings. 

"As Deborah has said, and I quote, “What we need to remember is that our children come with an innate caring spirit that grows them into civil, social, and considerate beings. Our job is not to force them to act as if they care, but to grow their caring from the inside out.”"

Parents who are concerned about raising empathetic children have a part to play. 

"When children feel cared for, the capacity to care grows inside of them. Caring for a child is the work of attachment. Children need to feel unconditional love from us, even when they have made a mistake, or hurt us, or did something they weren’t supposed to. When they feel truly cared for no matter what, then they can feel their vulnerable feelings that allow them to truly care for others."

After time and maturity, a genuine want to apologize when children have made a mistake, will come, according to Warburton. 

"To act in maturity, we need to find it within ourselves to apologize for our part of the problem, and let go of the rest. We can hope and yearn and pray that the other person will own their part, but that is up to them. We can only do our part. Sometimes this means living with a large amount of hurt, frustration and disappointment because it feels like the other person isn’t doing their part. We might have some grieving to do about that. This is a hallmark of maturity in us as individuals and in being a part of healthy relationships."

With a caring parent raising a child, a genuine apology will come, in time. 

"There are a lot of reasons why our sorry’s don’t come right away, and this is not only true for children. We can all lose our caring feelings from time to time. The same is true for us as adults. Sometimes we need to give ourselves time for our caring feelings to come back and collect our thoughts and feelings about something that has happened. We need to take that good hard look at ourselves, and the care we have for another."

When an apology is sincere and heartfelt, healing can take place in a relationship. However, Warburton says that forcing it won't help the situation.