I don’t believe in using scare tactics on children. They always seem to backfire. Either you wind up with a nervous kiddo who is paranoid about the tiniest things, or one who no longer believes anything you say because they proved you wrong by not wetting the bed after playing with the campfire.
I have heard people use God or Jesus to scare children into behaving, saying things like, “Jesus saw what you did and he is not happy about it.” This becomes problematic in the same way as any other scare tactic: either the kid winds up terrified of God’s disapproval or he stops believing because of a lack of immediate Heavenly consequences.
When we sing this hymn, though, it’s hardly, “You better watch out, you better not cry”…or else! The first verse nicely illustrates this point:
Dearest children, God is near you,
Watching o’er you day and night,
And delights to own and bless you,
If you strive to do what’s right.
He will bless you, He will bless you,
If you put your trust in him.
Not a threat or warning to be seen. Yes, God is near us and watching all the time, but not to punish. Three times we are told He will bless us, and that He delights to do so. What’s more, He delights to own us. His pleasure in recognizing us as His children speaks of His unconditional love for us.
In his Sermon on the Mount, the Savior reminds us how much concern our Father has for our well-being:
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)
He watches us “day and night” because He wants to take care of us. He sets His angels to “keep a faithful record of the good and bad [we] say” so He will know how best to attend our needs.
In all that watching He is bound to see us make mistakes. Fortunately for us He also “delights to teach us”, as the third verse says. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost to encourage us to keep the commandments, to prick our conscience when we rebel, to comfort us as we repent, and to rejoice with us when we do what is right. This kind of guidance is, to me, far more helpful than constant fear of chastisement.
Our Father in Heaven is ever-vigilant for He is, like any loving parent, protective and proud of His children. What does He ask in return? That we try our best. That we trust Him. That we heed the Spirit’s promptings. That we cherish virtue. Above all, that we prove faithful to Him.
And even if we aren’t, He will be faithful. Whatever we do, God is near us.