I once thought that love was a simple. I've given many parenting talks where I’ve said:

“There is so much conflicting and confusing parenting information out there. What can help us sift through all the advice is to understand the three things that our kids really need from us. Research tells us that if parents do these three things, then kids will thrive.

“The first thing you need to do is love your kids. In fact, it is the most important thing you can do. If you love your kids, and you do nothing else, your kids will be fine.

“The second thing that kids need are boundaries. Boundaries help our kids to learn what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate behaviour. Boundaries also gives them a sense of safety and security.

“The third thing is consistency. If you’re consistent in setting boundaries, your kids will learn so much faster. But if you chop and change all the time, they will find the cracks.”

Then I would say:

“We all know how to love our kids. But we can struggle with setting boundaries and being consistent so let’s talk more about that.”

We all love our kids. Of course we do. Love is what we do as parents.

Loving our kids is the easy bit, isn’t it? But now I’m not so sure.

How do you love your kids when you feel like throttling them? How can love and discipline work together? How can love and letting your child fail co-exist? And that's just for starters.

It seems that a lot can get in the way of love: To-do lists, expectations, circumstances, the way other people behave, the way you behave, your own thinking, your beliefs about right and wrong, past hurts, personal patterns and habits... and much more.

In some ways love is very simple. And in other ways it is more complex than we know.

So I had to sit down and think about how we can love our children? Let us count the ways…

1. Being warm and affectionate

Being warm and affectionate is one of the more obvious ways we can show our kids love. It could be morning cuddles, snuggling up with a book at night, or randomly saying ‘I love you.’ It could be holding their hand, giving them a quick squeeze or sharing a smile and laugh. This doesn’t just help our children to feel loved, it also helps us.

One mom I worked with was continually frustrated by the long-drawn out bedtime routine with her son. She just wanted him to go to sleep so that she could get on with all the other chores. But we talked about how she could use this time to slow down, really connect with her son, share her love and receive love from him.

This helped her son feel validated and also gave her a loving energy boost. Instead of feeling exhausted and depleted at the end of the day, it helped her feel loved-up. Bonus!

2. Doing stuff together

Sitting on the floor with a puzzle, going for a bike ride, baking a cake, watching our children’s latest performance, reading together, kicking the footy, watching a movie. Doing stuff together is a source of love.

We can often feel too busy to stop and engage with our children. But when we get involved in something they enjoy doing, we show love and understanding. And when we introduce them to what we love doing, it’s a good excuse to do it more often!

Research has also shown how powerful play can be. Play is a fertile ground for our children’s learning and development. When we take a moment to play with our children, we are helping them to develop physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills.

Play also benefits us. Play offers us an opportunity to tap into our inner child, let go of some of the stress and pressures of life, and be a kid again! We can have fun, open up to new possibilities, be creative and simply enjoy.

3. Paying attention

When we pay attention to our children, we validate them. Validation is what helps our children to feel seen and heard and loved. When children feel seen, heard and loved, they are less likely to whine or act up to get our attention and they are more likely to bring their best selves to more situations.

Attention is also what opens us up to more love and understanding. Mindfulness research has shown the value of presence and awareness. It allows us to take in more of the situation, to notice subtleties and nuances and to be more likely to come up with a parenting response that is going to help rather than inflame the situation.

We respond instead of react. We can’t pay undivided attention to our kids every minute of every day. But it is worth putting down the phone or getting off the computer or stopping what we’re doing to be mindful and present with our children whenever we can.

4. Saying no

We’re not here to make our children happy. We’re here to help them be whole.

That means encouraging our children to experience all of life, including failures and mistakes. We want to support our children through challenging or difficult or uncomfortable times rather than protecting them from these moments. Struggle allows our children to build resilience and learn skills that they can’t develop if we make life easy for them or do everything for them.

Saying no is about encouraging independence, reinforcing our family values, and setting boundaries. Boundaries are important for children’s sense of wrong and right. They also provide children with a sense of safety and security.

Through our family values and family rules, we can then guide our children in loving way to be their true whole selves.

5. Seeing the strengths

Sometimes we can be so focused on stamping out our children’s negative behavior that we forget to see and encourage the good stuff. Our children have strengths, and we can recognize and welcome them. It’s worth reflecting on our children when they are at their best.

What are they doing? What kind of a person are they being? What strengths are they displaying?

Research has shown that when we focus on our children’s strengths we can help build their resilience, boost their energy and optimism, and encourage success and achievement. It also helps our children’s confidence, coping abilities and self-worth and it can help us to feel happier and more confident about our parenting.

Recognizing our children’s strength is about taking the time to acknowledge and appreciate who they are, rather than who they are not.

There are so many ways to love our children. And maybe the simpler, the better.