I am not a fan of play dates, and would far rather avoid other people's children altogether, but I accept that kids love them, and that sometimes they're a necessary evil. Before your children start school, play dates are simple affairs: coffee and cake enjoyed with a friend, while your respective toddlers bang bricks together and fight over Iggle Piggle. Your children's friends are your friends' children.
It isn't until they start school that their social network begins to expand, and suddenly you're into the realm of proper playdates. Should you stay or should you go? Will lack of a return invitation cause offence? Is it OK to tell someone else's child to eat their greens? I polled mums and dads on Twitter and pulled together this guide for playdate success...
Limit TV time
@TashaGoddard: 'I hate it when children think they've come over to sit glued to the TV. They have to actually play, or chat or draw or make stuff.'
Watching a favourite television programme together can be a good icebreaker, and an introduction to something new. But set a time limit and stick to it, otherwise they won't interact with each other.
Share the drop offs and pick-ups
@caroljs: 'We normally bring the extra child home from school with us, and then the other parents pick up.'
Unless there's a good reason for it, one set of parents shouldn't have to do both runs. If it's an after school visit, it's conventional for the host family to collect the guest from school, and for the guest's parents to pick up at an agreed time. Whatever time you agree – don't be late!
Ease off the discipline
@nellbelleandme: 'Relax house rules while guests are here. Other kids don't know our rules.'
No one's saying you have to abandon any sense of decorum, and it's good for kids to experience different sets of family values, but remember that this is supposed to be fun! Decide which rules you can relax (no elbows on the table, for example) and which you want to be strict about (no hitting!) and make it clear from the start, otherwise you'll be sorry...
@annamavin: 'There's nothing worse than finding a child playing hide and seek in your bed with his dirty shoes on. That one made me SO mad!'
@tantrums_tiaras: 'Structure means sanity for you, and targeted fun for them. We do things like decorate cakes, or beading. It also shows you're a cool mum!'
Some children are great at getting stuck into imaginative play; others need a little encouragement. You can help by setting out some invitations to play: craft activities, or jigsaw puzzles, or the dressing up box ready and waiting.
Don't hang around
@karamina: 'drop and run! That may be the jaded voice of a mother of four, mind you...'
If it's the first time you've been to someone's house, you might feel you want to stick around for a bit, but don't outstay your welcome. Leave a contact number, make sure your child is playing happily, and let them get on with it.
Do something simple for tea
@caroljs: I normally do a treat tea like pizza and get them to add their own toppings.'
Don't be tempted to lay on a feast for your kids' friends, in case they report back to their parents. It's commonly understood that party food, or chicken nuggets with beans and chips is acceptable fodder for playdates, and that of course you usually feed your children organic quinoa with a side serving of spinach leaves...
...and expect them to eat it
@NelliePomPoms: 'They have to eat what they're given. I won't pander to fussy eaters.'
Most parents I spoke to agreed that they would make an effort to find out what their young guest liked to eat, but wouldn't bend over backwards to give them their favourite food. Put some bread and butter on the table as an alternative.
Offer a return match
If your child is invited to play at someone's house, it's good manners to return the favour. Not everyone agrees with me on this one...
@T1ckledP1nk: 'I wouldn't invite a child I didn't like to my house, even if my child had been to theirs. It's my house!'
Keep an eye on them!
@doyoudoanywings: 'Just because you can't hear them doesn't mean they're not going through that box at the back of the wardrobe.'
One of the good things about playdates (actually, the only good thing about playdates) is the free entertainment for your own children. Just don't get so carried away that you forget about them altogether.
More on Parentdish: Playdates from hell!