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Spirited discussions on on-line parenting forums reveal that many parents dread play dates yet see them as a necessary evil. When one goes well the kids have a ball, keep each other entertained and give mum or dad a break. When they go wrong they're disruptive, stressful and noisy.

You can't control how two kids will interact, but play dates will throw up some sticky situations that require varying levels of diplomacy to defuse.

The guest is a brat: They're loud and bossy. They're rough with your kid's toys. They're rough with your kid. All scenarios that can make you grit your teeth and pray for home time. But you're not sure how they'll react if you discipline them, or how their mum will react when she hears they've been reprimanded.

Remember, it's your home, so your rules. Keep cool and instruct the mischief-maker to calm down. If they persist with bad behaviour then let them know they'll have to go home early if they won't behave. If they do calm down be sure to praise them and smile lots.

Children can carry around grudges for a long time, or be nervous around an adult who has scolded them. If you come across as scary they may not want to come back (which may please you but not your child).

At home time be sure to let the child's parent know that the kids got a bit boisterous and you had to step in. Any rational parent will respect your honesty and your right to impose house rules.

The parents are hands-off: You exercise strict controls on TV viewing. You don't allow the kids to jump on the beds or the sofas. You don't let them slide down the banisters. You like to keep an eye on them to make sure they're not up to mischief. The trouble is that junior's best friend is allowed to do all these things at his house and his mum is quite laissez-faire when it comes to play dates.

It may not be fair to expect other people to modify their rules to accommodate your expectations, but don't be afraid to speak out. Try something friendly like, "I hear they'd a great time sliding down the banisters. He's awfully accident-prone so maybe you'd keep his feet on the ground next time he's over!"

If he's been sitting in front of a TV all day let the host know you prefer to limit viewing to evenings. Avoid preaching. You don't want anyone to think you're judging their parenting skills (even if you really are).

You don't like the guest: It's unlikely we will love all of our children's friends but it's important we don't stand in the way of little friendships. Unless you believe another child is seriously bad company or a negative influence simply limit their contact. If you don't want someone to know you find their child difficult, try inviting them over for coffee so you get to catch-up while your kids play together.

Two-parent play dates can solve lots of problems, including the big question of having to discipline someone else's child.

The guest is a fussy eater: Some kids are terrible eaters, which makes feeding them a real headache. If a guest refuses your offerings ask them what they normally have at home.

Try to accommodate them so you don't send a child home hungry but don't be bullied into handing out junk food. If you usually serve carrots sticks as an afternoon snack, encourage the visitor to try them. You can offer a conventional treat later.