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A Mom's Guide to Playdates

We're 17 minutes into a Monday-morning playdate and bickering has broken out among the gang of four: my twins, Drew and Claire, 4, and their pals Josie, 4, and Bella, 3. Repetitive complaint syndrome has surfaced. A pinching incident is reported. What happened to the "play" in "playdate"? Where's the part where Mom reads while the children amuse themselves? Why oh why did I agree to a four-hour playdate?

I agreed because I didn't know any better. I didn't know that four kids who get along fabulously at preschool might not play contentedly at our house. For one thing, we lack a dedicated staff ready to guide two kids into gluing while the third cooks in the play kitchen and the fourth strings beads. For another, the playdate guests weren't familiar with our house, so they were anxious. Mostly, I didn't know that four hours is an insane amount of time.

We survived  -- the mac-and-cheese lunch had a calming, unifying effect  -- but it was a long time before I was ready to face a playdate again. As your child heads into the world of friendship and socializing, remember this reality-tested advice on how to handle  -- and even prevent  -- tricky playdate situations.