Psychologist Sonya Stagnoli says stepfamily counseling works best if it begins before any resentment and anger erupt--and preferably before the wedding.
"Often in the very beginning of a stepfamily, things feel very wacky and very foreign. Perhaps you have a woman who has gone from living alone to suddenly facing a house full of kids," she says. "The earlier you get in [to a therapist] the better. At the end of the sessions, the family should have developed competence to deal with issues as they arise."
Other experts on stepfamilies offer various survival tips, nearly all of which jibe with a basic rule for living a sane life: Compassion, empathy and communication go a long way.
* Level with your child. Don't sugarcoat potential traumas and don't lie. For example, suppose your child says he's afraid he's losing you. "The reality is that, yes, you and your child probably won't have as much one-on-one time together," says Lawrence Ganong, a University of Missouri professor of human development and family studies.