Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

4 tips for talking to children about earthquakes

by Take Two®

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Children participate in the "Great California ShakeOut" earthquake drill at the Para Los Ninos Elementary School in Los Angeles on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. Participants are urged to drop, cover and hold on, the recommended procedure to protect oneself from falling objects in an earthquake, according to the recommendations by the Earthquake Country Alliance. Damian Dovarganes/AP

The weekend in Southern California was rocked by a 5.1 earthquake Friday night, with several aftershocks centered around the La Habra area.

They struck near a fault close to the La Puente Hills thrust fault. Though it is less known than the larger San Andreas, scientists worry a large-scale quake along this fault could cause even more destruction in the L.A. area.

"It's what we call a blind thrust, in other words it's deep enough that it doesn't hit the surface, so we don't know as much about it as we do some of the faults that do reach the surface," said Seismologist Kate Hutton of the California Institute of Technology. "Most of the faults that we have in Southern California are strike slip faults, where one side slides horizontally past the other. A thrust fault, the fault is at an angle and one side is sliding up over the other side."

The fault runs from northern Orange County through the San Gabriel Valley and up through downtown Los Angeles into Hollywood. There are many older, more vulnerable buildings and densely populated areas along the fault than the San Andreas, which lies about 30 miles outside metropolitan L.A.

How To Educate (Without Terrifying) Your Kids About Earthquakes

Friday's 5.1 earthquake made for some interesting conversations come Saturday morning — chief among them, perhaps, were brought on by probing questions from young minds.

RELATED: 20 things to do to prepare before the next earthquake hits Southern California

For more on how to make sure a child is safe but not scared, we checked in with clinical psychologist Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, who gave us the following pointers when talking with children about earthquakes:

  • Be Honest, But Not Too Honest: A child doesn't need every gruesome, literal detail of what kind of havoc an 8.1 earthquake could wreak on downtown Los Angeles. DO be reassuring. DO be general. DO stay calm.
  • Empathy First, Reality Second: It's important to be empathic to children's ideas of an earthquake. For example, responding to a child's fears, "Wow, those are scary thoughts to be having. I can understand why you'd be scared by that, but that's not the way it really happens. What we need to be concerned about it getting somewhere we can be safe if objects fall that could hit us."
  • Champion 'Benign Denial': Earthquakes are potentially catastrophic, but infrequent. It's important to try to ignore them but be prepared. It's an element of resilience and good coping, according to Dr. Gnaulati.
  • Understand That Not All Children Are Created Equal: Kids vary in their level of emotional resilience. Some may not be worried by the abstract idea of the "big one," while others can fixate on it. Children that become undone by the thought of an earthquake may benefit from becoming involved  in the course of action that keeps people safe, for example by helping to put together your "go" bag. Including children in the safety preparation process may help lessen their anxiety.

RELATED: Check out KPCC's Earthquake Tracker tool

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