Psychologist offers parents advice on explaining to children why Emma has left The Wiggles

Many parents will be anxiously staring down the barrel of toddler tears, tantrums and confusion after it was announced this week that one of the world's most beloved children's entertainers is hanging up her skivvy. 

Emma Watkins, otherwise known as the Yellow Wiggle in children's group The Wiggles, has announced she's decided to step down at the end of the year. 

The first-ever female wiggle, Watkins will be replaced by a new Yellow Wiggle, Tsehay Hawkins. 

The 32-year-old released a statement saying the pandemic had given her chance to reflect on what's "important in life", and she was planning on devoting "more time and energy" to completing her PhD, "and to having more time to work with the deaf community". 

All of that is very admirable, but may be tough to explain to a heartbroken two-year-old, who will no doubt soon fall in love with Watkins' replacement, but in the meantime might be confused as to why their favourite character has disappeared off the screen. 

Auckland clinical psychologist Dr Victoria Thompson says it's very normal for children to develop emotional connections and bonds with television characters, calling it a 'parasocial relationship'. 

"We all can recognize the disappointment and sadness that comes when our favourite character leaves or the new TV show that we've been binging comes to an end," she told Newshub.  

"This experience is no different for children."

Dr Thompson says often young children develop a strong attachment to certain television characters, "particularly if these are adult characters". 

"These characters provide a sense of safety and comfort in the same sense that attachment to a real person would. 

"Younger children don't understand that this character is fictional, but rather believe that they exist somewhere in the real world." 

How to talk about it with your children 

Dr Thompson says while it may be distressing, the ending of Emma Wiggle's time on screen is "a great opportunity for learnings about the losses of life".  

"It is not a situation that the adult needs to problem solve, but rather an opportunity to allow their child to go through the motions of processing emotion," she says.

"So rather than desperately trying to distract them with another Wiggles character or a new TV show, allow the child to process the emotions of confusion, loss and sadness that may come their way."

She recommends parents and caregivers try their best to use "emotion words" to help children understand how they're feeling. 

"These might be: 'I can see that you're crying, you must be feeling very sad,' or 'it is upsetting when a friend leaves, isn't it?' 

"What may be useful is to provide your child with a concrete reason for them leaving, like 'they moved away with their family', to help them to understand why she's not there anymore. 

Dr Thompson recommends then asking your child if they understand why she's left, and ask how they feel about it. 

"Let them cry and let them forget that she left and then remember and cry again. 

"Eventually the tears will stop and they will move on, having learnt a beautiful lesson about loss and how they managed to cope with it."