Skip to Main Content

Welcome to

Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

Learn More

Word Finding Problems

What are word finding problems?

A word finding problem is when someone knows the word they want to use but they have trouble thinking of it. This is also called aphasia.

Everyone has trouble finding the right word sometimes. You might say the word is “on the tip of my tongue." Word-finding problems can sometimes occur if there is a brain tumor, swelling, or other brain injury.

Some children may become upset when they are not able to say something correctly. Word finding problems can also frustrate the listener because the child may speak more slowly or use the wrong words, affecting the meaning of the message.

Signs of a word finding problem

Every child's word-finding problem is different. However, there are some common patterns, including the following:

Pattern Example

Saying a word that is similar 

  • lion for tiger
  • spoon for fork
  • watch for clock

Using vague words or gestures

  • saying, "stuff," "thing," or "that one" instead of saying the correct name
  • pointing to the object or acting out how the object works or is used

Talking around the word

  • "you eat soup with it" for spoon
  • "where you get food" for grocery store

Saying words that sound similar or have some of the same sounds

  • car for cart
  • dog for frog
  • chicken for kitchen

Using time fillers or pauses when talking

  • "uh," "um," or "it's a, it's a..."
  • "wait... I know" while trying to think of the word

How to help your child improve word finding

  • Read to your child or encourage them to read.
  • Name objects around your child or pictures in books.
  • Use riddles and have your child guess what you are describing.
  • Have your child name items you need for a certain activity.
  • Work on naming opposites or words that mean the same thing.
  • At school, ask for classroom accommodations and help, such as giving your child a word bank when taking a test and extra time to complete assignments.
  • Play games to improve word-finding skills such as:
    • Name items that belong to a group. For example, name as many colors as you can in 1 minute.
    • “Name the Category” - You name several things in a certain category and ask your child to name the category. For example, “Blue, red, green are all ________?”
    • “Pick the Word that Doesn’t Belong” – For example, say “cat, dog, tree, mouse” and have your child answer “tree.”
    • Play word association games such as “Pilot goes with ….?” and having your child answer, “plane.”

How to help when your child is stuck on a word

  • Give your child time to think of the word. Do not try to finish their sentences right away because this can make them more upset.
  • If your child cannot think of the word and you know what they are trying to say, give them clues. For example, "It starts with …," "It sounds like …," "It looks like …," "It is used to …," or "It is like a …". Have them repeat the word back in the sentence to reinforce finding correct the word.
  • Tell your child to use an action, like holding their hand to their ear for phone.
  • Encourage your child to picture how objects are used or how the word is spelled.
  • Have your child think of a related word or a word that means the same thing.
Child stuck on word, but given clues to help them

If your child is stuck on a word, give clues to help or have them think of a related word.

Talk to your care team if you have concerns about your child’s word-finding skills. A speech-language pathologist can do tests to learn about problems. The therapist may recommend strategies to address specific concerns.

Key points

  • A word finding problem is when someone knows the word they want to use but they have trouble thinking of it.
  • Word finding problems can sometimes be caused by a brain tumor.
  • Strategies can help your child improve their word finding skills or help when your child is stuck on a word.

Reviewed: September 2022