Skip to content

Why kids have trouble finding the right word to say

By Kelli Johnson, MA

Related topics

We’ve all had that frustrating, tip-of-the-tongue moment, when the word we need just won’t come to us. We know the word. We’ve used the word. And we’re sure it’s in our head somewhere. This is known as trouble with word finding, or word retrieval.

We tend to associate this challenge with adults, especially as they get older. But kids can have word-finding problems, too.

Like adults, all kids have trouble with this once in a while. But some kids struggle with this a lot. And it can be very frustrating for them.

Sometimes word-retrieval difficulties can be a sign of something else. Word-finding can be hard for kids with language disorders or those who struggle with reading, like kids with dyslexia. 

Related topics

Problems with word retrieval can also be a sign that kids are struggling with focus. It’s also common in kids who have had a brain injury, like a concussion. 

Dive deeper

What to keep an eye on

Here are some ways you might know kids are struggling with word retrieval. They might:

  • Pause a lot and use “filler words” like uh or um

  • Talk around the word using long or vague descriptions, like “Where is the thing I like to use in my hair?”

  • Mispronounce the word, like saying appet when they mean apple

  • Say a word that has a similar meaning but sounds different, like saying chair when they mean couch

  • Say a word that sounds similar but has a different meaning, like saying elephant when they mean elevator

If you’re noticing signs like these, you may also want to keep an eye on signs of dyslexia .

Dyslexia and word retrieval

Dyslexia can cause kids to have trouble finding the right word. That can be because they have a hard time bringing to mind the exact sound combination for that word. They might say a wrong word that sounds similar to the right word.

Other times, they struggle to find the word and will “talk around it.” They can have this same struggle when writing, too.

Learn more about how dyslexia can affect kids’ speech .

Next steps

Look for patterns. Are there certain times or situations when kids have trouble finding the right word? For example, does it happen most often when they’re tired? 

If you’re a family member, learn how to take notes about what you’re observing. Then share this information with your child’s teacher or healthcare provider. 

If you’re an educator, share your observations with the child’s family. You can also turn to your school’s speech-language pathologist for helpful tips.

Tell us what interests you

Tell us what interests you

Select the topics you want to learn more about

Share

Did you know we have a community app for parents?

Download Wunder on the App Store

Share Why kids have trouble finding the right word to say

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom

Share Why kids have trouble finding the right word to say

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom