What are WordPress Child Themes and How Do They Work?

One of the things you’ll often come across when researching themes for WordPress is the notion of a “child theme”. But what exactly are WordPress child themes, how do they work, and should you use one? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons, as well as defining what a child theme actually is, and how it works. 

What is a WordPress Child Theme?

A WordPress child theme is a theme that inherits its design and functionality from the core “parent” theme. In the case of both free and paid themes, child themes are used if you want to adjust or change something that could be overwritten with the next “parent” theme update. This way, you won’t lose the styling, customization and other updates you’ve made to get the theme exactly the way you want it. 

Why Were Child Themes Originally Created?

It used to be that themes that were highly popular, would suddenly be faced with an exploit, and had to be updated very quickly so that they wouldn’t be at risk of being hacked. If you had spent a lot of time tweaking your theme and making changes to the stylesheets and design, it would all be overwritten the moment you updated the theme. If you didn’t update your theme, you risked your site to all kinds of vulnerabilities and exploits. 

For this reason, child themes were created so that you could still make sure core theme files were updated, but you could also tweak the site to get the look and feel that you wanted. In short, the best of both worlds. Now, it’s worth noting that not all WordPress themes have child themes. This doesn’t mean that they’re worse than those that do, or that they’re somehow more vulnerable than themes that have child themes.

Likewise, not all WordPress themes make good “parents”. The core code has to be secure yet flexible, functional yet customizable. It’s a tall order for developers to fill, yet the best WordPress themes (with child themes or not) stand on their own merits for allowing developers and users alike to mold them to their wishes and business goals. 

WordPress Child Themes Don’t Have to Be Complex

Sometimes, a WordPress child theme can import everything from its parent theme and allow for greater customization with its own separate CSS or cascading stylesheet file. This is where much of the design customization happens, so if you’re the type of person who likes to tweak things like color and layout, you’ll definitely want to consider using a WordPress theme that has a child theme. 

Also, in case there are exploits or vulnerabilities discovered in the parent theme, developers often release new, more secure versions, and you can update them without the fear of losing all of your hard work. Many people who like to adjust WordPress themes to make them precisely what they want, love child themes because they’re so extendable.

With just a few coding tweaks, they can modify templates without having to copy every single file over into the child theme. Want to just change the footer? You’ll only need to edit footer.php. Want to change just the sidebar? You can do that, too and you don’t need to carry everything over. 

If your theme requires extensive changes, it may be worth looking at a theme that allows greater customization rather than trying to completely overhaul a child theme. 

What If I’m Not a Developer? 

Developing a child theme can be as easy or as detailed as you want to make it. With that being said, if you’re interested in developing a core parent theme, that takes a bit more coding and the ability to see the “big picture” of every possible and conceivable use of how your theme could be used by end users. 

If you’re interested, it’s a smart idea to take some beginning WordPress coding classes. The good news is that learning WordPress from tutorials will help you understand the process, and as you continue to practice and develop your core theme. Some of the best core WordPress themes were originally developed by budding developers who were just getting their feet wet. Over time, these themes have grown and become much more popular, so who knows, yours could be next! 

What if I Want to Make Changes to My WordPress Site? Do I Need a Child Theme?

Not necessarily. If you plan to make lots of changes to your site’s theme and make a great deal of edits, you may want to consider having a child theme developed to help keep your changes and edits in place while you benefit from security and ease of use updates from your developer. If you’re not comfortable editing CSS files or creating your own, it’s a smart idea to contact WPDandy. 

At WPDandy, for one affordable monthly fee, our proficient WordPress developers can help you create a child theme or make edits to an existing child theme so your WordPress site can look the way you’ve always imagined. With our robust admin area dashboard, you can easily correspond with your own personal developer and track changes as well as providing feedback. 

The Bottom Line on Deciding Whether or Not a Child Theme is Right for You

If you still have questions about whether or not a child theme could be right for your needs, we encourage you to reach out to us and contact us with more details about your theme and what you have in mind. We’d be glad to discuss your needs in more detail and help you bring your theme, whether it’s a child theme or not, to life with stable, secure code, optimized design, flexible layout and much more. 

See for yourself why we’re one of the fastest growing WordPress management and maintenance companies online and experience the difference that professional, comprehensive WordPress development can make for your business, organization or personal website!