Mastering WordPress Child Themes Creation

Delving into the dynamic world of WordPress, one is bound to encounter the concept of Child Themes, a powerful tool for web customization and optimization. The vast platform of WordPress thrives on the foundation of these themes that help shape countless websites globally. But what exactly are WordPress child themes? How do they function and what makes them essential for a robust digital presence? These and many such questions often float around in the mind of any budding WordPress enthusiast. This comprehensive guide will serve as a means to understand and create WordPress child themes, set up an efficient development environment, learn the crucial steps involved in creating a Child Theme, and finally, establish strategies to test and troubleshoot your theme. So, brace yourself to dive into the fascinating world of WordPress Child Themes, a journey that promises exciting discoveries and profound learning experiences.

Understanding WordPress Child Themes

Understanding WordPress Child Themes

A child theme in WordPress is a subsidiary theme that inherits all the features, styles, and functionality from its parent theme. Serving as a bridge between your WordPress site and the parent theme, a child theme allows you to modify or add functionality to the parent theme without disrupting its core structure.

In essence, a child theme allows customization flexibility without threatening the integrity of the parent theme. As a result, if errors arise during your modifications, the parent theme remains untouched and operational. This way, your website’s overall performance won’t suffer from the mistakes made in the development of the child theme.

Benefits of Using Child Themes

There are several advantages that come with using child themes for your WordPress site. First, they allow for safe updates. Whenever the parent theme gets updated by its creators, you can seamlessly update it on your website without losing the customizations you’ve made in your child theme.

Secondly, a child theme provides an effective sandbox for testing modifications or new features. Due to the child theme’s separation from the parent theme, you can experiment without facing the risk of crashing your entire site.

Additionally, if there are alterations you want to make but don’t know how to code them, a child theme allows you to place these changes without editing the parent theme’s template files. These could include changes to the website’s header layout, colors, fonts, or adding new functionality to the site.

In terms of performance, as long as you implement best practices in your website development and maintenance, a child theme can lead to enhanced website speed and performance. This effect comes from the freedom to maintain only the necessary code within your child theme, instead of complicating matters in the parent theme.

When Should You Use a Child Theme?

It’s appropriate to use a child theme when you intend on making significant changes to your website beyond what the theme options allow. If you’re planning minor modifications such as changing a color or adjusting a font size, then a custom CSS plugin can do the trick.

But if you want to adjust or add more sophisticated elements to your site like new functions, layout adjustments, or more, creating a child theme would be the best course of action. This way, you are in control, your changes remain intact when updates occur, and your website’s performance is better safeguarded.

By gaining an understanding of what WordPress child themes are and how they work, you on your way to leveraging their potential benefits for flexibility, safe updates, customization, and improved performance of your website.

Image illustrating the concept of WordPress child themes, highlighting the connection and inheritance between parent and child themes.

Photo by federize on Unsplash

Setting Up Your Development Environment

Step 1: Install Local by Flywheel

The first step in setting up your development environment for creating WordPress child themes is installing Local by Flywheel. It offers an easy-to-use local development environment that you can use to create WordPress sites on your own computer. It allows you to create different environments for different projects and easily switch between different versions of PHP, MySQL, and web servers.

Step 2: Create a New Local Site

After installation, create a new local site. Click on the large plus button that appears once you launch Local by Flywheel, name your site, and select your preferred environment and WordPress settings. Local by Flywheel will then create a new WordPress installation on your computer.

Step 3: Log Into Admin Dashboard

Once your local site is running, you can log into the WordPress Dashboard. Click on “Admin” from the Local by Flywheel interface to open your new WordPress site in a web browser. Log in with the username and password you selected during setup.

Step 4: Download a Parent Theme

After logging into your WordPress dashboard, head over to the ‘Appearance’ section and click ‘Themes’. Now, you’re ready to pick a parent theme that fits your plan. You can either pick a free theme from the WordPress repository or purchase a premium one. Once you’ve made your decision, install and activate the theme.

Step 5: Make a Child Theme

Now you’re ready to create your child theme. For this, you’ll need to add a new folder in your themes directory. Give this folder a unique name, which usually follows the convention of ‘parenttheme-child’. In this folder, you’ll need to create a style.css file and a functions.php file.

Step 6: Edit the Style and Function Files

In your style.css file, add a comment section at the top including your theme’s name, the Template name (which should match your parent theme’s folder name exactly), and other details if you wish. This helps WordPress recognize your child theme. In the functions.php file, include a PHP function that enqueues the parent and child theme stylesheets.

Step 7: Activate Your Child Theme

Finally, go back to the WordPress dashboard. In ‘Appearance,’ you should see your child theme listed. Click ‘Activate’, and your child theme will start working. From this point, you can start customizing your child theme in a safe way.

A screenshot of a WordPress dashboard with child themes section highlighted.

Creating a WordPress Child Theme

Step 1: Creating a Child Theme Directory

In your WordPress Themes directory (wp-content/themes), create a new directory for your child theme. You can name it anything you want, but it’s a good practice to use something related to your parent theme, appended with “-child”.

Step 2: Creating a Child Theme Stylesheet

Inside the newly created child theme’s directory, create a new file and name it style.css. This stylesheet is where you’ll add your custom styles. It must begin with the following CSS comment:

/* Theme Name: Twenty Twenty Child (Your Parent Theme Name Child) Template: twentytwenty (Directory Name of Parent Theme) */

In this CSS comment, “Theme Name” is the name of your child theme as it will appear in your WordPress dashboard, and “Template” is the directory name of the parent theme.

Step 3: Enqueuing Parent and Child Theme Stylesheets

In the same directory, create another file and name it functions.php. Open it and add this PHP code to enqueue your parent and child theme stylesheets:


This code tells WordPress to load the parent theme’s stylesheet before the child theme’s stylesheet.

Step 4: Activating the Child Theme

Navigate to your WordPress dashboard and go to Appearance > Themes. You should see your child theme listed among the available themes. Click “Activate” to start using your child theme.

Step 5: Modifying Templates

To modify an existing template file in your parent theme, copy it from the parent theme’s directory into your child theme’s directory, preserving the subdirectory structure if applicable. You can then edit this copy in your child theme directory, and WordPress will use your modified version instead of the parent theme’s version.

Remember, modifications to your WordPress child theme are safe from updates to the parent theme. It allows you to customize your website while maintaining the breakable functionality provided by the parent theme.

A step-by-step guide on creating and activating a WordPress child theme

Photo by claytonrobbins on Unsplash

Testing and Troubleshooting Your Child Theme

Testing Your WordPress Child Theme

Testing your WordPress child theme is crucial to ensure that it is correctly functioning on all types of devices and browsers. There are many automated tools available such as BrowserStack and CrossBrowserTesting that allow you to test your theme on various browsers and devices simultaneously. However, manual testing is also recommended for a thorough check. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Open your WordPress site on different browsers including Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer to check if your theme is displayed correctly. Note any discrepancies or issues.
  2. Test your site on different devices like desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Pay attention to the design and functionality on smaller screens.
  3. Also, check the loading speed of your site on different devices and browsers. Slow loading speed can adversely affect user experience.

Identifying and Fixing Common Issues

While testing, you might come across various issues. Some of them could be:

  1. The theme might not display correctly on all browsers. This could be due to CSS or JavaScript issues. Use the developer tools of the respective browsers to identify any coding errors.
  2. The design might not be responsive, meaning it doesn’t adjust well to different screen sizes. Check the CSS media queries in your child theme.
  3. There might be issues with the loading speed of your site, which could be related to the file size of your theme. Using lighter images or optimizing the code can help increase speed.

Remember, the WordPress community has a lot of resources and forums where you can seek help in fixing these issues.

Ensuring Your Child Theme Meets WordPress Standards

WordPress has specific coding standards, and your child theme should adhere to these. You can check WordPress’s official Developer Handbook which details the PHP, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript standards you should follow.

There are also plugins like Theme Check, which check if your theme meets the latest WordPress standards. After installing and activating the plugin, go to ‘Appearance’ > ‘Theme Check’ and select your theme. The plugin will automatically check and give you a report on what needs to be fixed.

Testing, troubleshooting, and making sure your WordPress child theme meets the WordPress standards ensures a better user experience and increases your website’s credibility.

Image depicting someone testing a WordPress child theme on multiple devices

Photo by halacious on Unsplash

With a firm grasp of how to create, test, and troubleshoot a WordPress Child Theme, you’re now equipped to take your website to new heights. The path to understanding and implementing a child theme surely invites challenges, but your reward lies in the capabilities it offers in customizing websites, improving their performance, and providing the freedom to safely update the parent theme. Not to mention, acquiring this skill set gives you a competitive edge in the ever-evolving digital world. As you continue your WordPress journey, never hesitate to explore, experiment, and learn from mistakes because every step, every stumble, every victory is a part of your growth. So here’s to empowerment via knowledge and to transforming digital landscapes one WordPress Child Theme at a time!

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO and WordPress Guru. He also writes for