Creating a WordPress Child Theme in 5 easy steps

Why create a WordPress Child Theme

With the extensive library of themes and plugins available for WordPress, you can create a visually appealing and functional website without writing a single line of code. However, making customisations directly to a parent theme can pose risks. That’s where a WordPress child theme comes into play. In this article, our team of Sydney WordPress developers will explore the importance of using a WordPress child theme for your WordPress website or your WooCommerce website and provide a step-by-step guide on how to create and use one.

Introduction to WordPress Child Themes

Before we dive into the specifics, let’s understand what a WordPress child theme is. A child theme is essentially a separate theme that inherits the functionality and styling of its parent theme. It allows you to make modifications to your website’s appearance and functionality without altering the original theme’s core files.

Understanding the Importance of Using a Child Theme

Using a WordPress child theme offers several key benefits that make it an essential tool for website development and customisation.

Benefits of Using a WordPress Child Theme

  1. Preserving the Original Theme’s Functionality: When you directly modify a parent theme, any updates to the theme can overwrite your changes. By using a child theme, you can ensure that your customisations remain intact, even when the parent theme is updated.
  2. Safe Updates and Customisation: With a child theme, you can safely update the parent theme without worrying about losing your modifications. It allows you to take advantage of new features, security patches, and bug fixes while maintaining your customised design.
  3. Easier Troubleshooting and Maintenance: If an issue arises while customising your website, it’s much easier to troubleshoot and identify the problem when using a child theme. By isolating your customisations, you can quickly pinpoint any conflicts or errors and address them without affecting the parent theme.

How to Create a WordPress Child Theme

Creating a WordPress child theme is a straightforward process that involves a few simple steps. Let’s walk through them:

Step 1: Choose a Parent Theme

The first step in creating a child theme for your WordPress or WooCommerce website is to carefully select a suitable parent theme. The parent theme serves as the foundation for your child theme, providing the core functionality and design elements. It’s crucial to choose a parent theme that is well-supported, regularly updated, and aligns with your design requirements.

When selecting a parent theme, consider the following factors:

  1. Functionality: Evaluate the features and capabilities offered by the parent theme. Ensure it includes the necessary functionalities required for your website, such as responsive design, customisable headers, or integration with popular plugins.
  2. Design and Layout: Assess the visual appeal and layout options provided by the parent theme. Look for a design that aligns with your branding, aesthetics, and overall website goals. Consider aspects like color schemes, typography choices, and customisable page templates.
  3. Support and Updates: Check the theme developer’s reputation and track record for providing timely support and regular updates. A well-supported parent theme ensures that any issues or bugs are addressed promptly, and it remains compatible with the latest version of WordPress.
  4. Ratings and Reviews: Take a look at user ratings and reviews of the parent theme. Feedback from other users can give you insights into its reliability, user-friendliness, and potential drawbacks.
  5. Compatibility: Consider the compatibility of the parent theme with popular plugins and extensions you plan to use on your website. Ensure that the theme doesn’t conflict with essential plugins or limit your ability to extend functionality.

You can find a wide selection of parent themes in the official WordPress theme repository or explore third-party marketplaces that offer both free and premium themes. Take your time to research and compare different options, and choose a parent theme that best suits your specific needs and requirements.

Step 2: Create a New Folder for the Child Theme

Once you have chosen a parent theme, the next step is to create a new folder on your computer for the child theme. This folder will serve as the container for all the files related to your child theme. It’s a good practice to give the folder a name that reflects your child theme and helps differentiate it from the parent theme folder.

A common convention is to append “-child” to the parent theme’s name when naming the child theme folder. For example, if your chosen parent theme is called “Elegance,” you can name the child theme folder as “elegance-child”. This naming convention makes it easy to identify and manage your child theme files.

Creating a dedicated folder for your child theme ensures that all the theme files and customisations are organised in one place, making it easier to locate and modify specific elements when needed.

Step 3: Create the style.css File

Inside the child theme folder you created, it’s time to create the essential style.css file. This file will hold the CSS code that overrides the parent theme’s styles and allows you to customise the appearance of your website.

To create the style.css file, you can use any text editor or code editor of your choice. Start by opening a new file and save it as “style.css” within the child theme folder.

The style.css file should begin with a comment block that provides crucial information about the child theme. This information includes the name of the child theme, a brief description, and the parent theme it inherits from. Here’s an example of how the comment block should be structured:


Theme Name: My Child Theme
Theme URI:
Description: My Child Theme
Author: Jane Doe
Author URI:
Template: parent-theme-folder-name
Version: 1.0.0
@import url("../parent-theme-folder-name/style.css");

Replace “My Child Theme” with the name of your child theme, and “parent-theme-folder-name” with the name of the parent theme’s folder. The @import line imports the parent theme’s CSS file into your child theme’s CSS file.

Step 4: Enqueue the Parent and Child Theme Stylesheets

After creating the necessary files for your child theme, it’s essential to enqueue both the parent and child theme stylesheets in the correct order. Enqueuing ensures that the stylesheets are loaded appropriately and that the child theme’s styles override those of the parent theme.

To enqueue the stylesheets, you need to open the “functions.php” file within your child theme folder. This file contains PHP code that controls various aspects of your WordPress website, including the enqueuing of stylesheets.

Inside the “functions.php” file, you can add the following code to enqueue both the parent and child theme stylesheets:

function enqueue_child_theme_styles() {
    // Enqueue parent theme stylesheet
    wp_enqueue_style('parent-theme-style', get_template_directory_uri() . '/style.css');
    // Enqueue child theme stylesheet
    wp_enqueue_style('child-theme-style', get_stylesheet_uri(), array('parent-theme-style'));
add_action('wp_enqueue_scripts', 'enqueue_child_theme_styles');

Let’s break down what this code does:

  1. The wp_enqueue_style function is used to enqueue stylesheets. It takes parameters such as the stylesheet handle, the stylesheet’s source URL, and an array of dependencies (other stylesheets that need to be loaded before this one).
  2. In the code snippet, we enqueue the parent theme stylesheet by using wp_enqueue_style and providing the handle ‘parent-theme-style’. We retrieve the source URL of the parent theme’s stylesheet using get_template_directory_uri() and append ‘/style.css’ to specify the location of the parent theme’s stylesheet.
  3. Next, we enqueue the child theme stylesheet using wp_enqueue_style with the handle ‘child-theme-style’. We retrieve the source URL of the child theme’s stylesheet using get_stylesheet_uri(). We also specify the dependency on the parent theme’s stylesheet by passing an array containing ‘parent-theme-style’ as a dependency.

By enqueuing the stylesheets in this manner, the parent theme stylesheet will be loaded first, followed by the child theme stylesheet. This order ensures that the child theme’s styles override those of the parent theme, allowing you to customise the appearance of your website effectively.

Step 5: Customise the Child Theme’s Appearance and Functionality

Now that you have set up your child theme and enqueued the stylesheets, it’s time to unleash your creativity and customise the appearance and functionality of your website.

Modifying the CSS in style.css

The primary method of customising the appearance of your child theme is by modifying the CSS code in the “style.css” file. You can use any text editor or code editor to make the necessary changes.

Inside the “style.css” file, you’ll find a variety of CSS rules that define the styles for different elements of your website. By modifying or adding CSS rules, you can change the colors, fonts, spacing, and other visual aspects of your website to match your desired design.

Activating and Using a WordPress Child Theme

Once you have created your child theme and made the necessary customisations, it’s time to activate it and put it into action. Follow these simple steps:

Activating the Child Theme

Log in to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to “Appearance” > “Themes.” You should see your child theme listed there. Activate the child theme, and your website will now use the customisations you made in the child theme’s files.

Making Customisations to the Child Theme

With the child theme activated, you can continue customising your website by modifying the child theme’s files. Any changes you make will override the corresponding elements in the parent theme, ensuring your modifications are applied consistently.

Best Practices for Using WordPress Child Themes

To make the most of WordPress child themes, it’s essential to follow some best practices:

  1. Regularly Updating the Parent Theme: Stay updated with the latest version of the parent theme to take advantage of new features, security patches, and bug fixes. However, make sure to test the updates on your child theme to ensure compatibility and avoid any unexpected issues.
  2. Using a Version Control System: Employing a version control system, such as Git, allows you to track changes, revert modifications if needed, and collaborate with other developers seamlessly.
  3. Documenting Customisations: Keep a record of your customisations, including the changes made to CSS and template files. This documentation will be invaluable when troubleshooting or making future updates.
  4. Testing Across Different Devices and Browsers: Ensure that your child theme is responsive and functions correctly across various devices, browsers, and screen sizes. Regular testing helps maintain a consistent user experience.

While WordPress child themes are generally reliable, it’s important to be aware of potential issues that may arise during development or customisation. Here are some common problems you might encounter when working with WordPress child themes, along with their respective solutions:

Styles Not Applying Correctly

One issue you may face is when the styles defined in your child theme’s “style.css” file are not being applied to your website. In such cases, it’s crucial to verify that you have correctly enqueued the child theme’s stylesheet and that it is being loaded after the parent theme’s stylesheet.

To resolve this, follow these steps:

  1. Double-check the file path: Ensure that you have specified the correct file path when enqueuing the child theme’s stylesheet in the “functions.php” file. Make sure it points to the correct location of the “style.css” file within the child theme folder.
  2. Check the enqueue order: The child theme’s stylesheet should be enqueued after the parent theme’s stylesheet. Verify that you have correctly defined the dependencies when enqueuing the child theme’s stylesheet to ensure it loads after the parent theme’s styles.
// Example of enqueueing child theme stylesheet after the parent theme's stylesheet
wp_enqueue_style('parent-theme-style', get_template_directory_uri() . '/style.css');
wp_enqueue_style('child-theme-style', get_stylesheet_uri(), array('parent-theme-style'));

By ensuring the correct enqueue order, you can resolve issues where the child theme’s styles are not being applied properly.

Broken Functionality

Sometimes, certain functionalities may break or not work as expected when using a child theme. This can occur when the modifications you’ve made in the child theme conflict with the parent theme’s code or when your customisations are not fully compatible with specific features.

To address broken functionality, consider the following steps:

  1. Review your modifications: Carefully examine the PHP code you have added or modified in your child theme. Ensure that the changes you’ve made are correct and compatible with the parent theme. Compare your modifications with the original parent theme’s files to identify any discrepancies or potential conflicts.
  2. Debug and test: Use debugging tools and techniques to identify errors or conflicts in your code. Enable WordPress debugging mode and check for error messages or warnings that may provide insight into the issue. Test the affected functionality in different scenarios to pinpoint any specific triggers or patterns.
  3. Consult the theme developer or community: If you are unable to resolve the issue on your own, consider seeking assistance from the theme developer or the WordPress community. The theme developer may provide guidance or updates to address compatibility issues, or the WordPress community may offer valuable insights based on their experiences with similar problems.

By thoroughly reviewing your modifications, debugging the code, and seeking assistance when needed, you can troubleshoot and fix broken functionality in your child theme.

Compatibility Issues with Plugins

Another challenge you may encounter is compatibility issues between plugins and your child theme. While most plugins work smoothly with well-coded themes, certain plugins may not function as expected due to conflicts with specific features or customisation in your child theme.

To address compatibility issues with plugins, consider the following steps:

  1. Update the plugins: Ensure that you are using the latest version of the plugins installed on your website. Developers frequently release updates to improve compatibility and address known issues. Keeping your plugins up to date can resolve many compatibility-related problems.
  2. Reach out to the plugin developers: If you encounter compatibility issues with a particular plugin, contact the plugin developers for assistance. Provide detailed information about the problem, including any error messages or unusual behavior you have observed. The plugin developers may provide guidance or release updates to address the compatibility issues.
  3. Explore alternative plugins: If you find that a plugin is consistently causing compatibility problems with your child theme, consider exploring alternative plugins that offer similar functionalities and are known to work well with your theme. Look for plugins that have positive reviews, are regularly updated, and have good support from the developer or community.

By keeping your plugins updated, seeking support from plugin developers, and exploring alternative plugins when necessary, you can overcome compatibility issues and ensure smooth functionality with your child theme.

Remember, troubleshooting issues with WordPress child themes requires patience, careful analysis, and sometimes collaboration with theme developers and the WordPress community. By following the recommended steps, you can effectively resolve common issues and create a seamless experience with your child theme.


Using a WordPress child theme is a crucial practice for website owners and developers. It provides a safe and efficient way to customise your website while preserving the functionality and design of the parent theme. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can create and use a WordPress child theme effectively, allowing you to create unique and tailored websites that meet your specific needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is the difference between a WordPress parent theme and a child theme?
  2. A WordPress parent theme is the original theme that provides the core design and functionality of a website. A child theme, on the other hand, inherits the attributes of the parent theme but allows for customisation without modifying the parent theme’s files.
  3. Can I use a child theme with any WordPress theme? In most cases, you can use a child theme with any WordPress theme that follows best practices and supports child theme functionality. However, it’s recommended to review the theme’s documentation or consult with the theme developer to ensure compatibility.
  4. Will using a child theme affect my website’s performance? Using a child theme should not have a significant impact on your website’s performance. The overhead associated with loading the child theme’s files is minimal, and the benefits of easier customisation and maintenance outweigh any negligible performance impact.
  5. Can I customise the functionality of a WordPress child theme? Yes, you can customise the functionality of a WordPress child theme by modifying the PHP code. However, it’s important to exercise caution and ensure that your customisations are compatible with the parent theme’s structure and functionality.
  6. How do I update my WordPress child theme when the parent theme releases updates? To update your WordPress child theme, you need to follow the same steps you initially used to create the child theme. Make sure to back up any customisations you have made before updating the child theme to avoid losing your modifications.


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