Child themes play a crucial role in WordPress theme development. They allow developers to make modifications and customize their websites without altering the original parent theme. This is particularly important because when you update the parent theme, all your customizations will be lost if they were made directly within it.

Before diving into creating a WordPress child theme, we need to know what a parent and child theme are.

What is a parent theme in WordPress?

In WordPress, a parent theme is the primary foundation or blueprint for a website’s design and functionality. It contains all the essential code, templates, and stylesheets needed for a site to function smoothly. When you want to customize or modify parts of your site without altering the original theme files, you use a child theme. This way, the parent theme remains intact, ensuring updates won’t disrupt your custom changes. Think of the parent theme as the base structure, while the child theme allows for personalized tweaks.

What is a child theme in WordPress?

A child theme in WordPress is a sub-theme that inherits all the functionalities, features, and styles from its parent theme. It allows developers to make modifications or add additional features to the parent theme without altering its original code. This ensures that customizations remain intact even when the parent theme receives updates. Using a child theme is a best practice in WordPress development because it safeguards custom changes and facilitates easy updates.

Advantages of Opting for a WordPress Child Theme

When it comes to WordPress website development, using a child theme can offer numerous benefits. One major advantage is that it allows you to make customizations without modifying the original parent theme. This means that even if there are updates available for the parent theme, your changes will not be lost.

Once you have activated a child theme, you can start customizing its appearance and functionality according to your specific needs. You can modify stylesheets, templates, and even add new features through code customization. The best part is that these modifications will only affect the child theme itself, leaving the parent theme untouched.

Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Child Theme

Before starting the tutorial, you should know that all themes from our portfolio already contains a ready-made child theme that you can use.

Setting up a child theme within WordPress is straightforward. For this tutorial we’ll utilize as reference our Atis lawyer theme, but these steps hold true for every WordPress theme out there.

To create a child theme, start by creating a new directory. For the Atis theme, you’ll name the child theme folder: atis-child . Inside this directory, you need to create 2 files:

1. A stylesheet file named “style.css” – this file will serve as the main style sheet for your child theme.

2. A “functions.php” file – this is where we load / enqueue the parent’s style.css file

Creating the child theme style.css file

Create a new text file in your preferred text editor ( Notepad++ ) and save it as style.css . Next add some essential information such as the name of your child theme, its description, author details, and version number. Additionally, include a line specifying the template name which should be the same as the folder name of your parent theme.

Theme Name: Atis Child
Theme URI:
Description: Child theme for the Atis theme 
Author: MatchThemes
Author URI:
Version: 1.0
Template: atis

Creating the child theme functions.php file

The next thing is to create a new text file and save it as functions.php . We’ll enqueue, the stylesheets from the parent and child theme. Add the code below in the file:


function atis_child_scripts() {
	wp_enqueue_style( 'atis-style', get_parent_theme_file_uri('/style.css'), array(), null );
	wp_enqueue_style( 'atis-style-child', get_theme_file_uri('/style.css'), array('atis-style'), null );
add_action( 'wp_enqueue_scripts', 'atis_child_scripts', 98 );

After completing these steps successfully, create a zip archive from the atis-child folder. To add the newly create child theme to your site, in your WordPress dashboard navigate to Appearance > Themes and upload the file. Activate the child theme. Your website will now use this customized version while still inheriting functionalities from its parent theme.

activate WordPress child theme

Customizing Your Child Theme

Once you have successfully created a child theme for your WordPress website, it’s time to customize it according to your preferences. Customization allows you to add unique features and functionalities that align with your brand or personal style.

To begin customizing your child theme, start by exploring the various options available within the WordPress Customizer ( Appearance > Customize ). This user-friendly interface provides a range of customization settings, including colors, fonts, header and footer layouts, and more. Experiment with different combinations until you achieve the desired look and feel for your website.

Atis theme customizer

In addition, you have the option to tweak your parent theme’s templates directly through your child theme. This might involve adjusting templates specific like site’s main header, footer or blog page. This requires some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and PHP languages. By editing these files directly, you have complete control over every aspect of your website’s design.

To modify a parent template, initiate by duplicating that specific template from the main theme’s directory to your child theme’s directory. For instance, to change the footer, copy / paste the footer.php file from your parent theme to your child theme. Then open it in a text editor and start tweak it as you want.

However, it is important to proceed with caution when making code modifications. Always create a backup of both your parent theme and child theme before making any changes. This way, if something goes wrong during the customization process or conflicts arise between plugins or themes later on, you can easily revert back to a previous version without losing any data.

Additionally, performance can be a concern when working with child themes. Adding too many custom functionalities or heavy scripts can slow down your website and affect its loading speed. To mitigate this issue, optimize your code by removing any unnecessary elements and regularly test your site’s performance using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights.

Frequent Asked Questions Regarding WordPress Child Themes

What could be the reasons my WordPress child theme isn’t working?

Common issues include incorrect file naming, missing template files, and improperly enqueued styles and scripts.

I’ve activated my child theme, but it looks nothing like the parent theme. Why?

This usually happens when the style.css file of the child theme doesn’t correctly import the parent theme’s styles.

Why aren’t my style changes showing up in the child theme?

This could be due to caching. Try clearing your WordPress and browser caches. Also, ensure you’ve properly enqueued the child theme’s stylesheet.

I added a function to my child theme’s functions.php file, but it’s not taking effect. Why?

Ensure that there’s no syntax error in your PHP code. Also, make sure the function doesn’t conflict with existing functions in the parent theme.

Can a plugin conflict cause issues with my child theme?

Yes, some plugins can interfere with theme functionality. If you suspect a plugin conflict, deactivate all plugins and reactivate them one by one, checking each time to identify the culprit.

Do I need to update the parent theme after creating a child theme?

It’s generally a good idea to keep your parent theme updated for security and functionality reasons. However, always ensure you backup your website before updating.

What if I get a “stylesheet is missing” error?

This typically indicates that the header in your child theme’s style.css file isn’t correctly formatted or is missing essential details.

Do I need to recreate my child theme if the parent theme is updated?

No, one of the main benefits of using a child theme is that you can update the parent theme without losing the customizations made in the child theme.

My website broke after activating the child theme. What should I do?

Revert to the parent theme immediately. Review your child theme’s code for errors or conflicts, and fix them before attempting to reactivate.


Creating a WordPress child theme offers numerous benefits for website development but also comes with its fair share of challenges. By being aware of potential pitfalls such as compatibility issues, limited customization options in the parent theme, and performance concerns, you can proactively find solutions and ensure smooth operations for your website. Remember to stay updated on best practices within the WordPress community and continuously test and optimize your child theme for optimal performance.