Yes, themes can have children. And they are an important aspect of building your WordPress website on the right foundations.
You need a WordPress child theme to allow for customisations that aren’t overwritten when your WordPress theme is updated.
Before we talk about the benefits, let’s get clear on what a child theme is.
What is a WordPress child theme?
According to WPBeginner – “a child theme in WordPress is a sub-theme that inherits all the functionality, features, and style of its parent theme”.
Imagine you have a mobile phone. If you want to customise that phone with colours, and cool features, what would you do? Buy a phone case!
We know there are thousands of phone cases out there with fancy colours, cool features like an embedded flashlight or a cardholder.
What you wouldn’t do is glue a cardholder onto your actual phone or add permanent stickers or engraving to the original casing. It just makes sense to get a phone case which not only protects your phone but gives you the opportunity to add unique customisations different to everyone else.
That is exactly what a child theme does. The child theme is your phone case.
All your customisations can be edited safely, protecting your website from future errors when routine updates are required.
Do I need a WordPress child theme?
In my opinion. YES!
I recently had a new client who came to me with a site that hadn’t been updated in several years. 19 plugins, 4 themes and the WordPress content management system were out of date, on top she couldn’t update her PHP version because everything broke.
We discovered she had custom code in her theme that was overwritten when we updated, the solution?
She needed a WordPress child theme! A theme contains 1000s of files so digging through to find the customisations was not a fun project but now her website is up to date and can be updated without breaking.
Top Reasons you need a WordPress child theme
1. Keep your customisations
Having a WordPress website is the first step towards ensuring you can have a fully custom website.
However, you need a WordPress child theme, as it is what gives you the power to make those customisations and protect them from things going wrong when you need to update your theme. Common customisations might be; advanced custom fields, woo-commerce templates, blog templates, removing or adding elements.
2. Avoid update errors
Updates to any software are a common practice, designed to support continuous improvement.
But updating your websites can come with risks.
For a WordPress website, it could be the end of the line for a website. You need a WordPress child theme installed to protect all the plugins, custom code and additional features you invested your time and money into will be wiped clean!
Of course, keeping your WordPress website up to date is REALLY important to keep your website free from errors. But, a child theme is that extra layer of protection that allows you to keep your customisations now and for all future updates.
3. Room for error
If you or your designer wants to try out a new custom field or implement a custom template, child themes make that easier. Allowing you to test out features you might like without worrying if the website will break in the future.
You need a WordPress child theme to store all your code snippets and templates to use now or add later on. A single parent theme update can erase those customisations if you don’t have a child theme installed.
If you discover that in later years you want to make a change, you have that choice because all changes have been created within that child theme. You won’t find yourself having to go through 1000s of files, similar to my client’s situation above.
4. Opportunity for growth
What if I don’t have any customisations right now?
You might be thinking “Do I need a WordPress child theme? It’s not that important for small businesses”. WRONG!
The great thing about WordPress is that it is built to last. You can start off with a simple one-page website and in years to come, that same website on the same platform can become an international e-commerce store with hundreds of pages and endless customisations.
As your business develops your website can grow with you. Right now your business needs may be rather simple, but as you serve more clients, you want to have the opportunity to advance your website functionalities. Not only for yourself but for the ease of use for potential clients visiting your website. Maybe your website could benefit from an animated button or a payment gateway.
To grow your business you need a WordPress child theme because choosing to start without one doesn’t have the future in mind. You can move your current website into a child theme later, which can be done as Kaira explains here. But as best practice, prevention is much better than curing the issue. Start your website off the right way and save yourself time and money in the future.
How to install a WordPress child theme
Many themes provide a child theme to install along with the main theme. First things first, check with your theme developer to see if this is available. If you have a well-supported theme but they don’t provide a child version the likelihood is that someone has created one and you can use it! Have a quick Google for ‘your theme name child theme’ to find out.
Installing a child theme can be a DIY job too. Elegant Themes provides a great, easy to follow, guide on this topic.
If you find this concept to be a little too techy, it would be a good conversation to have with your website designer or developer. They should have the knowledge to support you and get your website set-up correctly.
Moral of the story
You NEED a WordPress child theme! Yes, even you.
The benefits of a child theme outweigh the setbacks. If you’re working on your business for the long run, then this is the way to go. With custom CSS code and personalised templates, child themes are what allow you to grow your website with confidence.
At Mean Creative all our websites are built with WordPress child themes. No matter what size your business is, we value the importance of your website keeping it safe for the long-term.
If you’re planning to build a website having this knowledge is perfect for creating a website foundation that will last.