What Is a WordPress Child Theme?

WordPress August 4, 2016

WordPress has numerous powerful and useful features—one of them being that there’s a plethora of powerful WordPress themes out there that you can acquire and get a website up and running in no time flat.

But did you know that you can take these pre-built, Premium WordPress Themes even further? It’s easy to think as you’re starting your first site that you have to make a choice between the features and functionality available within a pre-built WordPress theme, or have one completely custom developed.

While I typically recommend going with a fully-custom-developed WordPress theme once you’ve mapped out your branding strategy, a “child theme” is a great middle ground.

So what is a WordPress “child theme,” you ask? No, it’s not a kids version of your website! In short, it’s a theme on top of another theme. Child themes are a thing developers can build “on top of” an existing theme.

From a developer’s standpoint, this can dramatically reduce the amount of development time required to finalize your site. From a site owner’s perspective, it’s a way you can take a pre-existing theme and have it customized to fit your unique layout and functionality.

When to Go with a Child Theme

Deciding between a WordPress theme’s built-in and when to pursue a child theme solution is a common question I receive when working with new clients.

The main things to consider first are your primary goals:

  • Do you want your site to have a unique look/layout that’s not possible through the theme’s current customization abilities?
  • Are there some specific features you want your site to handle that it can’t currently?
  • Is there a specific way you want your content organized/managed within the admin?

If you find yourself answering yes to one of the questions above, it may be time to consider a child theme solution.

Some of this, however, may depend on your current theme. Some themes have more native customization abilities built-in while others are more limited. Before going down the road of a child theme, it may be worth your effort to consider if you should first switch themes, or potentially find a reliable WordPress plugin that can solve your problem.

A Word of Caution

While there are a number of WordPress themes out there that boast a million features, I would highly recommend staying away from those that consider themselves “multi-purpose” WordPress themes.

These are, in essence, themes that do not fit a particular niché or style, but rather include tons of fonts, icon sets, page layouts, and layout builders that can cause for a frustrating and time-consuming process of attempting to build/layout your site.

Beyond the difficulty of working with these themes, they are notoriously bloated (slow) because of all the features they pack in. When a developer begins to build on top of a theme like this with a child theme solution, the result is often an even slower version of an already cumbersome and heavy website.

Examples of WordPress Child Themes in Practice

Sometimes, visual, practical examples prove the most useful when it comes to determining if a child theme is the best route to take.

This the case, here are a few examples of sites that have received custom child themes built on top of pre-existing, premium WordPress theme options.

Jill Waltz Child Theme
JillWaltz.com: A child theme based upon the GetNoticed! theme.
Family Communicator Child Theme
TheFamilyCommunicator.com: A child theme based upon the GetNoticed! theme.
Mary Hyatt Child Theme
MaryHyatt.com: A child theme based upon the GetNoticed! theme.


Getting a WordPress site up and running is always a great start when it comes to building your online platform. However, thinking forward to how you can refine and build that platform is vital to ensure your web efforts are being utilized effectively. That said, hopefully this article provided a little insight into the cases where a child theme can help take your site to the next level.

Have a question related to WordPress child themes? Feel free to leave a comment and I would be happy to help!

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