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WP Child Themes: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Tyler Finck March 2, 2021 · 6 min read

Child themes are WordPress sub-themes that inherit the functionality and properties of a parent theme. If you don’t know anything about child themes, make sure that you read What are Child Themes in WordPress.
As with most things, succeeding with child themes requires complete knowledge about how they work. The same product or process can be a death blow for your workflow if you keep using it without evaluating pros and cons. In this post, I will help you decide if child themes are right for you by discussing their advantages and disadvantages.

The Good

The concept of child themes in WordPress is great. I love providing child themes with my premium WordPress themes and I think a good developer should always include them. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits we get by using child themes.

Say No to Re-inventing the Wheel Daily

When you win a WordPress project and you are being paid below $1000 for it, that is when you need to think about using a premium WordPress theme. Premium WordPress themes are great resources to save time. Many of the themes are built with pretty high quality and good coding standards. But, most of the time, a premium WordPress theme can only provide you with 80% of what your client wants. In these cases you need to use a child theme to modify or add the remaining 20% without touching the parent theme’s code. This has greatly improved my efficiency as I can now concentrate on creating what matters instead of re-inventing the wheel daily.

Kindred, pictured above, is a child theme whose parent is the WordPress Genesis Framework.

Save your Customizations

If you are using a premium WordPress theme and make changes directly in its code, then all of your work could be gone in case said theme is updated. To avoid this mess, try to create a child theme first and make any changes to those files, rather than modifying the original ones. This way you will save your customizations and still entertain the parent theme updates.

Child Theme Is the First Step

If you are a newbie and want to learn how to program child themes are a great asset to kickstart your development. Parent themes act as a base framework and you get to learn step by step at your own pace.

The Camyno WordPress theme includes an installable child theme called “”.

10X Speedy Workflow

If you are developing a theme which is aimed to serve a bunch of your clients with different levels of functionality and complexity, then you can create multiple child themes out of a single parent theme. This will be just like killing two birds with one stone. You will only have to modify each child according to the requirements of your client in terms of functionality and features.

The Bad

We rarely discuss the disadvantages of using child themes because most of us find them appealing to use. Especially after the release of Twenty Ten WordPress theme and other theme frameworks, people are more inclined to use child themes. But despite all of the advantages that I have discussed above, I think you need to know where to use them and where not to use them. I should mention that these disadvantages are only for advanced WordPress developers and not for common end users.

Consumes Extra Time

You must be thinking: how can time be both be an advantage and a disadvantage? Let me explain! You must have heard developers saying that they prefer writing code themselves from scratch than studying someone else’s code and making changes in it. This is true to some extent because every developer has his own workflow. So, when it comes to modifications in a child theme you may consume extra time just studying and getting acquainted with the parent theme’s code. In my opinion, when you start feeling this way, you are no longer an average developer and you have stepped up to an advanced development level –which is a good thing! So, for all the beginner developers out there, you need to understand that while child themes are a helpful way to kickstart a project, there is always a better way to do everything from scratch and still save time.

Excessive Features

Some developers think that a child theme will instantly make their lives easier. On the contrary, they trap themselves in a more difficult situation than before. One possible reason could be the wrong selection of the parent theme. Normally, the theme that you’re choosing as a parent bears an extended level of functionality and features that you don’t need. This not only makes understanding the code difficult, but also adds excessive styles and scripts that slow down your site’s speed. Make sure that you choose the right parent theme for a project before starting to work on its child theme.

The Ugly

Dependant on Parent Theme

If the developer of your parent theme abandons the project, you my friend are in trouble. There’s a lot you don’t know about in the parent theme’s code, and you won’t know how to update it in the event of a security vulnerability. In such scenarios you are left with only two options: to move on and recreate the project or stay open to hacking attacks. Instead of being dependent on someone else’s framework it is better to build your own. Or at least find a worthy parent theme.

My take on this!

If you are an end user or someone who has a little to do with code, then child themes provided by your Theme developer are your best bet. If you are somewhat of an advanced developer, you need to choose the parent theme wisely or create your own framework which could act as a parent theme for your projects. Your parent theme could be modular and with every other project you get to improve your framework while providing your customers with a child theme.
I would love to hear your opinion about these advantages and disadvantages. Let me know your thoughts in the comments area below.

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Tyler Finck
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