The one thing you need to know about child themes

The one thing you need to know about child themes
You can only trust children to eat candy. But you can trust child themes with your LIFE. Okay, forget it, I can’t stop hyperbolizing.

I have some advice for you, dear website owner.

This is for you to know when you hire a web designer/developer to custom code something for you — a horizontal opt-in bar to go across your header (which you cannot make with a plugin), say, or some code to move your navigation over to the right side of the page or to modify the way your blog posts line up on your blog page — so they don’t end up screwing up your site.

Yup, it’s that important!

To protect your website (and therefore your business or organization!), you don’t need to know any code, but you’d benefit from knowing what to ask of those you hire to help you. In this case, you should know about child themes — why you need one and how to ask for it — to make sure that your web developer codes and installs one for you whenever changes are made.

Child themes are for grown-ups!

Picture this: you hire a web designer/developer and s/he either sets up your entire site or adds something to it using custom coding. Now let’s pretend that the work has been completed according to your specifications. It looks perfect.

Great, right?

Well, it depends.

Here’s the thing: if your web developer simply plugged the new code into your WordPress theme Editor and left it at that… you’ll eventually have a problem.

For example, I just finished coding a child theme for a client who uses Elegant Themes; her web designer had neglected to code all customizations into a child theme, which meant that when we updated her theme, all changes went poof and disappeared. Needless to say, it caused a lot of unnecessary stress! 

Enter Nat (that’s me!). I redid the customizations and put them into a child theme, which I then installed into my client’s website files. Now, whenever the theme is updated, the customizations will remain, unfazed. Phew!

Psst… what the hell is a child theme?

Hold your lollipops, sister. I’m gettin’ there!

Here’s the brand new analogy I came up with for my newest awesome client, whose web designer/developer also failed to make a child theme:

Your guy made customizations to the parent theme [in her case, WordPress’s free theme Twenty Twelve] within the theme itself. When you update the theme, the version you have is replaced by a whole new version, another parent theme. So, it’s like replacing a couch with a new one of the same kind — but the pillows/throws/etc. you had? Gone. Outta there. All you get is the brand new couch. So, a child theme is where you save the changes you make so that when you get the new couch, you can basically just toss the pillows/throws/etc. on top of it and you get the same look as before, as if nothing had changed at all. The child theme is where you should store the modifications you make so that you can add them to the new parent theme and everything can remain the same as before.

Feel free to ask for further clarification in the comments section below if furnishings aren’t your thing!

So what should you ask your web developer to do next time you want customizations made to your theme?

Repeat after me:

“Hey, [insert web developer’s name here], please remember to make a child theme for me with all your customizations!”

Boom. You’re done.

And if you think you may be in dire need of a child theme, hit me up right here for a free intro consult!

Tell me: Are your customizations protected by a child theme?

8 Responses to The one thing you need to know about child themes

    • You’re welcome, Malaika! So glad I could help :)

      It’s imperative to understand at least a little bit to better communicate with your web designer/developer and make sure you’re getting everything you need, if you ask me. I’m all about breaking things down and making them understandable to make sure we can all be on the same page :)

  1. Oh my goodness, Nat, I have ALWAYS [since I learnt about WP] been TOTALLY foxed as to what a Child Theme is.
    Your sofa analogy is PERFECT!!

    AND you included a song from Tigermilk – as if I wasn’t already so happy!! Thank you X 2!!

    • Oh, Marsha, that makes me so happy! Thanks a lot for letting me know your thoughts. I’m glad my analogy helped :D I love helping people understand these concepts. They don’t have to be reserved for uber-geeks!

      And you’re a Belle & Sebastian fan — brilliant. It was hard to find a song at least partly related to children, which excludes profanity, and which I like haha.

  2. Thanks Super! I’ve been curious about Child Themes myself, and why my favorite pillow kept disappearing! And don’t get me started on all of the remote controls that I’ve been through! Anyway, I’m working on my website and going through all of your content, you are a blessing to have a round. Thanks for all of your hard work!

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