How to Install a WordPress Child Theme

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Ready to customize your site with a child theme?

Child themes allow for flexible and stable customizations, but they are a bit technical for the average WordPress user. If you already have a child theme prepared, you can follow these steps to install it on your site.

If you don’t have a child theme yet, take a look at this tutorial on customizing WordPress with child themes.

How to install your child theme

First things first, the child theme should be in a zip folder somewhere on your computer.

If you have an unzipped folder with the child theme, make sure to zip it up first. You can do this by right-clicking and choosing the compress option.

Zip Challenger Theme

I’ll be using Challenger as my example, so the folder is named “challenger-child.” However, your child theme folder can have any name.

Once you have the zip file ready to go, you can upload it to your site.

Upload the child theme

Child themes can be uploaded via the Appearance menu just like regular themes.

Start by visiting the Appearance menu and clicking on the Add New button.

Add New Theme

On the next page, click the Upload Theme button and then use the Choose File button in the form that appears to select the child theme zip file.

Upload Child Theme

Click the Install Now button, and WordPress will install the child theme for you. You’ll then see a screen like this including a link to activate the child theme.

Activate Child Theme

If the parent theme isn’t installed and it’s freely available on, WordPress will automatically install the parent theme for you. If the parent theme isn’t hosted on, you’ll need to install it first before the child theme can be activated.

Import your Customizer settings

At this point, you might be done, but there may be one more step. I’ll explain.

If you customized your parent theme extensively, you’ll find that the settings from the Customizer have reset when you activate the child theme. Don’t worry, you haven’t lost your customizations! If you reactivate the parent theme they’ll be restored. Like it or not, WordPress doesn’t copy your settings over to the child theme and treats it like a separate theme.

That said, you can transfer your Customizer settings very easily by using the Customizer Export/Import plugin.

Customizer Export Import

Install and activate this plugin on your site, and then reactivate the “parent theme.” With the parent theme reactivated you’ll see your previous settings restored.

Visit the Customizer (Appearance > Customize) and you’ll see this section added to the bottom.

Export Import Customizer Section

Open the Export/Import section and click the Export button you find inside to export your current Customizer settings.

Export Customizer Settings

This will automatically download a special .dat file to your computer.

Reactivate the child theme and visit the Customizer again. Open the Export/Import section, but this time click the Choose File button to select the .dat file you just downloaded and then click the Import button to import the settings from the parent theme.

Import Customizer Settings

The page will refresh and the settings will be imported!

If you just recently installed the parent theme, you may not have many settings to transfer over to the child theme, but if you’ve been working on your site for years, the Customizer Export/Import plugin can be a real time-saver.

Updating new versions of the child theme

You know what’s a real pain?

When you get a modified version of the child theme and you try to upload it, but WordPress gives you a “Destination folder already exists” error message.

If you want to upload new versions of your child theme without this hassle, follow this guide on how to easily manually update your WordPress themes and plugins:

How to Manually Update WordPress Themes & Plugins

Making your own child themes

Want to learn a bit more about child theme customization? The possibilities are endless if you get comfortable working with a little CSS and PHP. If you’re interested in creating your own child themes, this tutorial is a great starting place:

How to Make Advanced Customizations with a Child Theme


WordPress added child theme support many years ago as a fundamental way to customize WordPress sites.

However, you can’t take advantage of this tech if you don’t know how to install them! I hope this tutorial has made it very clear how to install child themes and keep all of your settings without losing anything.

If you have feedback or questions about this tutorial, post a comment below.

Ben Sibley
Ben Sibley
This article was written by Ben Sibley. He is a WordPress theme designer & developer, and founder of Compete Themes.