If you've been around small children, you know they are eager to learn from anyone who will teach them, and traits like kindness, sharing, and responsibility are important for little ones to develop. As our young Johnson family grows, and we combine kids and pets, one surprising teacher has emerged: Tebow, our cat.

1. Gratitude

As our rescue cat learned to express himself to us, we saw he exuded a spirit of "thanks."

Many owners of rescue animals will echo our observations: Pets who have been in a shelter possess a gratefulness that humans notice. Tebow thanked us with rubs against our legs, kisses on the forehead and nose, and head-butts against the palms of our hands.

We as parents pointed these expressions out to our child. Once we did, she was able to identify that trait — and see its importance. We pointed out his "thank you" moments as a reinforcement of her own polite behavior. She now says thank you with very minimal prompting, due in part to Tebow's influence.

2. Naps Are Great!

"Look how Tebow sleeps and sleeps," I pointed out one day.

After that, our toddler would pretend to be a cat — not by meowing or crawling on all fours, but by cat napping! While other moms fight their toddlers, I just remind mine of our kitty's love of nap time, and most of the time, she's all too happy to get some rest.

3. Patience

It didn't take long before our two-year-old was testing our cat's patience. Following him around became her favorite thing to do, and she was interested to know what would bother him. But nothing she did bothered him — it surprised us all.

It was my job to show her how to be gentle with him. Heavy pats were replaced by gentle pats, and they were rewarded by gestures of Tebow's thanks. She no longer tries to chase him around the house because he never responds to the "game." His serenity taught her the importance of patience.

4. Conflict

When our child begins to pester Tebow, as toddlers do, Tebow simply walks away. He has never expressed irritation by turning on her.

Once, when our toddler and her four-year-old cousin were bickering, I pointed out how different her behavior was than our cat. "Act like Tebow," I said. "Just walk away." And it worked! She didn't feel the need to fight to the death with her favorite cousin.

Kids and pets make a great combination, but of course, our cat didn't intentionally tutor our child. Instead, by his very demeanor, he led by example, and our toddler was able to learn important lessons.

Pets often present perfect examples of many excellent character traits. As a parent of a young child, I simply had to connect the dots — and I'm sure glad I did.