Camila Alves/Instagram
Anya Leon and Jen Juneau
October 11, 2017 01:00 PM

Camila Alves considers herself “a strict parent” who also encourages her children to have fun and respect those around them — and fortunately, those lessons are manifesting even when she isn’t around.

The lifestyle expert and Yummy Spoonfuls co-founder — who shares sons Livingston, 4½, and Levi, 9, plus daughter Vida, 7½, with husband Matthew McConaughey — opened up to PEOPLE recently about the happiness she feels in seeing their parenting efforts pay off.

One specific “pride moment?” Realizing her “broken record” of teaching them right and wrong isn’t so flawed after all. “You say the same things over and over and you feel like you’re failing, and then they go to somebody’s house and [adults] come back to you saying how great they behaved, how great they are using their manners, how [respectful they are], how kind they are,” she says.

“[I have] that realization that, ‘Okay, they’re pushing the boundaries at home, but they are learning and using it on the outside world,’ so that makes me feel happy,” adds the 35-year-old. “It gives me hope that the things we are teaching are actually carrying on to the outside world.”

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Courtesy Camila Alves

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The boundaries her kids are pushing at home come with the territory of being a parent — and Livingston is at that age where meltdowns are fairly common.

“He’s in a stage that that’s all he’s doing,” she admits. “I think you see the moms in the airport or public places when it happens, and everybody gets so worried about who’s watching … the first thing that goes in my head is, ‘You were once a child — once, you did that — and if you cannot understand that, something is wrong with you. If you cannot have compassion for that, then something’s wrong with your mind.’ ”

“[My] advice for moms is [to] just smile, just laugh at it,” adds Alves. “You get to a point that there’s only so much you can do when a child is having a meltdown. You can’t stop it when you’re in the middle of a meltdown, you can’t try to interrupt them and tell them stop it because they won’t, so you have to try to get them past the meltdown.”

Courtesy Camila Alves

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“And if you cannot remove yourself from the situation, you have to look at everybody and say ‘I’m so sorry,’ and know that it’s going to pass,” she continues. “Every time you have those moments, you gotta breathe and know that this, too, shall pass.”

Alves’ flexibility as a parent extends into how she thought she would be versus how she is after experiencing the joys of having children.

“I think it would be giving cartoons as a reward,” she says of something she does that she never thought she would. “I don’t do it all the time, but I catch myself when I’m in a pinch or when we’re on a long trip. I go, ‘Okay, if we behave this way, you can watch a movie on the plane.’ Or, ‘If you misbehave, you won’t be able to watch the movie on the plane.’ “

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